What I Learned From Working Retail

The retail industry faces monumental challenges when it comes to getting customers to shop and purchase. With so much competition for your dollar, retailers use means to manipulate the consumer into further purchases with products, pricing and placement.


Sale items: We all love a sale, but it’s been documented that customers will purchase items priced at 2-for-$1.29 more often than the same item priced singly at 49 cents even though it is clearly more expensive. Having multiple items for sale for one price gives the perception of better value, whether true or not.

Related: What’s Your Purchasing Behaviour Style?

BOGO’s: Buy One Get One for 50% off is popular with many retailers. The focus is on the 50% off with customers thinking that both are half price. Have you gone into a store intending to buy one item and ending up with two thinking you got a great deal? The aim of this type of pricing is to get you to buy multiples.


Checkouts: You’re waiting in the excruciating long line to pay for your items so you pick up a magazine to flip through, then you see some batteries you could use and, you’re getting a little hungry so a chocolate bar to tide you over now and a big bag of chips for later and before you know it you’ve picked up more items than you planned.

Overall, POP displays placed here is a great place overall to increase store revenue.

Entryway: Studies have shown that when customers enter a store they don’t even notice anything in the first fifteen feet, then they look to the right and head in that direction. This is the ideal spot for placing new, seasonal and feature products. Alternatively, you might think this is a good spot for sale items but the store doesn’t want customers to stop here and not continue through the rest of the store.

Restrooms: The aisles leading to the restrooms are the most travelled and are prime space, especially for impulse, decorative and unusual items. They catch your eye on the way in, then get a closer look on the way out.

Add-ons: These are items that relate to the feature product that you may need and should get. Printer and ink next to the computers, stainless steel cleaner next to the pot sets, small appliances together with the related cook book – you get the idea.

Related: Shopping – Too Many Choices

Using Your 5 Senses

Farmers markets are gaining popularity in urban areas. They are more interesting to shop in with their tables of bountiful produce, freshly baked goods, and beautiful flowers. Display of the multiple colours, smells and tastes makes for a more pleasurable experience than the typical supermarket where you’re confronted by mediocre produce, too much packaging and aisles of frozen goods.

If retailers can get you to touch, smell and, or, sample their product the chances will skyrocket that you’ll buy it. Stores that identify their target demographic play the music that is/was popular when that group is/was in high school. That music makes you feel happy – linger – buy more.  In the store where I worked they played classic soft rock during the day so the target was – you guessed it – boomer women.

Sales Staff

I know that these days it’s almost impossible to find a sales clerk to help you in many big box stores. Or they say “Hi” when you enter the department and then disappear from view.

Related: What’s Happening To The Service Industry?

In actual fact, a friendly sales associate is a huge asset to the retailer. We don’t want to be rude. When a store employee is chatty, helps us out and makes suggestions, we feel the need to buy (especially add-ons) because we’ve taken up so much of their time.

Convenience And Comfort

We placed shopping carts in the back of the store and baskets in several locations so the customers could keep on picking up items without having to return to the front of the store. Chairs for the shoppers’ companions keeps them from hurrying things up. We often led husbands – weary from looking at just one more thing – to our massage chairs where they relaxed in comfort (and often fell asleep).

So What Does This Mean To You?

There is a psychology of shopping and a good retail manager will be well aware of it. 70% of all purchases are unplanned. The longer you spend in a store, the greater your chance of turning from a looker into a buyer.

New technology will use your smart phone to track your purchases with displays tailored to the shoppers that use them.

Before heading to the store, make a list and stick to it – you know what you need. Even if something is on sale, if you don’t need it then it’s a waste of money. Don’t browse unnecessarily or wander aimlessly. Say, “No thank you, I’m just looking” to the chatty sales clerk – this is code for “please don’t bother me unless I ask for help”. Keep your money.

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  1. TM @ Young and Thrifty on July 25, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Very interesting points. You’re right about friendly (yet not pushy) sales associates. When I went to a buy a couch last week the one sales lady was so helpful that even though I plan to have the couch shipped to a location that is closer to my home, I am going to order through that store just so she gets the commission.

  2. Joe on July 25, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Massage chairs? Friendly sales staff? I want to shop where you worked.

    • Boomer on July 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      @Joe: Well, I no longer work there so I don’t know what it’s like now. One other thing that I learned is that retailers don’t like to spend money on non-essentials – like enough staff 🙂

  3. krantcents on July 25, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Retailers are very smart how they manipulate customers. Shopping with a list does keep you focused on what you need to do. Great tip, I have used it for years.

  4. SE Book on July 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    You are right. I think everyone should have to work retail and being a waiter. they are just good life skills.

    • Boomer on July 25, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      @SE Book: That’s exactly what I’ve always thought. Maybe then customers will think twice before being rude and inconsiderate to staff who are only trying to help them.

  5. John @ Curious Cat Investing Blog on July 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    The biggest failure that annoys me is the poor customer service. As you say you can be helpful and not rude. But it seems like nearly all retailers just seek to minimize expenses and don’t care about providing service. Now I can understand if all your company offers is cheap prices. But if you want to provide decent service you will get people that are willing to pay a bit more and be able to make more money. I gave up price as my prime factor long ago. price matters but I shop mainly where I don’t get annoyed – not where something is $1 cheaper than somewhere else.

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