How “Slow Shopping” Could Save the Brick & Mortar Store (and Destroy Your Budget)

published Mar 13, 2017
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(Image credit: Anthropologie)

On a recent trip to the Netherlands, I couldn’t help but notice that at each adorable home store I stopped into, I was greeted by an equally adorable espresso bar. Being the shameless caffeine-fiend that I am, I happily ordered a coffee at every single one before beginning my stroll around the store. With a warm drink in hand, shopping felt leisurely—I was no longer on a mission, I was lingering. Back home, fully recovered from jet lag, I realized that what I had experienced was “slow shopping,” and it’s an experience American retailers are trying to emulate. Here’s why…

What is “slow shopping,” anyway?

When I got home, I did a little digging into the espresso-bar-in-store phenomenon, and unearthed this 2015 article from The Wall Street Journal, titled “The Slower You Shop, the More You Spend.” The title says it all. These stores were intentionally trying to make me stick around, not because they wanted me to buy a 2-euro espresso, but because roaming the floor with one in hand would likely make me more inclined to sit-test and potentially buy a 900-euro sofa (and if it had fit in my carry-on bag, I would have). Suddenly, every in-store cafe, snack station, barber shop and selfie wall made so much sense—and felt like a trap. While knowing this doesn’t make me enjoy these side-attractions any less, it does make me more mindful of how long I shop and how much I choose to spend.

(Image credit: Anthropologie)

And American retailers are catching on.

Urban Outfitters, Inc.—the Philadelphia-based company that owns Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, BHLDN and Terrain—is adept at getting their shoppers to stay awhile. If you’ve ever stepped into an Anthropologie, you know what I mean. It all starts with those whimsical window displays that lure you in, and once inside, the intoxicating smell of vanilla candles and the lush-looking chairs coax you into hanging out. You can easily start searching through racks of embroidered blouses and bins of mismatched door knobs, only to emerge from your shopping haze and find that an hour and a half of your life has flashed by. By deliberately designing stores that encourage lingering or simply take a long time to walk through (ahem, IKEA), retailers are working hard to slow us down…to spend more.

Can sneaky “slow shopping” save big retail brick and mortars?

In December, a Pew Research report found that 79% of American consumers shop online—a stat that doesn’t surprise us one bit. In fact, we’re way too familiar with the allure of instant price-comparisons and one-click shopping (yes, we’re looking at you, Amazon, and all the crazy impulse buys you’ve inspired). To compete with the ever-increasing popularity of online shopping, Anthro creates an immersive bohemian wonderland, providing an experience that clicking around the web simply can’t replicate.

But is it working? According to Urban Outfitters, Inc.’s Q4 earning’s report, in-store sales are slightly down, despite double-digit growth in direct-to-consumer (which also includes online sales). In spite of these minor losses, the company continues to invest in stores, even opening a 30,000-square-foot concept store in Walnut Creek, California, in September that combines Anthro, BHLD and Terrain (take a virtual tour here). If merging several of the company’s magic-making brands into a giant treasure trove overflowing with wedding dresses, houseplants and tasseled pillows doesn’t save the brick and mortar, we don’t know what will.

(Image credit: Urban Outfitters Blog)

The Best Slow Shopping in Town

To determine which of my favorite local home decor haunts hold the notoriously-short attention span of NYC shoppers longest, I started with a quick Google search. Looking at the “Popular Times” section of each search result, I focused in on the average estimated time spent at each store. While the CB2 and the Crate and Barrel in Soho—stores with straightforward layouts and no cafe—both had 25-minute averages, the gigantic 3-story Urban Outfitters at Herald Square, which has a coffee shop and a barber shop, had an average visit time of 15 to 45 minutes. Six-story ABC Home averaged 15 minutes to an hour, a wide range that may reflect the difference between customers who happen to stop by and “destination shoppers” who browse the entire store. So, it seems complicated layouts and distracting coffee stands are successfully slowing down even perpetually rushed New Yorkers. The next time I need a change of pace, I’ve decided I’m going to explore all six floors of ABC Home—but to be safe, I may just leave my wallet at home.

Do you do more shopping online or in stores? Do you ever buy furniture without seeing it in person? How about a sofa? (Psst…we sit-tested these 57 sofas to save you a trip to the store.)