Impulse Buying at Motorway Services
HALFWAY THROUGH through a four-hour drive from Canterbury back to their home near Sheffield, Bill and Audrey Webster pull off the M25 into South Mimms Services, Hertfordshire. They don’t need petrol, so the plan is to use the toilet and press on. But something mysterious happens as they walk through the attractive service area surroundings. Before you can say “Egon Ronay”, they have spent more than £50 in the shop. They unload their basket as the cashier rings a merry tune at the till. A colourful hardback encyclopaedia of garden flowers, two boxes of chocolates, an atlas, an easy-listening CD, a cuddly toy. Didn’t they do well! “We’re dead pleased,” Sylvia says. “There’s a great selection of books and tapes, and the staff are very welcoming.”
A few minutes later, another man walks in and sifts through a selection of casual rainproofs. This jacket is just my size, he says to himself. It’s a bargain.
Elsewhere on the service area premises I count a flower stall, hotel, hand car wash, a mobile phone accessories caravan, credit card promotion stand and motor racing fashion boutique, as well as various refreshment counters. Tempting deals and offers abound.
But what on earth is it that impels someone to buy a pile of stuff when they pulled off the motorway only for some petrol and a quick comfort break?
A brief chat to visitors leaves me finding it hard to understand why anyone would want to linger any longer than necessary. This is not because it’s a nasty place. The building must rate as one of the most pleasant on the motorway network, but it cannot hope to compete with a rest area in France where there’s loads of space, room to stretch, walk the dog, let the kids play or unpack the boot and have a picnic.
Most business drivers appear to have low expectations, based on a blend of previous experience and what they read or hear in the media. Holidaymakers – often with more time – are more likely to be lured into buying items they didn’t know they wanted but were pleasantly surprised to see. The aim is to confront them with impulse purchase opportunities that will elicit the “ooh-we’d-never-have-thought-of-one-of-those-but-we-want-one” reaction.
This “pleasant surprise” philosophy can also work for the business executive who’s running late. After all, we need the persuasion to buy. If you’ve been away and you know you’re going to be late home, then there’s the strong temptation to buy flowers or a soft toy for your loved one. That’s because it doesn’t appear to be enough to say ‘Sorry’ or ‘I love you’ – it seems to mean more if you have a gift to go with it.
Motorists’ reluctance to stay long is summed up by Buckinghamshire local government officer David Periam. “I stopped here for the toilet and a pack of mints,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of money eating here, surrounded by all the people who’ve been cutting me up on the motorway this morning. “I’ll either postpone lunch or find a pub off the junction somewhere close by.”
Scores of people file through the front doors, fewer than half of them likely to spend anything at all – except the longed-for penny. I should remember,when I sip my £2.19 cup of tea, that I’m effectively helping to subsidise the person who walks in to use the loo at four o’clock on Christmas morning and leaves without spending anything.