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Go Shopping and Improve Your Blog

ShoppingToday’s task in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog project is to go Shopping!

OK – I can hear what you’re probably thinking:

“What? The ProBlogger has lost his mind – what does shopping have to do with blogging?”

Stick with me for a second and let me explain….

The reason I want to encourage you to go shopping is twofold:

A. It’ll get you away from your blog for a bit – I was chatting with another blogger yesterday and we both admitted to each other that we’d been in our PJ’s all day blogging (it was 4pm for me) and needed to get out more – sad but true.

B. It’ll give you a chance to do some observation exercises that could help your – this is the main reason for today’s task and is based upon an experience that I had today at a local shopping centre (or ‘mall’ as many of you non Aussies would call it).

The exercise:

1. Step away from the Computer (come on, you can do it)

2. Grab a notebook and pen (do you remember them? They are the things you used to use before your primary form of communication involved typing)

3. Head to your local shopping centre/mall/CBD shopping area (easier for some than others I realize – apologies to those in rural areas, this may or may not work in your local general store)

4. Once at the ‘mall’ take 30 minutes or so to go ‘wandering’ with no agenda (don’t do your groceries) except to ‘watch’ and ‘observe’ in some of the following ways:

  • Who is there? Who are they with?
  • What are they doing?
  • What are they buying?
  • How do they make their buying decisions?
  • What are the retailers doing to get people’s attention and stand out?
  • What messages are they using in their marketing?
  • What colors are in at the moment?
  • What other things are ‘hot’ or in fashion?
  • What sales techniques are sales staff using?
  • What are retail outlets doing well? What are they doing poorly?

5. As you watch, make some notes. Don’t attempt to find any ‘lessons’ or try to tie it back to your blog yet.

6. Once you’ve spent half an hour or so on ‘observation mode’ find a spot to sit down (a food court perhaps) with a coffee and go over the things that you’ve noticed and see if there’s any lessons there that you might be able to apply to your blogging?

This process might seem a little random and pointless – but it’s something that I’ve done on numerous occassions over the last few years and each time that I’ve done it I’ve come away with at least one new idea that I want to apply in my blogging.

Some of the ideas have come directly from things I’ve seen retailers doing in their marketing (for example, today I saw a store using an attention grabbing technique that I want to try to apply to one of my blogs to draw readers eyes) – while others are more lessons about ‘people’ and how they operate and once or twice I’ve even seen illustrations to use for posts or ideas for new blog topics.

If nothing else it’ll get you out of the house for a bit!

I’d love to hear your experiences of this exercise in comments below!

Update: Here’s what I learned on MY shopping expedition today.

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. This is a great idea. I get some of my niche blogs by driving around and just looking at things.

    I am sure this tip will really spur creativity.

  2. This is very sound advice – I really need to get out and about a little more. I’m taking your advice very seriously indeed by going on a three week holiday in September. That should stir the creative juices.


    Here I am once again, late at night, concentrating on the intricacies of FTPing lots of new advertising ideas into my blog, doing all the late night stuff us bloggers are meant to do.

    My long suffering wife is just tolerating my new obsession, but I know it’s all starting to wear a little thin with her.

    And then, yet another great idea from problogger invades my screen, and once again I am diverted, I wake my wife and excitedly suggest, (you see, I haven’t told her about you yet Darren, I don’t think she’s quite ready for this revelation) that it would be a great idea for us to spend tomorrow at the shopping center gathering more stuff for my blog…

    She makes some very rude suggestions of her own and I return to FTPing.

    I know it’s a great idea, in fact it’s exactly what my blog is all about, and I just know the shopping centers are going to be full of probloggers all wandering around getting new ideas.

    Look out for me, I’ll be the one with the tired eyes and slightly angry wife. :}

    Great stuff, Lindsay

  4. I have done this – grab a breakfast bagel at a local store or have dinner outside of my homes and I do realize several things that sometimes get to me:

    1. people buying or scratching lottery tickets
    > I think to myself desperate for money but do not want to work for it
    2. watching people go to their jobs
    > why do they want to be tamed and have a SET income
    3. I find some aspects to write for my blog, marketing wise
    > I saw a banner hanging outside of someones window for someones cafepress website

    these things intrigue me and I write about them because it pertains to my topic and blog – and I want to try several things that I noticed in others stores or location

  5. Nice advice. And it doesn’t just apply to shopping.

    Sometimes taking the time to observe other people’s behavior can teach you more about them than a sociology seminar.

    Go to a book shop or a library and you can have a free lesson in niche targeting.

    Listen to conversations in a café and you’ll get a feeling for current topics.

    People can be both fun and informative :-)

  6. Great advice. I tend to avoid exposure to marketing: commercial television, radio, etc. And, I usually ignore billboards and storefront pleas for my attention. I find that these things distract me from my intentions.
    But, in avoiding these things, I miss opportunities to learn about marketing and promotion and what draws people to a product.
    I will definitely try this exercise and spend more time consciously observing marketing materials.

  7. I agree that the best ideas are often found away from the computer. The mall is a great place to find ideas because of the wide range of people and variety of stores. You could probably find a store that relates in some way to your blog or niche and walk around it.

