What Retailers Don’t Know – But Churches Can Learn

For the final post on my return review of Paco Underhill’s classic book Why We Buy, it’s time to dive into the brains of retailers and take a look at what they don’t know – and what churches can learn from them.

  • How many of the people who walk into stores buy something? The quick, and wrong, answer is almost 100%. The conversion, or closure rate – the percentage of shoppers who become buyers – is almost always thought to be much higher than it actually is. Conversion rates measure what you make of what you have – it shows how well (or how poorly) the entire enterprise is functioning where it counts the most: in the store. It’s all about what happens within the four walls of the store.

ChurchWorld Lesson: How effective are you with what you’ve got in terms of ministry? Marketing, advertising, promotion and a great location can help bring guests to your church – but it’s the job of your leadership team, the ministries you’re attempting, and the entire church body to make sure the Guests not only leave fulfilled, but return. Maybe as second timers, maybe eventually as participants and then members. The lesson: How are your assimilation systems working? Sure, you’ve got a great front door, and maybe even a few effective side doors – but how big is your back door?

  • How long does a shopper spend in the store? Assuming that he or she is shopping and not standing in line, this may be perhaps the single most important factor in determining how much she or he will buy. Studies have shown a direct relationship between the amount of time in a store and the resulting sales volume; usually a buyer spends almost 50% more time than a non-buyer.

ChurchWorld Lesson: There are certainly differences of opinion in the church world as to how long you want Guests and members to linger before or after worship services. Churches with multiple services often need to have a smooth transition from one service to another. This is an area where design or renovation can play a critical role: make adequate space for a foyer, café, other gathering place so that those who choose to do so can fellowship with others. Another opportunity for evaluation in this area might be the pace of services – does the timing/scheduling need to be altered?

  • What is the store’s interception rate? Interception rate is the percentage of customers who have some contact with an employee. This is an especially important measurement in a time when stores use fewer full-time employees and more minimum-wage employees. Research has established a direct relationship: the more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the greater the average sale. Talking with an employee has a way of drawing a customer in closer.’

ChurchWorld Lesson: This is a critical factor in making Guests feel welcome to your church. Well-trained and observant Guest Experience teams should make all people feel welcome to your church by extending a verbal welcome and offering a handshake or other appropriate physical touch. Guests especially need to have a verbal interaction with someone beyond a cursory “Good Morning”. The key is to engage the Guest as you are attending to their needs.

  • How long does the store make customer’s wait? Studies have shown this is the single most important factor in customer satisfaction. Few retailers realize that when shoppers are made to wait in line (or anywhere else) their impression of overall service plunges.

ChurchWorld Lesson: While church participants aren’t likely to leave like a shopper might in a long checkout line, it can happen. Most often you will find this expressed in the parking lot – in church consultations observing traffic patterns I have seen cars pull in, find no parking spots, and pull right back out onto the street. Examine all your areas where waiting might occur – can you reduce, or eliminate, wait time?

  • Who are the shoppers in the store? Take the retail store who stocks pet treats on upper shelves, unaware that the main buyers of this product were senior adults and young children. Or the family style restaurant who had too many tables for two and not enough for four or more, which caused headaches during busy times. Or the Florida-based drugstore chain’s Minneapolis branch, where a full assortment of suntan lotions was on prominent display – in October.

ChurchWorld Lesson: This is probably one of the most important areas church leaders can discover – and one that many church leaders get wrong over half of the time. Who is in your target area of ministry? Who is coming to your church? Who is not coming to your church? Grouped under the broad area of demographics, this type of information is invaluable to help you understand who your neighbors are and how they may be changing. Once you understand the who, it is much easier to begin to answer the how, where, and why questions of ministry.

As I close this brief foray into the science of shopping, I need to remind you of a couple of things: First, there is a whole lot more about this area that I think could be very beneficial to churches who want to make sure they are doing all they can to attract and retain Guests who come to their churches. My focus has been on the front end of that – hospitality – and there is a lot more. Interested? Contact me for a conversation.

Also, there are probably many who would say all this focus on the church guest and member in a consumer mindset is wrong. Certainly, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Mine is that we live in a very consumer-driven, consumer-oriented society. The competition for churches seeking to reach new people is not other churches – it’s any place and any experience that these people will compare your church to.

Shouldn’t we be doing the very best we can to reach them?

Read Part 1 of this series here.

Read Part 2 of this series here.

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