How To Engage Customers In Retail Stores?

How To Engage Customers In Retail Stores?
June 4, 2021 Omnibus


Remember a good crime story, maybe a detective tv series?

It goes according to your expectations – it provides a crime, a smart detective, his method, cunning villain, etc.

Then there are twists. Some surprising turns. The story goes against your expectations. Your heartbeats increase, interest arouses.

Not only you get along with it, you actually enjoy it.

How come? It’s exactly because your expectations are violated. Because the storyteller plays with the conventions and your expectations.

Then finally, the crime is solved, the story ends, the order is restored.

That’s how the story works. It not only satisfies our expectations but plays with them. It fulfills them and sometimes violates them on purpose.


It might be surprising, but stores function similarly to stories. Especially regarding our expectations.

We enter the stores to solve our shopping motives. We have our expectations, and we want to fulfill them.

Sometimes the grocery retailers are very successful in fulfilling our expectations. We go grocery shopping as we want to fill up our kitchen wardrobes and refrigerators – and that’s exactly what we get. Milk, cheeses, cleaning products, coffee, etc. Everything there, top brands, no out-of-stocks, all brought home. Our expectations were fulfilled. We are satisfied.

As the grocery shopping is done repeatedly, on a weekly, even daily basis, the shopping soon turns into a habit. We make buying decisions quickly, with minimum effort – our expectations are regularly met.

Suddenly, one fine day we leave the grocer for another one.

Our constant grocer feels dismayed. How come – if our expectations have been regularly met?


Yes, when asked via research agencies, we always confirmed that our expectations were met. It was also true. What we didn’t tell our abandoned grocer is that to a certain extent we want our expectations to be violated. Put it the other way – we want some surprises. Maybe, we’d like to be a little surprised with a taste of almond milk every now or then, or try local goat cheese, or treat ourselves with organic coffee from Peru.

This is hardwired into our decision-making system. It disrupts us out of automatic buying. And we love it.


Back to detective stories. We might enjoy them and we are always eager to hear more. But we don’t want to hear exactly the same story over and over again. We are in it for some surprises, some variations. Yes, we want another Harry Hole case by Jo Nesbo. Yes, we want it exactly as a Redbreast.

Only … we don’t! We want Jo Nesbo to take us by surprise.

By analogy, we want to buy the same stuff over and over again, but actually we don’t!

That’s why the good retailer should not only strive for meeting our expectations but also to find a way to challenge us now and then.

A good retailing means playing with our expecations, meeting them BUT also trying to lure us into new fields, into discovery shopping mode so that we don’t completely lose interest in shopping.

The above is especially valid for groceries which we visit regularly, sometimes daily.

As customers are many and the offer remains stable over the span of time, retailer communicates best through formats. Organized and communicated offer within the stores which provides discovery shopping on a regular basis.

As we mentioned in earlier articles (see -> our research), as customers we utterly expect that retailers don’t waste our precious time.

We want to buy top brands easily, simply, with as few obstacles as possible.

On the other hand, when something really arouses our interest, we stop at the offer without constraint. Out of our own free will. This stop doesn’t count as a waste of time anymore. On contrary, we experience these moments as sheer delight, we engage with the offer and at best – forget that time is passing. As if the clock disappeared, time pressure vanished.

A good grocery store properly mixes the highway zones with discovery zones or even better story zones.

Below is an example:

STORE ZONE Description Fixtures, elements Shopper engagement Experienced Time Margin per minute
HIGHWAY mode Shoppers just automatically picking products – A, B, C … Grab & Go Shelves, gondolas, aisles Low Want to be over as soon as possible. Low
TRAFFIC JAM mode Waiting in a queue Counters, service lines Volatile Alert! Every second drags to infinity. Varied
DISCOVERY People stop of own interest in front of products they didn’t actually intend to buy. Baskets, pallets, open spaces Interested We have some time for browsing. Medium
STORY Appeals to our senses, touches our emotional side, brings experience to life. Areas with emphasized design Highly engaged Time just stops. It doesn’t matter anymore.  



Taking the above as a tactical foundation, we might easily say that the good retailer

  1. provides easy navigation and supports fast searching in a Highway zone
  2. provides enough Discovery zones that makes us interested

The winning retailer adds another dimension:

  1. engaging our emotions, and transferring us in a zone where there is no time = Storytelling


Let’s try to take a look at two examples through the lens of the model above:


Before IKEA, traditional furniture stores featured lines of sofas, tables, chairs, cupboards, beds, … Then IKEA came and moved furniture stores in the lifestyle direction. Now furniture shopping is actually an experience of well-designed furniture ideas at work. We might say that IKEA made a complete twist in the furniture store shopping experience – from highway mode to almost 100% discovery and story mode.

One other turnaround Ikea brought: experienced time for furniture shopping stopped. Shopping became more a play than a pressure!

That alone made it the precursor for all the other store innovators.

Not to mention cafe, restaurant, and impulse food store on top.


The name itself recalls the emotional mechanism at work. “Buy fast, eat slow” is something we clearly associate with Italian food and also culture.

This is the umbrella concept, under which the offer provides high levels of Discovery mode.

It is a hybrid experience – mixing Italian restaurant foods, stalls, and shelves with well-assorted products. For now, buying Italian biscuits or pastry or wine or pasta is hardly a boring habit. And it certainly moves margin per product in higher brackets.

For now, the concept functions mostly in urban metropoles, and traditional grocers actively try to copy at least part of it for their flagship stores. The road toward hybrid grocery experience / shopping is wide open.


Just like customers develop habits which lead to boredom, also storemakers sometimes get caught in the routine.

Our store organizing paradigm #leverages provides testing of the above concepts in a workshop environment, then transferring them into a pilot store.

In a workshop environment, we can test different hypotheses based on actual data.

What parts of your store could be storified?

How would that impact your current and future customer base?

What is the projection of business value?

Your teams will be able to play with the elements to create a balanced store organisation and experience its impact on incremental value (sales, margin, inventory) and customer satisfaction. We’ll get to the store with the story written in it. The most valuable concepts will be estimated and taken for further development – either to design sketches or all the way to the pilot store implementation.



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