    Tech blog – Radio Shack
    Opinion blog – food court
    Movie or Music Blog – Sam Goody
    Sports Blog – Finish Line
    Unusual or Bizarre blog – Hot Topic
    Senior themed blog – Sears
    Celebrity blog – any Salon
    Gamers Site – Gamestop

    and if you want to get some really unusual conversations – just site in a stall in the restroom of a busy mall for 30 minutes!

    In this same vein – airports, museums, or any college campus can equally be a source of good inspiration and ideas, and sometimes the conversations there are much more worthy of note than at the mall…

  8. Talk about retail therapy!

    If you give me the money Darren I could quite happily spend all day making notes and buying things. :p

  9. Good tip! I like my niche, and am happy with it… although I wish there were more bloggers who blogged about it!



  10. Hmm…interesting idea, but one problem. I tried this once before, answering just the first 4 questions. It went really well for a while, until security arrested me for something called “stalking,” whatever that is…

    I swear, you’d think these fools had never heard of blogging before! ;)

  11. Oh man, I know what you mean about getting out of the house. It’s rough. I’ve been doing a similar exercise, but instead going to the local farmer’s market. I figure I will get more information there for my readers, because most of my readers are farmer’s market types.

    It’s been quite helpful.

    Great post.


  12. I’m about to go out and do that now :)

  13. Paper? Pen? Darren I’m lost. What are these things you speak of?

    I think this is a great idea. It’s really another example of doing competitive intelligence.and market research. We should never forget that both can be done offline as well as online.

    And besides people watching is kind of fun.

  14. Very unusual tip, but I will nonetheless try it when I go shopping.

  15. What a coincidence. I started the same concept as u said in your post. Keeping away from your blog and talking to people will going to help you to learn more ideas. Shopping has no relation with Blogging as Darren said above . But observing human nature is a great thing. You will come to know more about their like and dislikes. thanks darren .
    Good day everybody :)

  16. I don’t know, Darren, you can find great fodder for a comedy piece at the rural general store!

    So, can I tell my husband you said I have to go shopping? Can I tell him you said I can’t take the kids with me?

    You’re onto something. At the courthouse, the other day, I actually got a great idea for a piece called She Chose Life.

    This may be obvious, but in order to be relatable, you actually have to “relate” to real people.

  17. Great Idea and an interesting concept. Wow… now I have an excuse to go to the mall. Thanks!

  18. This is a great idea! I do this all the time to get inspiration and most of my blogs are based on something I’ve seen at the farmer’s market, in a restaurant, or some fascinating story from a nice person who strikes up a conversation. For me inspiration definitely comes through the eyes!

  19. @Lindsay… your comment made me laugh so much…

    great tip as usual, I’m going to be observing how many of the people there are with notebooks and pens!! and may we’ll start up a Darren’s-shopping-tip-meet-up!! ;)

  20. JTPRATT – great idea. Finding a store that relates to your blog is something that I do every now and again with my digicam blogs (photography stores) and even for ProBlogger (news stands).

    Not sure I’ll be hanging around a restroom for 30 minutes though to listen to the conversations :-)

  21. This is actually a pretty good idea for my blog niche. I’m goign to do that tomorrow, though it will be tough not to be trying to tie things back to my blog.

  22. Another brilliant post from Darren. Thanks man.

  23. Great Idea Darren,

    Some times i feel like how imaginative you think about things in life.

    One more think you can apply is statistical analysis of your observations and then it might give more impact for the blog.

  24. I like the idea of taking some time out from your PC and heading off to some place where you can find something interesting to write about. You will have to keep your focus though.

  25. I’ll do it (no doubt about it :-)).

    Thank you for the “Global Happening” you just come to create (it will be cool to see thousands of people around the world taking notes on Mall and stuff like that :-)).

    Regards from Spain,


  26. pen and paper!
    Still works!

  27. Excellent idea. I want to apply it. Perhaps even if I don’t have program it I can have by me a pen and a paper so I can collect thoughts, ideas, opinions from the life around me.
    Perhaps I could try it every time I am in a bus or train, or even when I am stuck on the road waiting for the other cars.

  28. You mean I have to leave my computer? Are you pro killing trees?

    Just kidding. I find it easier for me to write my posts on paper first with a good old fashion #2 pencil. Then go home and type up my post.

  29. Paper? Pen? Darren I’m lost. What are these things you speak of?

    I think this is a great idea. It’s really another example of doing competitive intelligence.and market research. We should never forget that both can be done offline as well as online.

    And besides people watching is kind of fun.

  30. You give us a great idea, such type of ideas are necessary for the development of business.

  31. interesting post:) actually i have done this before when i wanted to increase my online sales and it really worked. I discovered that i always but things that i weren’t planning to buy so i started displaying all the products that i sell on the side bars of my website and the result was increased sales

  32. getting out is key to inspiration….but pajamas til 4pm is the key to writing. you have to have a lot of both to be a blogging success :)

  33. How true!!! Mostly I get ideas and solutions about my personal or professional problems (from improving business to solving an issue with my Ma-in-law) when i am away from it. The solution lies in our small daily observation of people in coffee shop or in the grocery store!!

    Radhika Fofalia

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