Shopper psychology is key to understanding how your retail store will not just function but thrive. Designing an enticing retail experience is becoming even more important as in-store shoppers expect more than just several racks of products.

More people shop online, from browsing to buying, so when a customer chooses to go to a brick-and-mortar store in person, there must be a reason for them to go, a reason for them to stay, and a reason for them to buy from you.

As a business owner, you may think of several approaches to bringing customers in, like sales, a wide selection of items, and help assembling difficult products like furniture. However, many people do not to go brick-and-mortar stores for these conveniences anymore. Customers want the ability to try a product before they choose to purchase it, they want to talk to an employee face to face, and they want additional experiences like interactive displays, in-store events, or lounge areas. It is important to think about how modern customers shop, so you can build your retail store around that information.

One of the best ways to understand how customers react to your retail location is through “dwell time.” This is a metric to measure how long customers stay in specific areas of your store. Among other measurements, it is associated with customer purchasing like wait time, checkout service time, and transaction time. Dwell time is believed to be a measurement of how engaged customers are with items in the store because the customer is allegedly looking at specific products which, if artfully presented, they will feel enticed to buy. The metric is typically measured with heat maps of where and how long customers stand in stores.


Dwell time is an excellent metric, but it is important to dive a little deeper into customer psychology and what actually makes someone stay in certain sections of the store.

Assumptions About Dwell Time Don’t Help Increase Your Sales

The amount of time a customer stays in your store – or, for larger stores, in a certain area of the store – is traditionally associated with the customer making a purchase. Many business owners have deduced that, if they can get a customer to come in, they can get the customer interested in additional items. For example, if a customer goes to a clothing retailer for a sweater, they may also be interested in jackets or scarves, so having a nearby display of these items can lead to additional purchases. This means that business owners often create pathways through their stores that force customers to walk past certain displays as a method of upselling other items.

A mistaken assumption about customer dwell time is that you, the business owner, should find a way to force the customer to physically stay in your store longer. Many larger retailers do this by creating winding paths through displays with lots of items, messages, and display booths. While this may work for some shoppers, it can also create a sense of claustrophobia. It can also be too much for a customer to look at directly, and it can even make your establishment look cluttered and dirty. Just because it takes someone a long time to walk through your store does not mean they inherently buy anything. In fact, they may feel overwhelmed and tired if their path through your displays takes too long!

Customers may stay in one spot not because they’re enjoying a beautiful product display but because they’re looking for help. If you do not have enough staff on hand to readily answer questions, or your staff members are not trained well enough in the store and procedures overall, customers may physically stay in one place for some time, but the reason creates a negative impression of your store, not a positive one.

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Some dwell time measurements do not take into account which heat signatures are employees and which are customers. It is important to make that distinction early, especially if you have knowledgeable employees who move around the store to make sure customers have access to them if they have questions.

In the modern world, nearly everyone has a smartphone on hand. Many customers browse through retail stores in person, but they may simultaneously check their phones to see where they can get the same or similar items for less cost, what other people thought of the item, or to read about other options to personalize the item that you don’t have in your store. Someone standing in one place or moving slowly past displays may just be looking at their phone and not interacting with your products at all.

There are factors that can negatively impact dwell time.

  • Poor or slow service
  • Dissatisfaction with products
  • Trouble finding what they wanted in the first place
  • Prices that are perceived to be too high
  • Unclean conditions
  • Overwhelming décor or advertisements
  • Music that is too loud or doesn’t suit the brand identity


For the modern shopper, shorter dwell time does not inherently mean that they did not enjoy their experience or spend money with you. In fact, it may just as often mean that they easily found what they needed, had their questions expertly answered, and rapidly left the store, which will leave them with a satisfying retail experience.

That said, studies have shown that increasing dwell time by just 1 percent can lead to an average of 1.3 percent increase to sales. For example, an average customer dining in a restaurant spends an hour eating and an average of $30 on their meal; if you encourage them to stay for 6 minutes longer, that turns into about $3.90 more on the meal in that time. The more time people spend at a table in a restaurant, the more likely they are to order additional food or drink.

Understanding how standard assumptions may be incorrect is a good start to creating positive dwell time in your store. One way to understand what your customers want from you is to survey them, especially if you have specific improvements you wish to make. This can even be done online, whether a customer bought from you through a website or at your retail location. However, customers may give you mixed feedback.

For example, 75 percent of customers report that in-store signage is important, but that does not say anything about how much signage they want. If you put up more than one or two new signs with product information in your store, your customers could feel overwhelmed and the layout could look cluttered. This is a very subjective field.

Ambiance, Dwell Time, and Customer Psychology

Connect to your customers through experience. While this starts by designing a pleasing pathway through different displays in your store, but it must include additional considerations. Some stores offer strategic places to sit, interactive digital displays for information, and even snacks or beverages. Other sensory aspects, like lighting, color and texture choices, music, and even scent, can all impact the subconscious decision-making process for each customer who goes through your store.


Music is one of the least expensive, simplest ways to evoke an emotional response from a customer.

Holiday music can get shoppers in the mood to spend more during major holidays while soothing instrumental music can relax them and make them walk more slowly, increasing their dwell time subliminally. However, it is important to consider your customers’ music preferences, and this information is based on their demographic.

Generally, older adults prefer background instrumental music while younger adults and teenagers prefer foreground, louder music that is pop, rock, indie, or rap. Volume is reportedly important across all age demographics, and music that is too loud will drive people out of your store. However, music that is dissonant in some way – a happy song that is too slow in tempo, music that doesn’t fit the brand personality, music that triggers a condition like tinnitus, or music that is simply not to the customer’s personal taste – will also cause them to leave unsatisfied.

Ultimately, it is important for modern business owners to take a holistic approach to their customers’ experience in their store, influenced by the brand’s personality. Working with customer psychology, their habits like looking at their phones and their need for convenience catered to their individual needs can lead to very different retail shopping experiences depending on how you need your brand to be perceived. Studying how your target shopper listens to music can help you create an ambiance that will make your customers feel at home, whether they have come in to grab an item quickly or they’re after some retail therapy.

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