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Rotterdam School of Management

Slower shoppers ‘can help boost supermarket sales’

New research has revealed that supermarkets can control the speed of shoppers, helping to boost supermarket sales.

A study by Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) observed 4,000 people in a series of experiments conducted in both supermarkets and in laborites, demonstrating that retail managers can persuade customers to walk at an ideal pace through the aisles by altering lines and patterns on the floor.

Closely spaced, horizontal lines, slowed the pace down at which shoppers travelled through the store, encouraging them to browse. Widen the gaps between the lines and the shoppers moved much more quickly.

Bram Van den Bergh, who led the research, said: “Managing the flow of customers can be a challenge for retailers. When customers rush through the store, they miss interesting products and buy less. Spending too much time in front of the shelves can lead to annoying congestion in the aisles, which also leads to declining sales.

“It has been known for some time that walking speed plays an important role in shoppers’ purchasing decisions. But until now it was unclear what retail managers could do to influence the pace of their customers. This research was set up to find out how they might achieve this.”

The perception of the length of the aisle was altered by shortening and widening the lines, making shoppers believe that the aisle was nearer/further away, causing them to speed up/slow down.

Subsequent tests also showed that slower shoppers were much better at recalling products that they had seen on the shelves.

The researchers related their findings to goal gradient theory: when an individual is closer to their goal, in this case, the end of the aisle, they will walk faster to reach it.