Want to Boost Retail Sales? Relax Customers by Throwing a Party

Relaxed shoppers are likely to browse longer, purchase more, and pay higher prices, according to a recent study [PDF] published in the Journal of Marketing Research. In fact, less-stressed shoppers will pay up to 15 percent more for goods than stressed-out ones.

Encouraging consumers to linger and relax sends their brains the message that there’s no need be on alert, notes Michel Tuan Pham, a marketing professor at Columbia Business School who co-authored the study. It’s a subtle way to wean people off sales and discounts and get them to buy — and pay — more. That’s why more stores now offer “soothing” amenities and services, from free cappuccinos to private after-hours events.

One business using this tactic year-round is Bouchic Boutique + Lounge, an Atlanta store that sells women’s clothing from local and regional designers. Co-owners Demetria Acloque and Dominique Tate (pictured) throw private parties and host special events regularly, averaging five per month.

“We wanted our boutique to be a unique shopping destination, where we would want to come to with our own girlfriends,” Tate says. “We made [the store] spacious and clutter-free, with couches for relaxing on, and we have ‘shopping parties,’ trunk shows, birthday parties, bridal showers, and other events from 7 to 9 p.m., after we’ve closed for the day.”

Every last Wednesday of the month is Cosmopolitan Wednesday, an after-hours shopping party with free food and a DJ. In March, Acloque and Tate partnered with a local tea company and held a “tea party” at the boutique during store hours. Next up, they’re joining forces with a local DJ to offer a six-week “DJ summer camp” for kids ages 10 to 17. They also lease the space for private events, the most recent being a party for a breast-cancer survivor.

When leasing the space, Acloque and Tate draw up an event contract for clients to sign, charge an hourly fee, and require a deposit to be paid 10 days in advance. “We do a walk-through with clients, so they have a vision of what the party will look like, and we’re prepared for what to expect,” Acloque says. “We discuss all details in advance, like who will cater, set up, and clean up; the start and end times; and how they want the space arranged, so we know what we need to move around beforehand.”

Acloque and Tate also oversee crowd control. “We have a rolling limit of 50 [people] for the entire event, and if 30 or more guests are expected, then we have security,” Acloque says. “Our events are not rowdy, but if anything should happen, we have someone authorized to manage the situation.”

The special events have boosted the store’s sales. “We looked at our numbers for a Cosmo Wednesday recently, and saw a 300-percent jump on that one day,” Tate says. “Our best days have definitely been the event days. They help build word of mouth and increase our new- and repeat-customer lists, because those who come to the events go spread the word and give us a whole new group of customers.”

If you’re considering putting on private parties, Acloque and Tate strongly suggest having a solid contract for clients to sign. “We had to learn the hard way to make sure every aspect of an event is outlined in the agreement,” Acloque says. “Make sure you sit down with the party thrower and agree to everything in advance, so there are no communication problems.”

Prepare for long hours, too. “The only downside to this is a really long day,” Tate says. “But the upside is seeing how happy your customer is with how things went and how much fun their guests are having” — and, of course, watching store sales spike.

About Vanessa Richardson

Vanessa Richardson is a freelance writer (and therefore a small-biz owner herself) in San Francisco who covers business and financial topics.
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