The American Psychiatric Association conducted a survey that shows anxiety is continuing to increase rather significantly. In 2018, a full 39 percent reported feeling more anxious than they did the year before. And although there are some groups that show higher levels overall (Millennials, women, people of color), all groups are showing an increase.
Retail brands need to consider this when designing their customer experience. Customers are coming into stores, visiting websites and mobile apps with a higher level of tension than ever before. How can retail design help reduce shopper anxiety?
Three major stressors influence the way people shop: distractions, insecurity and time constraints. Let’s explore each of these sources of frustration and how brands can address them.
This is one of the biggest challenges of modern life. People are tethered to smart phones, constantly checking social media, the news or email. Add the bombardment of visual media, music, traffic. And then there’s the endless sea of options for products and services… no wonder consumers are overwhelmed.
Retail environments often contribute to this noise in an attempt to stand out. Having the loudest, flashiest design might get people’s attention, but will it draw them in or scare them away?
Brands have some options that will help reduce distractions:
- A consistent experience across the retail network: This means, regardless of the specific configuration of a store, customers can easily navigate and find what they want. For example, although each Starbucks store is unique, there are common elements, the same menu items and the same customer journey every time.
- The use of specific visual cues: Digital content, when properly planned and placed within the environment, can be a huge benefit in helping consumers focus. However, meaningless clutter will not provide any benefit and can actually irritate the consumer so brands must be specific and thoughtful when using digital signage and media. Rebecca Minkoff is revolutionizing the fashion experience with digital mirrors that suggest items that coordinate with ones you’ve chosen, send items automatically to your fitting room, change the lighting depending on where you plan to wear an item, and check you out when you are done.
- A curated inventory: Studies show that too much choice simply complicates decision-making, and reduces the likelihood that customers will make a purchase. There are different ways to approach this idea. For grocery or big box stores, limiting options for each item to a reasonable number is important. For fashion brands, the amount of merchandise in the store may be dictated by the price point. However, looking at the success of the curated brand Madewell to its parent brand J Crew, less can still be more at a mid-price point – especially in-store.
Perhaps for the first time in many people’s lives, the world feels increasingly unsafe and unstable. Political divide, mass shootings, climate change and economic turmoil are weighing on people’s minds. Customers bring this angst with them, as well as an increasing mistrust of large corporations and media, when they go to the bank, the grocery store or the shopping mall.
There are many ways brands can ease this underlying pressure by instilling a sense of confidence:
- Transparency: Companies should clearly state their promise to the consumer, and then deliver on that promise over and over again.
- Expertise: In many categories, changing the staffing model to include more experts who can provide detailed information will inspire greater confidence.
- Social Proof: Authentic customer reviews on websites, or “customer’s choice” designations for best-selling items are good ways to provide credibility that consumers will trust. It’s critical that brands do not violate that trust by paying for or otherwise incentivizing reviews without disclosing this information. Trust is more easily earned up front than it is earned back.
- Privacy: As the use of geocaching and measurement of biometric information increases, so too will customer awareness and skepticism. Brands must think carefully about how they use these technologies, and allow customers the ability to opt-out.
Most of us are expected to be accessible 24 hours a day and work/life balance is harder to achieve than ever before. Even if we have time on our hands, we feel rushed and impatient. Retail brands cannot afford to waste the customers’ time. Depending on the category or type of transaction, this may mean expediting and simplifying processes. Many retailers are using technology to reduce waiting times, and this is a great place to start. However, another tactic to consider is helping consumers slow down.
Brands have an opportunity to create greater value for their customers when it comes to leisure time and more complex transactions. They can accomplish this by:
- Providing lounge areas where customers can relax. This can be a godsend to a busy shopper.
- Offering experiences. Unique events that encourage consumers to think about the brand as more than a sum of products or services are increasingly popular in every category. From cooking classes, to speakers’ series, to make-up tutorials with YouTube stars, brands are offering customers a reason to come that extends beyond the purchase of an item. These experiences encourage lingering and deepen brand engagement.
- Creating VIP zones that provide privacy and more personal service. This can help change a mindset; simply bringing someone a glass of lemon water or a cup of tea can shift consumers out of an adrenalized state.
It is no longer possible for brands to ignore their consumer’s emotional state. Brands that make consumers feel at ease will have a huge advantage in our increasingly competitive and anxious marketplace. In order to make an emotional connection with consumers, brands must remove the barrier of anxiety.