By Adam Welsch
In his fascinating 1999 book, Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping (Simon & Schuster, New York), retailing-environment consultant Paco Underhill describes which strategies work and which ones don’t in encouraging consumers to buy merchandise at brick & mortar retailers. Thinking about this book made me wonder, “Are lingerie stores and intimate apparel departments doing the right things today to entice customers to purchase more bras, shapewear, and panties?” While the answer will be different at each location you enter, there are some questions – based directly on Mr. Underhill’s research – you can think about to grade your favorite store the next time you shop for intimates.
You probably already know that the longer you remain in a store, the more items you’re likely to buy. So ask yourself,
- “Are the aisles containing bras and shapewear wide enough so that I don’t find myself bumping into merchandise or other shoppers?”
- “Are chairs located in or near the lingerie department so that my shopping partners, who aren’t interested in buying intimates, can sit and rest?”
- “Are distractions for kids placed close enough to the intimates area to afford me some extra browsing time?”
- “Is there a “guy” store or department located in close proximity to the intimate apparel area to keep my husband or boyfriend busy while I try on bras or shapewear?” (Mr. Underhill’s research suggests that women spend twice as much time in stores when they’re not accompanied by men.)
- “Does my store provide shopping carts, comfortable baskets, or coat checks to lighten my load as I shop for undies?”
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then your shopping trip is likely to be cut short and you’ll be less likely to buy that extra pair of panties or sexy cami.
Of course, time isn’t the only factor that influences how much intimate apparel a shopper will buy. For example, display conditions can also be critically important. So,
- Do you find yourself having to bend down below waist level to get a good look at shapers or panty tags? Mr. Underhill’s research shows that such bending makes women uneasy and less likely to buy.
- Are the panties and girdles presented on hangers and tables, or are they concealed in boxes or bags? People naturally shop using all of their senses, so the inability to touch merchandise can dissuade us from making purchasing decisions.
- Are complimentary items displayed next to each other? For example, are the fixtures for bras and panties placed together? Are the torsettes near the bras? The author indicates that such placement leads to increased sales. It would seem that the new trend of merchandising intimates by silhouette (i.e., placing all waist cinchers or bodybriefers, for example, together), rather than by brand, runs counter to this recommendation.
- Are the shapers, undies, or bras you’re looking for displayed face-forward, or are they hung sideways to maximize space? It seems you’re less likely to buy garments when they’re merchandised sideways.
- Does the department have lots of signs with many words trying to grab your attention? If so, they’re likely ineffective. Mr. Underhill found that most of us only spend two seconds looking at a sign, so we’re not likely to read more than two or three words. Retailers need to keep their signs short and sweet.
In addition to the manner in which they’re displayed, the specific location where intimates are displayed can greatly affect whether or not they’re bought. So,
- Is the lingerie department situated right next to the mall entrance or an external door? If so, it may feel less inviting than if placed deeper in the store. Mr. Underhill explains that shoppers require some time and space to adjust to their environment after entering the retailer.
- If it’s indeed set further back, do you have to turn left or right after entering in order to get there? Shoppers’ traffic patterns mirror those of cars on the road. In the United States, therefore, we all tend to move to the right as we shop.
- Does your favorite store like to display the newest panties, bras, or shapewear in its windows? If so, you’re probably not seeing them. Mr. Underhill says most shoppers don’t look closely at the windows.
And finally, since customer service remains an important factor in the shopping experience, ask yourself,
- “Does my store provide comfortable and convenient fitting rooms so that bras and shapewear can be tried on easily?” The author’s research shows that testing leads to buying.
- “How hard is it to find someone to measure me, or find my correct bra or shapewear size?” While most people detest being offered help as soon as they enter a store, the book suggests that the more on-demand, friendly interactions you have with sales associates, the more money you’re likely to spend on your lingerie.
- “Do I have to wait more than two minutes to pay for my thigh slimmer or hi-waist brief?” If so, you’ve probably reached the limit of your patience and will leave that lingerie store or department with a bad taste in your mouth.
Armed with these questions, you may never again see your favorite store in quite the same way.