How to Evaluate Your Store's "Customer Image"
Marketing Psychology, Inc. Marketing and Sales From the Inside Out
Gary Witt, Ph.D.
Every store has an image in the minds of its shoppers AND those who choose not to shop there. It is that image which helps create repeat customers, and keeps others away.
Is a Bill Blass shirt bought at K‑Mart as good as the same shirt bought at Macy's? Probably. But somehow it seems "cheaper," as though an invisible film of cheapness present in the store permeated all the items for sale.
Studies show that generally when a low‑end store carries a high‑end brand, the brand's image may give a little lift to the store's image, but the store's image hurts the brand's image ‑‑ the reason that certain exclusive, popular women's fashion labels refuse to let their remainders or irregulars be sold to discount stores.
Conversely, even private label merchandise at high‑end stores takes on a high quality image. Which may explain why you see women wearing fancy "Saks Fifth Avenue" t‑shirts, but never one that says "K‑Mart."
Store image isn't just "high or low end", but the type of store it seems to be. Bob's Big Bong Emporium sign sends a signal that is guaranteed to attract some and repel others. But signage is just one element in how customers see your brand. Numerous factors influence shoppers' perceived image of a store, each impacting its perceived quality and attractiveness. Here are some you can use to improve your store's image:
* The "LOOK" OF THE STORE is created by lighting, aisle width, shelving, smell, layout, display of the merchandise, etc. A store with great merchandise can lose customers because it looks ‘cheap' or ‘dirty.' Stores that don't "look" like a teen place, a trendy bar, or an elegant jewelry store may have trouble getting their target customers through the door to sample the merchandise. On the other hand, stores with middle quality merchandise may attract both middle and high-end customers if the store front and decor suggest a high quality establishment with quality merchandise at a lower price.
* The TYPE OF PEOPLE buyers see in the store influences its image. Teens prefer to shop in stores where they see primarily other teens, not parents or "geezers." Bar patrons prefer to see other people like themselves, as do Victoria’s Secret shoppers. Often the print ads displayed on the windows and in the store signal the type of shopper the store wants to attract.
* THE TYPE OF STAFF customers see ‑‑ how they dress, how they talk, how they look all influence the buyer's overall image of the store, and its personal attractiveness to them. Stores carrying women's "plus" sizes find that sales increase when they employ plus‑size clerks ‑‑ customers feel the clerks can relate to their physical and psychological needs. Hardware store patrons often seek out male employees who look "experienced" in home repair. Stores have found it pays to put employees in some type of identifiable "uniform" that helps customers pick them out. And when trendy boutique stores put attractive women clerks in their clothes, sales go up when customers know -- the store becomes like a continuous runway for models. Naturally, the friendliness of the staff is also critical.
* The LOCATION OF THE STORE strongly influences its image, which is why you never see a Tiffany's or a corporate law firm in a strip shopping center. It is difficult for a store to have an image that is substantially better than the shopping area it is in. Major brands know a high‑quality location wraps its tenants in a high‑quality image, and so does a poor location. Think of the quality national image of addresses like Rodeo Drive, New York's Fifth Avenue, Scottsdale, or Palm Springs. It's part of the "sizzle" on the steak.
One important value of using marketing psychology is in a detailed evaluation of your store, its location, personnel, customers, layout, design and merchandise display. All these and much more impact sales.