Image: Woman shopping at Old Navy
Nam Y. Huh  /  AP file
As retailers have improved the e-commerce experience in recent years, they haven’t invested in their stores, pushing an increasing number of shoppers online.
updated 11/20/2011 12:41:20 PM ET 2011-11-20T17:41:20

Americans don’t shop the way they used to. It’s not only that they’re going to the mall less often. Consumers in this post-recession era are also less likely to stick around and browse after they walk into a store. Marketing pros say that shoppers tend to come armed with oodles of Web research on brands and prices. They buy, then leave. No browsing. No impulse buys.

The industry calls them “mission shoppers.” Such consumers visit fewer stores per trip — three, vs. five before the recession, according to research firm ShopperTrak. That means retailers need to “get more out of every person that walks through the door,” says David Maddocks, a former chief marketing officer for Nike’s Converse brand who now runs a consulting firm.

As retailers have improved the e-commerce experience in recent years, they haven’t invested in their stores, pushing an increasing number of shoppers online. “While e-commerce has been getting better, the stores have been getting worse,” says Ron Boire, chief executive officer of electronics retailer Brookstone. “A lot of retailers pulled a ton of labor off the floor in ’08 and ’09, and now they are figuring out how to put it back in.”

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Gap’s Old Navy is using more greeters at its stores. Lowe’s is arming its floorwalkers with iPhones so they can instantly check inventory and make suggestions if a certain item is unavailable. Foot Locker trains associates to ditch the traditional “how may I help you?” for “What kind of shoe are you looking for?” It’s a subtle change that’s more likely to start a conversation, says CEO Ken Hicks.

Retailers are also reconfiguring stores to encourage browsing. Old Navy has remodeled about a third of its 1,000 stores, installing a “racetrack” layout to compel shoppers to circumnavigate the store and see more merchandise. The revamped outlets feature wider aisles to accommodate the strollers pushed by Old Navy’s target customer — thirtysomething moms. Shelves and displays are lower so shoppers need look no higher than 10 feet. And they no longer have to trek to the back of the store to try on clothes; in the redone stores, the changing rooms are in the middle, and there are “quick fit pods” for speedy try-ons.

Old Navy has boosted impulse buys at checkout, too, by stocking shelves near its registers with such Gen X favorites as Mad Libs books and superhero lunch boxes. The result of all the changes: Shoppers at the remodeled stores are spending $2 more per visit, according to Gap, helping turn Old Navy into the company’s best-performing unit.

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Other stores are taking a page from Nordstrom, which has long grouped merchandise in lifestyle categories to encourage shoppers to purchase entire outfits rather than single articles of clothing. Body Central, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based apparel chain aimed at 18- to 35-year-old women, now organizes its clothing into such categories as “club” (evening wear) and “casual” (weekend wear). Over the past 12 months sales at the publicly traded company were up 22 percent. Body Central also has upgraded window displays and installed laptops that play hit music. “There’s a plethora of information out there and more choices for the customers, and that puts pressure on execution,” says CEO Allen Weinstein. “We’ve taken it up a notch.”

As retailers upgrade stores, they’re also cognizant of making the shopping experience more Web-like. Teen clothier Pacific Sunwear equips salespeople with iPads so they can create outfits for customers and place orders for out-of-stock items. That’s improved sales, because “we have 18-year-old guys selling to 18-year-old girls and (the clerks) don’t necessarily know what they want,” says Bill Bieluch, director of IT projects at the chain.

Brookstone couldn’t add Wi-Fi and iPads to its 300 stores fast enough, says Boire. The devices are being used to demonstrate pricey toys such as helicopters and robots that can be controlled using a mobile app. The tablets are also handy when staffers want to pitch items available online but not in stores. Next, Boire wants handheld checkout devices like the ones Apple uses in its stores. He’s been racing ahead because he’s worried that improvements in e-commerce will accelerate consumers’ migration to the Web. And then the mission shopper will become a permanent fixture, rather than a recession-induced phenomenon.

The bottom line: Retailers are tweaking stores to lure Web-savvy mission shoppers. Old Navy makes $2 more per customer in its revamped outlets.

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Copyright © 2012 Bloomberg L.P.All rights reserved.

Video: 7 tips for Black Friday bargains

  1. Transcript of: 7 tips for Black Friday bargains

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: It's five minutes past the hour right now. Let's go back to Al Roker for a check of your weather.

    AL ROKER reporting: All right, that is lovely. Thanks so much, Natalie . Let's check it out, show you for today.

