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PORTLAND, Ore. - Right, left or center? The debate over which entrance grocery shoppers prefer may still be open, but a new study by in-store market research firm Sorensen Associates suggests that right entry stores actually promote longer shopping trips.
An audit of 100 stores in six major markets (Boston, Tampa, Fla., Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Portland, Ore.) revealed that shoppers have a definite preference to travel counter-clockwise around the store's perimeter or racetrack. By putting entrances on the left side of the store, shoppers are almost forced to move clockwise -- opposite to their natural inclination. As a result, the study found that shoppers abandoned their trips sooner in left entry and center entry stores than in right entry stores.
Contrary to what retailers might like to believe, shoppers do not shop the entire store, according to Sorensen Associates. The typical pattern of shoppers -- regardless of where they start their trip -- is to terminate their shopping trips by going down the center-of-store aisles, said Herb Sorensen, president of Sorensen Associates, who has been studying shopper behavior for 30 years. On average, shoppers cover only 25 percent of the store, he said. Yet, in those stores with left and center entrances, more shoppers in the center-of-store aisles were observed moving toward the checkout registers, an indication that they were finishing their trip.
The research team looked at 57 stores with right side entrances, 22 with center entrances and 25 with left side entrances. They counted cars in the parking lots, number of open checkout stands, and observed the general direction of shoppers inside the store.
"Counter-clockwise movement patterns are quite common in nature," said Robert Meyer, a Wharton School of Business professor who specializes in the study of consumer decision-making. Walking tours designed by chambers of commerce frequently recommend counter-clockwise circuits; races are run in a counter-clockwise direction around tracks, whether it's cars, people, or horses; and even elephant herds move in a counter clockwise direction when migrating among watering holes. Meyer said he believes we walk around stores in a counter-clockwise direction simply because it is socially efficient: it solves the problem of shoppers constantly bumping into each other, and a counter-clockwise flow is the most natural pattern of movement in a closed space when the norm is to walk (and drive) on the right (for example, it is how we drive around traffic circles).
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