Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Building For Tomorrow: Shopping Pathways

Paco Underhill, author of the essential Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, explains using observational data analysis why many of the retail store configurations work to increase sales and shoppability of product.  At the core of any such configuration are the pathways: the means by which visitors to the store will walk from one feature to another.

Typical configurations include a racetrack (a circular pathway surrounding the store's center and inside the periphery aisles) with product rack and fixture set up as an amphitheater (low and see-over-it in the middle of the racetrack, high and explore-into-it at the outside of the racetrack).  Using various other pieces of shopping psychology, such as proper display orientation and appropriate stock choices for endcaps, the result is an extremely shoppable store.  Think about places like Costco or Best Buy and you've already seen these concepts at work.

Of course there are disruptors and shakers pushing into new territory in terms of configuration, and we're all enjoy the experience they create and learning a distinctive imprint of their brands.  But just saying "you should be able to do it differently" and seeing it done differently are two different things. Two of the wider divergents are Apple and IKEA, and it's pretty safe to say they swing heavy hammers in their particular categories.  For some upstart furniture warehouse in Oklahoma City to turn IKEA on its ear, we're going to need to see something mind-blowingly compelling.

For most small specialty retailers, sticking to Underhill's proven methodology is the best approach.

Of course, we have variance in the size, shape, and orientation of our commercial buildings or suites. That makes a difference.  There may or may not be windows, secondary entryways or exits, unusual positioning of restrooms, or what have you.  Little Shop of Magic in Las Vegas occupies a renovated professional office floor.  Meeples Games in Seattle operates a kitchen.  Nerdvana in Tennessee made room in their staff area for a technical workbench to perform cell phone repairs.  Whatever store it is and wherever it is, unless it's the cookie-cutter 1000-square-foot shoebox with a counter running the length of the left side, it probably required some adaptation to make Underhill's setup work.

And then we have Desert Sky Games, six months after the move to Chandler.  Has it been that long already, I ask, knowing it has aged me years.
Right from the start, we set up the rudiments of the model.  The cash wrap and tills are on the left, the merchandise is in the middle, there is a counterclockwise racetrack around it, and the game room is behind all of that.  Like a game of Sim City (pictured), we had to set a lot of things up knowing they would be inefficient now, but would be in the right places for later.  Especially in the first month when the entire store was compressed into the front 30% of the footage, there were some head-scratcher layout decisions that only later bore fruit, like starting the merchandise some fifteen feet in, to provide a decompression zone.

We're running into a few issues that aren't agreeing with the model and are, in my observation, appearing to impede shopper ease.

Because we're using the grid rack fixtures we already owned, there is not a sufficiently low amphitheater.  It's improved significantly from the Gilbert store deployment and from the first-month tarp-limited storelet we had, but it's not good enough.  The Citadel and Army Painter paint racks block sight lines badly, and we have a gondola with apparel that we haven't managed to arrange more approachably.

We don't even really have the exterior ring as such, though there is a small piece of it in the form of some racking that is supposed to hold built white cardboard boxes that we never seem to have time to build.  But even those racks are going to be overrun by additional arcade games.  In fact...

The immediate turn-right is occupied on the wall by the vintage arcade.  While this has surely contributed to the arcade performing better than it ever has in DSG history, it also creates something of a shadow dead-zone for products.  It doesn't help that the stuff that's not security-intensive that we can readily feature there is well outnumbered in the store by stuff we need closer to where staff can watch it.  This is an open puzzle and one I'll look to iterate when I build some more grid gondolas out of the stack of fixture racking in the Fungeon.

Oh, also, the Fungeon (Fun Dungeon, you see, it's a play on words...) NEVER MIND anyway it's not built yet even today.  Once completed, we'll be able to get rid of the giant mound of crap in the back center of the suite once I can put main shipping into the unfinished room.  That space will then turn into something relevant for gameplay.  In turn, gameplay space nearer the front of the store can be optimized, such as with a streaming station, and configured so that it meshes with the south end of the retail space.  There are a bunch of dependencies and it seems like each domino isn't ready to be pushed because I discover another domino precedent to it.

One thing that works are the video game racks, which are low-height and easy to shop, but are also sort of right in the middle of the amphitheater where nobody can see them.  They do need better signage but also it seems like I may need to break up the aisles and make them easier to enter.  This could potentially allow things like dedicated racks for each given system.  I'm not sure exactly how this is going to get reconfigured, but I'm close.  I at least know what the result needs to be.  As it is right now they have a low attract rate and a high conversion rate.  From among customers who actually make it to the video game racks, we get plenty of sales.

The storefront is going to switch to Square Retail POS soon, leaving singles for now on Crystal Commerce.  This is going to help me solve another problem, which is that it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep track manually of what sells through and has to be restocked that sits on the main floor.  Enough of the business is used merch now that this isn't a debilitating problem.  But it's related to pathways in that I've got a bunch of shoppable racks that the natural flow of the floor does not direct people toward in a meaningful way.  They only get there if they explore further on their own initiative, which not all shoppers do.

Our comic deployment is about to change considerably and I don't think it's finished doing so.  We engaged in a massive inventory conveyance to Game On in Prescott, who gave us an offer too generous for us to refuse, and that leaves the comic side of our business focused on boxholders and new releases almost entirely.  That part of our mechanism has been performing well and now we get to configure a focused setup for that and let it run on diesel fuel for a while so we can get some other cost centers and feature centers wrangled properly.

There's more than that and I suppose without photos this makes for something of a dry read.  But this sort of boring iteration is at the core of my work right now.  We have four and a half years left on the lease and no moves or alterations of the footage on the immediate horizon, so it's all kicks and punches until further notice.  Fundamentals, in product first and then in facility.  Facility looks the worse for its second-priority ranking.  And here we are.

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