Clear the buying hurdles

The world record for the women’s 100m sprint is 10.49 seconds. In the 100m hurdles, the fastest female on the planet takes a relatively tardy 12.21 seconds. Simple conclusion: hurdles slow things down and affect results.

And yet retailers often place hurdles in the path of the shopper.

“Barriers to buy” are sometimes physical, sometimes attitudinal, sometimes process-driven and always destructive.

One classic culprit is the suburban newsagent I spotted in a regional shopping centre the other day, which had lined up mobile greeting card stands at the entrance, like sentinels protecting the store from shoppers. Once you had squeezed inside, the aisles were narrow and crowded, and the promotional messages loud and competing. All in all, the merchandising was completely counter-productive to securing sales.

john Lewis 2

US shopper behaviour guru Herb Sorenson writes that “Open space attracts! Jamming the store with products leads to… psychic discomfort for shoppers. Great retailers refuse to sacrifice shopper space…”

Another example of setting up hurdles is the ski shop that tries to charge customers a $50 “fitting fee” to try on ski boots, refundable upon purchase. The plan is to stop the practice of “showrooming” (trying in store, buying on line), but all it does is add a barrier to buy.

A more contemporary case is the retailer that doesn’t have a mobile-enabled website, thereby making it hard for the customer to navigate their e-store on a smart phone. Result: no sale.

Contrast those examples with mid-market department store John Lewis in the UK, (pictured), which makes an effort to understand how customers today want to interact with them, and clears buying hurdles.

John Lewis 3

Their latest store that I walked recently at Westfield Stratford was wide, open and easy to navigate. If you were on a “mission shop”, you could easily find your target. Promotional messages were few, consistently executed and placed close to the customer’s eyeline. Online shopping points were frequently placed through the store, so if you couldn’t find what you were looking for, you could jump on the net to

Sales assistants were easy to find and willing to help (no doubt incentivised by John Lewis’ unique co-operative structure, where every employee has a stake in the sales outcome.) And the “click and collect” station (for customers who had bought online and chose to pick up in store) was conveniently located close to the car park.

(On the last point, as the “click and collect” phenomenon gathers pace, many retailers are contemplating where to place the pick-up point. Do you put it in the back of the store, so that shoppers have to wander through and perhaps buy something else on impulse? Or do you locate it close to the entrance, or the car park? The answer? Whatever’s best for the customer, not what’s best for the merchant.)

Sales are too tough to come by these days to turn customers away. So work out what are the hurdles that are tripping your shoppers up along the path to purchase, and clear as many of them as possible.

Jon Bird is CEO of specialist retail marketing agency IdeaWorks ( and Chairman of Octomedia, publisher of Inside Retail.

Email: Blog: Twitter: @thetweetailer


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