How Much Human Interaction Is Too Much in a Retail Setting?

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Customers in a retail setting don’t want to be ignored. They also don’t want to be bothered. So, how do you know how much human interaction in retail stores is too much or too little? According to the Harvard Business Review, the amount of human interaction that people want in a retail store may be less than we think. Their article “Your In-Store Customers Want More Privacy” shares data from researchers who performed field experiments with shoppers in a mess-merchandise store.

The researchers found that:

  • Shoppers buy less when they feel they don’t have personal space. Shoppers are 25% less likely to purchase an item if they feel another person is too close to them.
  • Shoppers buy less if they feel like they’re being watched. If eye contact is made between a shopper and sales associate, shoppers are 37% less likely to purchase their intended product during that trip.
  • When purchasing revealing products, shoppers buy even less if there’s too much human interaction. When customers felt “their personal-space was invaded,” they were more likely to abandon a purchase of an item that is expressive of their personality ( like nail polish or hair dye). They weren’t as likely to abandon an item that was not expressive of their personality (like makeup remover or cotton balls).  

Research by Novarica also found that customers like their space and privacy while making purchasing decisions -- especially millennials. Their research which looked at the purchasing habits of millennials found that:

  • Millennials like to research before they buy. They “Google everything” so they can be educated to make purchasing decisions on their own. They don’t like to rely on salespeople for information, and they usually already have a base knowledge about products before arriving at a store.
  • Millennials don’t like to be sold to. They don’t like someone else guiding their purchasing process. They like to be in control and feel as though they are making decisions based on what they know and want, not because they are being pressured.

 As millennials become the generation with the largest purchasing power, the retail market is acquiring a growing customer base that doesn’t like to be “sold to.” So, what do these findings say about the amount of human interaction in retail stores that should be provided?

What Type of Human Interaction Do Customers Want In Retail Stores?

This research can guide retail stores to create a more comfortable and welcoming space for shoppers. When retail stores train sales associates and set up their showroom, they should keep the following best practices in mind.

  • Don’t rush or crowd customers.
  • Give customers their privacy.
  • Let customers be in control of their purchasing process.
  • Offer tools that aid customers in their research.
  • Don’t put pressure on customers.
  • Know that your customers are probably already educated about products.
  • Let customers know you are available if and when they need you.

Retailers must build trust with people who don’t like salespeople by giving them the tools they need, but not bombarding them with assistance or pressure.

How To Give Retail Customers More Privacy

The following tips and tactics can help give customers what they want regarding the right amount of human interaction in retail stores.

  • Place shopping baskets throughout the store. Researches cited in the Harvard Business Review article suggested placing shopping baskets throughout a store. This allows shoppers to slide items into baskets when they decide to purchase them without walking around with products and feeling judged.
  • Place expensive items behind glass. Researchers also believe that putting expensive items behind glass or in a vending machine can also make customers feel more comfortable. Employees must watch over expensive items more closely, so eliminating the possibility of theft can allow staff to pull back from watching over those items and areas.
  • Use digital platforms that help customers research on their own. Customers like to do their own research during the purchasing process. So stores can aid them by providing tools like interactive screens and digital signage that enable customers to learn about products without needing to speak to a sales associate.
  • Present product demo videos. Another way to help customers get to know products or services without needing to engage with a salesperson is by displaying product demo videos. Stores can position screens near product displays that show how items work and how they benefit customers.
  • Connect in-store experience to an online experience. Most customers are comfortable shopping online, so stores can connect their in-store commerce experience to their online ecommerce experience. Use omni-channel marketing and connect in-store inventory to online inventory so customers can use their devices to find additional information and place orders for items that are out-of-stock in the physical location.

Many customers want less human interaction in retail situations, and with these tools, stores can provide the private experiences many shoppers crave.

Don’t Move Away from All Human Interaction In Retail Settings

While this article shares tips for toning down some elements of human interaction in retail stores, this doesn’t mean stores should completely phase out in-person teams or advise staff to ignore customers.

The takeaway from this article isn’t that customers don’t want human interaction. It’s that customers want to be in control of the interactions. 

It's also worth noting that the amount of human interaction that customers want to see will vary based on industry and customer base. Some industries with more skeptical customers, like auto shops, may benefit from less human interaction while other retail stores, like wedding dress stores, could benefit from more interaction.  

It’s important to always consider your unique customer while designing the in-store experience that will give your shoppers what they want and need.

Learn More About Improving Customer Experience

If you are interested in learning more about how to create in-store environments that customers love and keep them coming back again and again -- get our free guide to creating exceptional customer experiences.
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Tags: retail marketing

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