We all know that visiting a crowded shopping centre can be an extremely stressful experience, particularly with upcoming Christmas shopping season and the manic Boxing Day sales.
While Christmas retail spend is anticipated to be the lowest in six years – which may provide welcome relief to crowd numbers, but not stores – both retailers and consumers can prepare so shoppers feel less rushed, anxious and frustrated this season.
Peak shopping periods force shopping centres and retailers to grapple with the effects of overcrowding – both physical and perceived – as they understand it can lead to less in-store spending and negative customer experiences that could impact future patronage.
Recent research undertaken by Monash Business School’s Australian Consumer and Retail Studies (ACRS) highlights the importance of managing crowds in shopping centres as crucial in ensuring a great experience every shopping trip.
Lead researcher and managing director of ACRS, Dr Rebecca Dare, said poor store layouts can make a space appear more crowded than it is, negatively affect consumer experience by reducing overall enjoyment, the likelihood of browsing other shops and time spent in the centre itself.
“A crowd can also affect negatively the valuations of products, where shoppers are less willing to pay higher prices for certain goods in crowded situations,” Dr Dare said.
“Considering that ACRS research shows 71 per cent of shoppers use bricks-and-mortar stores most of the time, and that more than one-third of shoppers state the physical store as the most important touchpoint when deciding which product to purchase, it’s vital that shopping centres offer a comfortable environment.”
Study co-author and a researcher in Monash Univesity’s Department of Marketing, Clarice Huston, said perceived crowding was purely subjective, so even food courts and cinemas – recreational precincts designed to remove shopper stress – could have the opposite effect.
“Retailers make an effort to provide a sanctuary amid the crowds with cafes, food and other recreational offerings, but the additional clutter of tables and chairs could heighten the anxiety of already-stressed shoppers,” Ms Huston said.
“Food retailers that use natural lighting, slow-tempo music and a relaxing scent in their own space could help ease customers’ fears. The use of ‘cool’ colours like blue and green could also deliver a place of serenity amid the chaos.”
Shopping centres are starting to implement solutions for a crowded and overwhelming environment, such as Quiet Hour in Coles supermarkets; providing a sanctuary for shoppers, such as the Quiet Room “retreat” for parents and children at Bayfair Shopping Centre (NZ); directing traffic flows, such as the dedicated click-and-collect concierge at David Jones’ next-generation store at Carindale (Queensland); using natural light to create a sense of vertical expansiveness, such as at Chadstone Shopping Centre (Victoria); and developing destinations with food, cafe and recreational options integrated into shopping centres also provides a break from shopping, such as GPT’s new “The Corner” precinct (NSW).
Shoppers can also maximise enjoyment of their experience by:
Taking back control of their shopping trip: “Let shoppers plan their own visits based on peak crowd information stores can provide on their own websites,” Dr Dare said. Apps such as Chadstone’s can assist in planning your shopping trip, including transport, and navigating when at the centre.
Understand your tolerance for noise and crowds, and plan your shopping accordingly. Allow time in your shopping trip to stop and grab a coffee to decompress when you need to, and visit during less crowded times if your tolerance is low.
Order deals in advance for click and collect, and ensure you make time to explore products you wouldn’t discover online while you’re at the store and ensure you make time to explore products you wouldn’t discover online while you’re at the store.
Remember that physiologically we don’t make great decisions when stressed, so if it all gets too much – leave!