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10 Lessons in Blogging Learned on a Shopping Expedition

Posted By Darren Rowse 25th of August 2007 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

Shopping-Lessons-BlogEarlier today I suggested that bloggers go shopping as an observational exercise to help them improve their blogs.

While it is a fairly random idea – I did it myself today and as I sat in the food court of my local shopping establishment I jotted down the following 10 lessons and observations on a napkin:

1. Best Seller Lists Work

One of the things I noticed in a number of stores were best seller lists. They ranged from the normal books, CD and DVD ones that most of us will have seen before to a jeans store highlighting best selling jeans, a perfume store highlighting popular fragrances and an consumer electronics store highlighting top MP3 players.

This connects pretty closely with a lesson that I wrote about a while back – How to Dramatically Increase Amazon Affiliate Sales with Bestseller Lists.

2. People Want to Be Acknowledged but Not Overwhelmed

Today I must have gone into 50+ stores and as a result saw a lot of different sales techniques. They ranged from customers being totally ignored (but sales staff surfing the web, reading magazines and talking to friends on the phone) through to customers being almost bullied into making purchases by hyped up sales staff who invaded personal space and basically bombarded them with attention.

Blog readers like to be acknowledged, they like some personal attention, they like to feel listened to – but they don’t want to be bombarded with a hyped up sales pitch.

3. Lines and Waiting in Queues Kill Customer Loyalty

A bank that I went into had a 25 person line in it. I joined watched on from a distance for a few minutes and witnessed just how frustrated the customers were. Some entered the bank, took one a look at the line and turned around. Other grudgingly joined the queue, grumbling to those around them. One customer had a shouting match with a manager. We live in a world where people don’t like waiting and if you make them do so you hurt any relationship or loyalty that you might have built up.

Slow load times on blogs are an issue that many readers get frustrated with. I know I’ve lost my fair share of loyal readers as a result of this (it was one of the main reasons I did my last redesign).

4. Sensory Experiences Make a Difference

One of the things I noticed today was how some shops were really aiming at stimulating the senses of their customers. While most have some sort of music I went into a number of food stores which were giving away tasters/samples of the food they were selling and a confectionary store who is known for spraying the smell of licorice into the air at the front of their store to draw people in.

While I’m not sure how a blogger can stimulate the taste buds make their blog smell I do know that using pictures, video and audio can really add a new dimension to a blog.

5. Surprise People

The shopping center that I visited today had hundreds of stores and after walking through many of them I felt the effects of sensory overload kicking in (must have been the licorice smell). One store began to merge into another as the marketing messages mounted up. However towards the end of my period of observation I walked into a store where the owner greeted me and offered me a free Hot Chocolate. I was so taken aback by it that it stopped me in my tracks – it grabbed my attention and shook me out of the zombie like shopping stupor that I was in.

I guess this technique was a combination of #2 and #4 above – but it also took me by surprise, gave me a story to tell my friends and a memory of an experience that I’m sure will inform my shopping at some point in the future (if I’m ever in the market for a large screen TV – as that was what the store was selling). When it comes to blogging I think there’s a place for surprises also.

Sometimes a blog can become very humdrum and both readers and the blogger themselves can become complacent. Throw in a curve ball occasionally, give something away, write a post in a completely different voice or style to normal etc and you might just find a new energy among your readers.

6. People Make Social Decisions When Buying

On three occasions today I saw customers watching other customers and seemingly making decisions about what they would buy by watching what others were having. ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ is actually a statement I heard uttered today in the food court! This social nature was also evident today when I saw two cafes side by side. One was packed with customers, the other empty. While I’d never been to either before and didn’t know what the quality of the empty one was like you can guess which was I was drawn to for my coffee.

While we all like to be individuals, there’s no doubt that most of us make ‘social decisions’ from time to time – whether it be in deciding what to buy, do with our time, put our focus on etc. The same is true in blogging. Highlight the fact that others are reading your blog by showing feed subscriber numbers, drawing attention to recent comments and involving your readers and you’ll find new people more willing to join in and become loyal readers too.

7. Quiet Times are Opportunities

One lesson that I learned from a resourceful shop assistant was that quiet patches in a shop are not something to bemoan – but are actually opportunities to do other things. I watched this sales person rushed off her feet with customers for a few minutes and then suddenly in an empty store. Instead of slumping down in exhaustion at having a spare moment she took the break in customers to restock shelves.

Most blogs have peaks and troughs when it comes to traffic. I know some bloggers get really down when traffic is down – however perhaps it’d be better to see the quiet patch as an opportunity to ‘restock’ – or do some of the little tasks that we often don’t have time to do that go into making a successful blog (tasks like many that I’ve been talking about in the 31 Day Project).