    This morning on TODAY'S CONSUMER , Black Friday deals. Thanksgiving just a couple of days away, many Americans will be giving thanks this year for those day-after bargains. But you don't have to battle the crowds. Lisa Lee Freeman from ShopSmart magazine has a step-by-step guide on finding the best sales. Lisa , good to see you.

    AL ROKER reporting: Good morning, Al .

    Ms. LISA LEE FREEMAN (Editor-in-Chief, ShopSmart Magazine): All right, so Black Friday , it's more than, now, one day.

    ROKER: Oh, it's like two weeks...

    Ms. FREEMAN: ...and it goes on and on. It's started already.


    Ms. FREEMAN: So -- OK. So these folks, we always show them on the news. They're camping out, they got tents. Does it pay to wait in these lines?

    ROKER: No, it does not pay to wait in these lines. A lot of those deals that you're finding, they're limited quantities, so you're waiting and you may not even get them.

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: And then you get in the store and then you probably are going to start grabbing things that may not be such great deals.

    Ms. FREEMAN: Right. So you say, first off, start now. Start early.

    ROKER: Absolutely, start now and go on the websites that actually track all these Friday -- Black Friday deals for you.

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: ,,, FatWallet , GottaDeal . These sites actually help you compare Black Friday deals at all these different retailers.

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: So don't wait for those fliers in the mail.

    Ms. FREEMAN: One of the things you say, nab insider info. Now, if this were stocks, you'd be arrested.

    ROKER: Well, actually, one of the new wrinkles this year is a lot of people are liking retailers on Facebook .

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: And when you like retailers, they're going to send you special deals. So also follow them on Twitter ; you can find out about special deals that way. And when you get near a store, you can actually check in at Facebook ...

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: ...and use Foursquare and other social networking...

    Ms. FREEMAN: Media.

    ROKER: Media. And you can find out about special deals.

    Ms. FREEMAN: Now, you also say it may -- there are some instances where it may pay to wait.

    ROKER: Absolutely. We did a price analysis with a website called

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: ...which crunches a lot of historical price data. And what we looked at were TVs , cameras and laptops to see are the best deals on Black Friday ...

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: ...or does it pay to wait? And for top-rated electronics like that, it definitely pays to wait.

    Ms. FREEMAN: But do you...

    ROKER: The best deals are not now.

    Ms. FREEMAN: But we keep hearing that a lot of retailers don't want to keep a lot of stock because they don't want to get stuck, and so -- I mean, could you run the risk of them running out of stuff if you wait?

    ROKER: They're not running out of stuff, trust me, Al .

    Ms. FREEMAN: Really?

    ROKER: Yeah, they're not running out stuff. And they say that every year.

    Ms. FREEMAN: I know.

    ROKER: They've been saying that the last couple years.

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: But our price analysis shows if you don't buy now, you might actually get a better deal later.

    Ms. FREEMAN: So all these people waiting in line and everything could just stay at home and digest your turkey and...

    ROKER: Well, I would say go online...

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: ...and shop there. There -- and if you're going to be in the stores, use your apps, use the Internet actually...

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: check deals out.

    Ms. FREEMAN: You know, there's this thing going on, shop local, shop -- Small Business Saturday.

    ROKER: That's right .

    Ms. FREEMAN: You say that's a pretty good idea.

    ROKER: Absolutely. A lot of people think Black Friday , they think Walmart , Best Buy , the big retailers, but in fact, a lot of the smaller local stores are going to be having special deals this weekend as well. You can support the local businesses, get some unique gifts that you may not find at the big retailers.

    Ms. FREEMAN: And what about free shipping?

    ROKER: is a great place to go to find out about special free shipping deals, especially if you want to stay in your pajamas and stay in on lack Friday...

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: ...and this weekend and not fight the crowds.

    Ms. FREEMAN: And then you say use your usual tools. What do you mean?

    ROKER: Yeah, well, again, getting back to the apps. If you've got a smartphone and you're going out to the stores, don't forget to bring your smartphone and download those apps. There's apps that can help you compare prices while you're out and about. A lot of the times you're looking at -- you go maybe for a door buster, maybe they ran out, and you start looking at other products. Well, they may not all be such great deals.

    Ms. FREEMAN: If you download, for example, TheFind , Google Shopper, RedLaser , ShopSavvy , PriceGrabber , these are all a bunch of apps that you can use to compare prices...

    Ms. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

    ROKER: ...on your cell phone while you're out and about.

    Ms. FREEMAN: Lot of great information. Lisa Lee Freeman , thank you so much .



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