Parallels in the Retail and Church Worlds

Today is the second look at what the church can learn from the retail world. Below you will find a synopsis of the classic work done by Paco Underhill, noted leader in the field of retail observation and analysis. After each section is a bullet-point application to your church.

 If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something, and if once there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse, boom.

This quote, by Why We Buy author Paco Underhill, was eerily prescient when written in 1999. In his revision of the book in 2009 as the world was in the midst of an economic crisis, it was still spot on. Today, we continue to experience the turmoil of a shifting economy when people are rightly making wise decisions when purchasing. Even so, you almost have to make an effort to avoid shopping today. Stay at home to avoid all the stores? Internet shopping is available 24/7, delivered right to your door. No computer, no problem – home shopping networks will gladly sell you the latest gizmo for 3 monthly payments of only $39.99. But wait – there’s more! Don’t check your mailbox if you’re going to avoid all those catalogs, sales flyers, and direct mail offers. The result – we are now dangerously over-retailed – too much is for sale, through too many outlets. Retailers are not opening stores in the US to serve new markets anymore. They are opening stores to try to steal someone else’s customers.

  • Your church’s competitors isn’t other churches – today churches are competing with any other company, service, or event in which the customer has a positive experience. Remember that people are first consumers, and the environments they live, work and play in are the ones that will first attract, and then keep them to your campus. Guests to your services are making dozens of decisions about your church before they hear the first music of your worship team, or the great sermon you’ve prepared. Those decisions will play a major role in whether or not they will return.

Just a few decades ago, the commercial messages intended for consumers came in highly concentrated, reliable form: there were three TV networks, AM radio only, a few national magazines, and each town’s daily newspapers. Retailers advertised in those media, and the message got through loud, clear, and dependably. Today there are hundreds of TV channels; FM, satellite, and Internet radio; hundreds of magazines devoted to each special interest; and exponentially expanding Internet sites for information and entertainment. Mobile devices and the hundreds of thousands of apps available for them are the next wave of technology. Simultaneously, we are witnessing the erosion of the influence of brand names. A generation or two ago, you chose your brands early in life and stuck by them loyally until your last shopping trip. Today, in some ways, every buying decision is a new one, and nothing can be taken for granted.

  • Churches, too, are heavily impacted by the fact that traditional branding and marketing are no longer effective tools for connecting with potential members. While they may build brand awareness and help provide information, those factors seem to have a lessening impact in the final decision. Just as shoppers are becoming more susceptible to impressions and information they acquire in stores, Guests to your church are being impacted by your physical campus. An important medium for transmitting messages and helping people make decisions is now your building appearance and “people flow” within in. Consider your facilities a great big three-dimensional marketing tool for the ministries of your church.

Underhill’s studies also proved that the longer a shopper remains in the store, the more he or she will buy. And the amount of time a shopper spends in a store depends on how comfortable and enjoyable the experience is.

  • Imagine a guest coming to your facility for the first time: what if they couldn’t find a convenient place to park near the main entrance; had trouble locating where to drop their kids off; got turned around and lost on the way back to the worship center because of the lack of signage; were dismayed by the dinginess of your children’s space; … you get the picture. Now imagine the same Guest driving in a well-marked parking lot with greeters directing them to a guest parking spot right by the main entrance; another greeter welcoming at the door, and helping the Guest find bright, cheerful, warm spaces that their child eagerly rushes into, staffed by caring leaders; color-coordinated signs direct your guests to and from the worship center with no confusion; and so on. Which Guest is going to return?

So, the “science” of shopping can teach the church a lot about how our building appearances and our welcoming processes can improve our ability to attract, and retain, guests (and members).

How does this “science” lesson translate to your church?

Read Part 1 of this series here.

Go to Part 3 here.

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2 thoughts on “Parallels in the Retail and Church Worlds

  1. Pingback: Shopping and the Church | 27gen

  2. Pingback: What Retailers Don’t Know – But Churches Can Learn | 27gen

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