5 Ways Stores Try to Play You Right Into Their Hands

By Aaron Crowe, dealnews writer

Shopping is serious business for most people. They want something and they go get it. When you've got a long list of things to buy, you don't want any distractions along the way. But retailers have come to learn that the more fun people have, the more likely they are to linger — and that means spending more bucks. Most of all, customers are happier and have a more positive experience while shopping, meaning they won't dread the next trip as if it were a dental check-up.

"We're much less serious people than we give ourselves credit for," says Harry Beckwith, the author of Unthinking: The Surprising Forces Behind What We Buy. So how are retailers engaging our funny bones these days? Here's a run-down of some tricks of the trade:

Fun Ads
Ads that have fun with their products — such as the Old Spice Man — are successful because they bring attention to something that consumers aren't passionate about or heavily concerned with, and the fun ads make them aware that the product exists. The next time you go to a store and need deodorant, Old Spice will be more likely to stick in your mind if you've seen and enjoyed its ads, Beckwith says.

While the Old Spice advertisements are aimed at women, they're also funny to men — the target of most funny ads. Beckwith says, "Men spend more of their time at play or watching play, and women spend more of their time socially."

Surveys & Contests
If you're interested enough to spend time taking a survey or entering a contest, the reasoning goes, then you're interested enough in the product to buy. Just taking a company survey can bring back good memories that will make you want to relive that experience. The Walt Disney Co., for example, sends out questionnaires a year later to Disneyland visitors, asking when they'll return again. The survey stirs up fond memories of time at the park and is meant to encourage customers to return.

Whether for a free trip or chance to win a song, contests succeed because they're diversions from real life that are fun, says psychotherapist Judy Belmont, "It's very addictive — being diverted. People don't have enough diversions in their lives."

Make it a fun place to visit
This seems obvious, but given the chance, wouldn't you rather shop at someplace fun and creative than a store without such extras? Too much fun and noise can drive customers away, though, such as Chuck E. Cheese; but just enough excitement can encourage customer to stay, spend money and return again. The Hat Lounge in Durham, North Carolina, has live musicians performing on Saturdays while people shop, and it had a Super Bowl day, where all employees wore outfits and cheered as if it were a game. IKEA stores have onsite childcare so you can stay longer and buy more, and the cafeterias are worth the trip for lunch.

Demonstration areas
These sections of stores help businesses promote fun, getting potential customers to interact with a product and buy it or some related product. The gadget store Brookstone has always been on the forefront of demonstration areas, often putting sales people near the entrance to play with a toy helicopter, and encouraging customers to try out its products in the store. Toy stores and electronics stores also set aside large demonstration areas during Christmas for the Microsoft Kintect for Xbox 360, which requires a lot of space to play.

One store, Lucy Activewear, features demonstrations by professional athletes in some stores, who give customers tips on exercising, says Heather Schwartz of Anvil Media. One of the most playful stores to visit is an Apple store, where all of its products are on display and shoppers are encouraged to try them out. From the first Apple computer that said "Hello" on its screen upon startup to the touchable iPad, Apple has fun figured out.

This is an area you may not think about until you've given it a try. We discussed store freebies a few weeks ago as tools to entice shoppers. If successful, they don't turn out to be free.

The candy store called Illinois Nut and Candy, in Skokie, Ill., which does business online under another name, gives a free lollipop (with mom's permission) to every child, along with free samples for customers. It's not reinventing the wheel as far as fun at a candy store, but it works.

If you're having fun at a store, go ahead and enjoy it. You're not being taken for a ride. Just realize that it could lead to more impulse buys and might cost you more money than you realized.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has worked as a reporter and an editor for newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter — @AaronCrowe.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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