is the answer to Shopping Hell that we need to be nicer to each other?

I’ve been thinking A LOT about the retail shopping experience recently.  Partly because I’ve got relevant projects on the go or in the works and partly because I’ve been ‘impulse storing’ – which I’ve just invented to describe popping into a store on impulse to try and knock some items off the worrying large festive shopping list sitting in your handbag.

In the last couple of weeks, through a combination of work and life I’ve managed to visit ASDA, Tesco, Waitrose, Booths (which is a sort of northern Waitrose), a big Co-op, Currys, ASDA Living, John Lewis, Selfridges, TK Maxx, B&M, M&S and Wilkinsons.  Which seems to me to be a fair cross section of all ends of the market.

What’s really struck me on my SuperShop is that the higher the price point, the better the shopping experience.  With the obvious exception of anything on Oxford Street four weeks before Christmas.  But I’m not really talking about queuing time, customer service or the in-store environment.  It’s how the other customers behave that seems to make the biggest difference.

With the best will in the world, pushing a trolley round a major mainstream supermarket in mid-December is not going to be a pleasant experience.  But it’s made considerably worse by trolleys pushers not giving way, parents screaming at their kids and people being generally inconsiderate of their fellow shoppers while they’re in full-on hunter-gatherer mode.

christmas supermarket by cartoonchurchdotcomby

I’ve been wondering if there’s a way to make customers a little more considerate and, well, human while not impacting on the desired ‘must buy lots of stuff’ mentality that keeps the store tills ringing.  Surely a more pleasant experience would make shoppers more likely to browse, impulse buy and stay longer?  You’d think that someone would have done some research into the effect on basket spend of a chillaxing environment vs. one where sensory overload has a dehumanising (but possibly spend amplifying) effect.

Someone has at least investigated one side of this dilema, the New York Times has reported that ‘the less comfortable you are during the seasonal shopping spree, the more money you’ll spend’.  Researchers from Penn State and the National University of Singapore concluded that music played at high volumes was one of several factors that leads to overstimulation and ‘a momentary loss of self-control, thus enhancing the likelihood of impulse purchase.’ (thanks to @russhmeyer and @clweinfeld for the link)

But I’d be really interested to hear if anyone has looked into the other ‘let’s all be nice to each other’ option?  Booths are pretty brilliant at delivering this, but they have the luxury of a time and cash rich core customer base.  I’m just not sure I can see their ‘we’re all gentleman here’ approach working in one of ASDA or Tesco’s megastores.  Perhaps it would just take a few Random Acts of Kindness by store staff to kick it all off?  If anyone’s done any research into this I’d love to hear about it.

By the way – I’d advise any Brits reading this to get your Christmas food shop done on Saturday 22nd or be brave and hold off until you can sneak out of work on the 24th.  Traditionally, the 23rd is the biggest, busiest day of the year for supermarkets.  But the 23rd this year falls on a Sunday so the 6 hour Sunday trading rule applies.  Which means the festive bunfight will be twice as bad as usual as the shopping window is halved that day.  Tesco and Morrisons have both asked for extended opening hours and have been refused so don’t say I didn’t warn you…

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