#54: Resisting retail entropy

You need a certain determination to buy small items such as screws and nails at your local DIY store these days.

When hunting for some of those crucial widgets, you can find yourself wrist deep in troughs of staples in packets, loose washers, odd nuts and bolts.

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Everything ends up in the wrong place as people rummage around, pick up items and, fearing they can never be found again in the detritus, carry them until they find a better fit for what they actually need -at which point, they drop the unwanted items wherever is convenient.

Needless to say, the staff in these places don’t know a brace from a bradawl so they tend not to bother with reorganising the debris that their customers have created. Today’s invention is an attempt to minimise these difficulties by suggesting some refinements to the display environment.

For items in packets, use gravity dispensers: when one packet is pulled from an aperture, the next falls into the bottom position, ready for extraction.

Array these dispensers on a 2-D display unit in order of the size and/or material of the content -so customers can tell know roughly where to start looking.

Provide a lifesize photo of the content and relevant information on the outside of each dispenser (No need to include store catalogue numbers or extraneous detail such as the standards to which components have been tested -it’s confusing and slows the whole thing down. Just watch how many people have to stop to get their glasses on to read the small print.)

Ensure the dispensers have a lockable inlet at the top so that customers can’t re insert the wrong items in a dispenser.

Ensure there are no horizontal surfaces within arm’s reach on which items or packets can be left by people who inspect them and then choose not to buy. This introduces a disincentive for customers to extract product without thinking about it first and may encourage them to buy whatever they have in their hand. A single, large hopper could be provided, suitably signposted, into which any such items could be dropped for later, manual reinsertion into the correct dispensers by staff. People are generally reluctant just to drop stuff on an otherwise tidy floor. Analysis of the content of these hoppers of spurned items could also yield extra insights into customer preferences.

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