8. Up Selling Works

“Do you want fries with that?” as an up selling strategy is perhaps one of the most common sales techniques used – and for good reason – it works.

I saw a variety of up selling techniques used today ranging from ‘upsizing’ meals, to sales assistants suggesting accessories that would match clothes, to 2 for 1 deals (just to name a few).

Up selling on a blog is a little different because in most cases the ‘sell’ isn’t an actual product (although more and more bloggers are selling actual products). The application that came to mind as I observed up selling today was selling readers on extra things to read and do on a blog. Suggesting another article to read, a poll to participate in, a feed or newsletter to subscribe to, a video to watch or a conversation to join into are all examples of extra things you can get readers to do that increases the chances of them continuing the relationship with you.

9. Positioning is Everything

In different parts of the shopping centre that I was at today there were two homeware shops that were almost identical to one another. One was in the heart of the complex and the other on the outskirts in a section that was difficult to get to.

You can guess which had the customers and which looked like it was about to go out of business. The one in the middle of the action was thriving.

This is relevant for bloggers on two fronts. Firstly in the positioning of their different design elements. For example if you want to get clicks on ads, you need to position them on parts of your blog that will naturally draw the eye. If you want to get subscribers to your blog – you need to place the subscription methods in the ‘hot spots’ etc.

Secondly the lesson of positioning is highly relevant for the overall marketing of your blog. Learn to place your blog on busy intersections of activity on the web and you can grow your blog quite quickly.

10. Some Shop to Belong

The last thing I noticed today as I saw in the food court reflecting upon the experience was that there were a lot of people wandering around that were not buying anything. Many of them were alone and seemed to just be ‘hanging out’.

At this point I got chatting to an older gentleman on the next table to me who had been watching me writing away on my napkin. I asked him what he was shopping for today and he told me that he didn’t come to the shopping centre to shop – but because he just liked to be around people. He lived alone and came down each day for a ‘bit of a wander’ to see what people were doing.

I suspect that many people use the web in a similar way. We all long to connect, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and to have community. Build a blog that draws people in and gives people a sense of belonging and I suspect you’ll build something that matters to people.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. The upselling I see more and more in the blogging world. In fact Darren you had a great post about it concerning your about me page awhile back.

  2. Interesting notes there specially the top sellers list

  3. Great analogy. I particularly liked #’s 6, 7 & 10.

  4. Great analogy with shopping. Thanks for putting blog tips into a perspective most can understand.

  5. WOW,

    I experienced similar situation about half a year ago, I went outside to the biggest mall of america. Which happen to be my vacation time, I sat down by my self and just watching what are people into, what do they do when spending money. How do they react in certain times etc


  6. What a great post. I actually work with retailers and write a retail blog so I found this particular post quite interesting. I write from malls quite often but it’s because I’m already there.

    You make some great points. On #2 People Want to Be Acknowledged but Not Overwhelmed I would add that people not only want to be acknowledged but they want to know that you’re going to add value to their experience. When approached most customers will say “just looking” because they’re inundated by salespeople who add zero value. I see the same with blogs. Treat me well, show me your value, and I’ll be back.

    Finally, I want to know what mall you’re shopping in that had so much up-selling. Our biggest challenge is to get retail employees to up-sell. We like to call it “enhance” the purchase since most retail salespeople don’t like to think of themselves as selling. We’ve learned that the reason most retail salespeople can’t up-sell because they don’t know enough about their customer to recommend the right additional product. I would guess the same is true for blogs. The ones I enjoy the most seem to know exactly who I am and why I’m there, without even knowing my name.

    Thanks again Darren.

    Doug at http://www.retailcontrarian.com

  7. On people making social desicions when buying… have you heard of the new e-commerce stores that are actually encouraging social shopping? I guess studies have been done, and they have worked quite well!

    Just a thought though..


  8. I wasn’t sure what kind of a list you would come up with after reading your earlier post. I’m surprised how much relevance there is to the shopping mall. Great post.

  9. Darren,
    Great post. I’m only 2 months into a new blog and have stopped talking so much about my blog to people who already know I have it. I don’t want to be like those annoying sales people and jump all over them. If they like it, they’ll come back for more. I blogged recently about a horrible shopping experience at Raymour & Flanigan. If the sales people had just left my husband and me alone for a while, we might have bought something. There’s value in letting things brew for a while.

