Digital Christmas shopping – in the physical store

Posted in: Research, Retail, Technology

When retailers prepare their stores for the festive season, they think about so much more than just playing Christmas music and putting up decorations: they also have a large toolbox of digital techniques at their disposal. Professor Jens Nordfalt from the Bath Retail Lab explains some new examples of how retailers use digitalisation to inspire you as a shopper.

The phrase ‘digital Christmas shopping’ might make you think of e-commerce or possibly to your smartphone and social media apps such as Instagram. However, the reality is that the greatest part of a retailer’s digital budget is invested in traditional bricks-and-mortar stores.

For example, when you go shopping, retailers want you to use your smartphone. Our research has found that shoppers who use their smartphones while in-store spend around 40% more than those who don’t. The underlying reason is that the device has a massive impact on your ‘state of presence’. Mentally, when you use your smartphone you go ‘somewhere else’ and when you put it away, you start the shopping trip from the beginning.

To encourage shoppers’ use of smart phones, retailers have started to install free Wi-Fi; they use more QR codes in stores; and they encourage store staff to use their phones to show shoppers examples of products and their uses.

We found that shoppers who had been on their phone were three times as likely to go back to a part of the store that they had already been to. Hence, for every time that you have use your phone and put it away, it is as if you have walked into the store anew.

Offering inspiration

Retailers will use instore digital devices such as digital screens to show combinations of products in use – but not to highlight discounts. In one study, we showed that shoppers became much more inspired if they saw something like a recipe, or furniture displayed as it would be in a room, than if they saw the same set of products in separate images. Seeing the product in this context makes you think not about the individual items, but rather how you might use them.

Interestingly, this inspiration disappears once discounts are presented. It seems as if a ‘discount mindset’ takes priority: as soon as the communication in our test involved discounts, even if it also involved inspiration, shoppers stopped being inspired.

Showing products in use is especially powerful at this time of year, since there are so many season-specific props that can be used to make you think about how you want your Christmas. Displays with products in use are also a great sales technique, since so many shoppers are in the stores seeking gift ideas and who benefit from these more informative displays.

The personal touch

Personal selling is often a very effective tool in retailing, and is commonly used around Christmas. In some studies, we have found that sampling of grocery products can increase sales by as much as 3,500%. This does, however, come at a cost. If store staff must manually operate a sampling station, much of the increased margins are consumed by the extra staffing costs.

We therefore ran an experiment that replaced the human with a large vertical TV screen showing a recording of the product demo. The results revealed that as much as 80% of the sales increase remained even when the person was absent: the screen did almost as good a job as a human.

An extra dimension

If you go shopping in an extravagant store, you might also run into a mixed reality – or hologram – display. Mixed reality is when a digital world is projected onto the physical one. We did a study on this that showed promising results: shoppers could envision using a product to an increased extent when it had been projected in front of them.

To test this, we put ‘sensory projectors’ in the ceiling over end-of-aisle displays in supermarkets. The devices were able to project films in a laser show-like manner, as well as to distribute sound and scent. The films themselves boosted sales by over 60% for the products being displayed, and the addition of sound and scent increased sales even more.

So, when you go Christmas shopping, expect the physical store to be more digitalised than ever before. Remember that these techniques are there to inspire you and help you find what you look for – but they might also lead you to offerings that you might not have wanted if you had given it a bit more thought.

Merry Christmas!



Posted in: Research, Retail, Technology

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