The secrets of speed selling

In retail, a fast game’s a good game. 


Well, that’s according to Herb Sorensen,  US shopper marketing guru, and author of Inside the Mind of the Shopper, who has spent the last 40 years tracking the behaviour of shoppers in stores. 

“You either sell fast, or you don’t sell much,” Sorensen bluntly told a group of retailers in Melbourne as part of a series of talks organised by IdeaWorks and TNS (the world’s leading shopper research agency).

Sorensen believes that merchants have one of the essential metrics of retail all wrong. 

“Retailers go on about measuring sales per square metre as if there is something magic in the dirt under their feet,” Sorensen said. 

“What they should be paying attention to is seconds per dollar.”

The time theory has particular relevance for needs-based retailers visited regularly (eg supermarkets, discount department stores and pharmacies), and asserts that retailers need to make the shopping process as fast and easy as possible. 

“Money is elastic, time is not,” according to Sorensen. “The faster you can get shoppers to put stuff in their carts, the more you’re likely to sell.”

For retailers this means ensuring clear navigation at the store entrance, because “the most important decision a shopper makes is where to go in the shop”. 

Once over the threshold, retailers should encourage shoppers to take a wide aisle u-turn (the natural and preferred path for customers), keeping sight lines clear (“anything a shopper does not see in the store doesn’t exist”), and preserving open space. 

When the customer is at the shelf, retailers need to merchandise in a convenient way, calling out the top sellers and the dollar savers, because that helps a customer’s purchase. 

“Choice is great for attracting shoppers,” commented Sorensen. “But it’s lousy for selling.” Shoppers want to know which products are most popular and which ones can save them money.

Sorensen is also red hot on the difference between  order taking and selling. The latter is about actively pointing customers towards the product you want to move… and then offering a solution. 

“Selling is ‘crab legs for dinner tonight’,” Sorensen said, recalling a successful seafood sellers’ sign. And good salesmanship speeds up the purchase process.


So where does my old mantra of dwell time equals sell time fit into this argument? Should we all just be racing shoppers towards a sale, and then getting them out of the store? 

Well, no, not necessarily. Sorensen is not against experiential retail, and understands the rationale of encouraging shoppers to hang out – not only to get them to buy more, but also to bond with the brand. 

But even in a high experience specialty environment, Sorensen says you want to “close early, and close often”.

Makes sense. And dollars. I got a lot out of Herb’s talk, so more Sorensenisms next week.

* Jon Bird is CEO of specialist retail marketing agency Ideaworks. Email Jon. Blog. Twitter: @thetweetailer

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