    I had a nice surprise today. Someone I know who reads me told me how many other people in her office are also reading me. I had no idea, because they don’t leave comments. It just shows that if you write good content, let things simmer and not beat everyone over the head, you’ll get loyal, repeat “business.”

  10. Tinu Abayomi-Paul says: 08/25/2007 at 9:46 am

    Reading this, I thought a lot about the blog as a watering hole. It’s starting to help me understand even more deeply why I read the blogs of people I am connected to on Facebook more than anywhere else.

    It’s like you said in the last tip, that feeling of wanting to be connected – it often gets to the point that you want to be around the people who you feel like you know, even though really, you are just connected online.

    Although I also think that those of us between the baby boomers and the present generation sometimes discount the value of Net connections, probably because of the influence of our senior peers.

  11. Very interesting post.
    I never thought that you could learn so much from off-line marketing and bring it to online marketing. There are some similarities that we could use to improve online marketing …

    Good job!

  12. A lot of this post about retailing boils down to good customer service. Having good customer service toward your readers should have the same effect as having it in a retail establishment. Greet your readers and provide a needed and valuable service but don’t shove it down their throat. If people like it they come back, if it’s not their cup of tea they walk past to the next.

  13. Very thoughtful post. I really appreciated how you tied each of your observations into techniques that publishers could embrace on their blogs.

    I was particularly struck by Point 6, that people make social buying decisions. While it is a basic and simple observation, it is one that people so often overlook. It’s not uncommon for me to ask a waitress or waiter: “What’s your favorite item on the menu?” It’s largely because I want to know what they like in the hopes that it’ll inform what I should have.

    At Shopzilla.com, we’ve tried to embrace some of these social aspects by highlighting on our homepage how many other people are on the site at the same time they are.

    We’ve got more work to do; this post was not only inspiring but insightful.

  14. Good advice as always Darren. Strange how something like shopping can relate to blogging, but it does.

  15. #10 was my favorite.

  16. You did a great job here my friend, because it is not so easy for everyone to catch these common points and ideas between blogging and shopping. So you realized these common points, you get your ideas how to apply these, and you have your own consequences. Such a brilliant job, such kind of job must be a good example for everyone, it is possible to catch common ideas between blogging and something.

  17. Wanting to be a part of a group is so basic and crucial…It is said that in some cultures, if an individual is banished from the group, that individual will die, not from lack of food or water, but from lack of human interaction. Thanks for the perspective!

    Greg Provance

  18. Very good post, Darren! I never associated shopping and blogging like you did, but it makes sense.

    For me, number 7 really stuck out. I’m one of those people that gets down when my visitor count goes down. I think that my blog has hit the end of the line and I should just end it. But it always bounces back. Now I’m learning to do those “housekeeping” chores when times are slow.

  19. Waiting in line isn’t the worst thing in the world.

    Waiting in a long line while 5 other employees are chatting away right in front of you really says something bad about a store’s customer service and turns me off.

    This is a definite pet peeve of mine.

    Great post!

  20. Good post, i read an article recently in .net magazine (I think it’s called practical web design or something similar in the U.S) which discussed the lack of community in the ‘real world’ and how the internet delivers to meet our need to ‘belong’.

    I think the social aspect of sitting at your computer is a massive driving factor in how we all use the web and completely agree that catering for this need in your website will encourage new and repeat buy alike.

  21. That’s 10 good remarks, I didn’t know it’s possible to learn something while shopping.

    I still have a question for which I can’t find an advice :

    Is it better to let the frontpage with articles in full lenght (visitors having to scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, …, scroll the page) or to use the famous “read more” thing so all the articles/posts are in summaries, meaning only one mouse scroll is needed (to have an overview on the whole most recent content).

    No offense, but a web surfer is always a little bit lazy (I dond’t know the right word in english)…

  22. What a fantastic idea. I found myself at the mall a few days ago and instead of rushing through my errands I grabbed a pen and paper and observed some very interesting things that relate to blogging. To name a few:

    1. Stores make it easy and inviting to enter – and a son of a b#@&! to get out. Now, you may not want to take the same approach, but thinking about it is helpful

    2. Stores purposefully direct the pattern of traffic. You can do this as well on your blog. Related posts, popular posts, recent comments, etc

    3. Demographics vary by time – early morning you find elderly walking the malls, mid-day will be families and the evening is teens looking for dates. Think about how this may be similar to the traffic on your blog – what can you do to utilize it?

    4. Stores selling similar items or to similar demographics (ie competition) clutter around each other to pick up on each others traffic, rather than trying to distance themselves. The same should be true of blogs.

