The Rising Influence of the “Slow Shopping Theory”

In response to ongoing research that suggests that the slower people shop, the more they spend, retail companies are beginning to employ new techniques aimed at slowing down the shopping experience. While it may seem to make intuitive sense that people tend to buy more if they spend a longer amount of time in a store, this conclusion is a fairly recent development. With the initial rise in online shopping, stores initially became focused on speeding up the in-store shopping process in order to compete. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports, we are seeing a growing reversal of this trend as retail companies are attempting to “capture U.S. consumers’ growing preference for experiences.”

Specifically, The Wall Street Journal explains, the “slow shopping” movement is an attempt by retailers to encourage consumers to spend more time browsing their stores as part of a “leisurely and enriching experience that’s not overtly focused on buying something.” In other words, retailers are looking for new ways to draw shoppers in and invite them to hang out at their stores in the hopes that reducing the pressure to shop by making it more of an interactive experience will actually encourage consumers to shop more. For instance, Estée Lauder Cos. has made widespread seating available in the majority of its 87 free-standing stores and installed special lighting along one of the walls that is optimal for selfie-taking. Similarly, Origins, which sells cosmetics such as lotions and creams, has outfitted many of its stores with in-store sink stations where customers can get facials or test out the products, in addition to lining some of their shelves with an arrangement of bottled herbs and plants that are used to make Origins products for customers to look at as they shop. Origins’ senior vice president and general manager Stephane de la Faverie attributes the company’s recent growth in in-store sales from 20% to 40% to this new business model.

What evidence has led retail stores to become so focused on making shopping more of an “experience,” especially for millennials? As reported in a study by The Fashion Institute of Technology, Eventbrite’s 2015 survey concluded that 82% of millennials have attended a live activity in the past year—including anything from parties to festivals, themed sports, and performing arts—and 72% of millennials would like to spend more on such “experiences” in the next year. In addition, The Wall Street Journal reports, a survey of around 1,000 people conducted by Boston Consulting Group and the Fashion Institute of Technology’s graduate degree program for beauty-industry executives concluded that the top two things that consumers like to splurge on are going away for the weekend or a night out, as opposed to buying new clothes. In an effort to appeal to millennial shoppers, stores like Urban Outfitters Inc. have thus differentiated themselves by hosting concerts and art events, as well as by incorporating restaurants into some of their larger locations.

Aside from these more recent innovations that focus on changing the physical space of the store in order to make it more interactive, many stores have actually been using background music for years as another sly method for boosting in-store sales. Back in 2011, Gus Lubin reported in Business Insider (based on a paper by Nicolas Guéguen, Céline Jacob, Marcel Lourel, and Hélène Le Guellec) that loud music leads shoppers to step up the pace at which they move through supermarkets, without reducing their spending, while slow music leads people to spend a longer time at restaurants, with increasing their spending. In addition, the sophisticated, high-class vibe created by classical music has varying effects on spending according to context: in wine stores, classical music is more successful at encouraging purchases of expensive alcohol than Top 40 playlists, but in other types of stores, the fact that classical music leads people to perceive a store as more expensive can be detrimental to sales.

In order to best adapt their in-store business models to the consumer preferences for both online shopping and live experiences, it appears that retailers must jointly incorporate fast checkout lanes, as well as in-store attractions and activities for their consumers. This is no simple task, but as demonstrated by the growth in sales experienced by Origins after revamping many of its locations, it is clearly worthwhile.