  23. Sir in each post you give us useful ideas for increasing business,in this post you also share us beneficial techniques i will follow them and also suggest to my friends for the growth of the business.

  24. Those are great observations! I’m remembering that #1 when ( or if) I get my Amazon store up and running. I’d been leaning toward a discreet box that simply said Katrina’s Amazon Store, so the blog doesn’t look cluttered, but I’ll rethink this. Thanks! Always great information!

  25. I understand the difficulty of the sensory experience in this medium. But, great description can certainly bring in the taste and smell factor. Not directly, of course, but think of a cooking blog that has mouth-watering descriptions of the dishes. Or a teacher’s blog that describes the nails on the chalkboard sound (and gives you shivers reading it). Aside from photos, audio and video, bloggers should consider that what they write can convey a great deal – for all of the senses.

  26. Mary E. Ulrich says: 04/18/2009 at 10:53 pm

    Darren, each day gets better and better. Can’t wait for tomorrow.

  27. I actually carry a little notebook around with me everywhere and have post-it notes in the car. I scribble down one-liner ideas which 1st turn into Tweets or Facebook updates and then blog posts. I got into this habit when producing TV before moving into PR. Great post today! This 31 day challenge is terrific. Thank you!

  28. Darren, I have learned more from reading your post, than if I had gone to the mall myself!

    It’s late afternoon here and about to rain heavily, so I’ll skip this assignment. But the points you are making are extremely valuable. I shall keep them in mind. Thank you!

  29. These points are really useful – thank you!

  30. What I love about this post is that it makes you think about how to bring the real world into blog posts. The more bloggers, parents, children, teachers, and other individuals find ways to look at things from different points of view, the better off the world will be!

    As a new blogger, I struggle with finding time to network and “market” my site, while at the same time trying to focus upon creating the very highest quality of content. I’ve never been very good at selling myself, or anything else, but I’ve quickly learned that the content itself is simply not enough. Marketing is, and always will be, my greatest challenge.

    Thank you for sharing such fantastic content. You really are an inspiration to many of us!

  31. What a great, insightful post. Connects blogging with “the rest of the world” with relevant lessons. Thanks.

  32. Dude, you are the best blogger going. Great advice from a real person working in the real world, no condescension, good sharing. I am so happy to promote you to my colleagues and customers. This is a perfect example of solid content coming from an actually lived life.

  33. I’m an Aussie currently in Korea, so I do a lot of window shopping – and I had an amazing time exploring a Korean department store. I found a refrigerator with Swarovski crystals in the door. I came away a little tinged with envy green – I want one. An interesting exercise to explore a shopping centre and seek inspiration. Thanks.

  34. What a great post!
    I really like #10 and it sure is true, I’m at work right now and was just wandering the web checking out what other people was doing. This would also apply on why Twitter is interesting.

  35. One of the best stores that I’ve ever encountered was AVEDA. They have an incredible campaign for selling you the entire experience and not just the product. When you first walk in, you are always offered a free tea. Most of the time, after you buy something, they will offer you a free back and shoulder massage. They also have a mailing campaign that I LOVE. You regularly get cards for free products, which is a great way to keep you coming back and to eventually buy the products, which I have done.

    However, my all time favorite mailer campaign is the card they mail you on your birthday every year. You can bring the card in for a free scent experience where they personalize an oil based fragrance for you.

    I love AVEDA because they have an aggresive sales technique but you have no idea!


  36. It is true that much can be learned when we stop talking and start listening-and-looking.

    I find I learn a lot by not only observing customers, but by being one.

    Many times I have left comments on blogs, sent emails to bloggers, or tweeted somebody with a specific idea or question, only to never hear back.

    What good is The Cloud if everything goes in, but nothing comes out? In that case, it’s not a Cloud at all, but a Black Hole!

    Your post has inspired me to re-commit to: responding and interacting to my viewers whenever I can. Thanks!


  37. Interesting perspective. Maybe I’m just a bit too suspicious, or maybe I should stop watching the news, but if someone handed me a free hot chocolate, I’d be afraid to drink it. Who knows what it could be laced with!

    I agree though that the best inspiration for blogging comes from the offline world, I get a lot of inspiration reading magazines that have nothing at all do to with what I blog about.

  38. I was just at the mall yesterday so it was too late for me to do this today, but these are great observations and I think I’ll put some of them to use.

  39. I love the way you learned all these things just from going to the mall! As I said before, life is a lesson.

  40. Had to laugh when I read the title… I live in Brussels, where there’s one real mall, and I live in dread of having to go to it. But in the name of blogging I’ll give it a go….

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