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Convenience is often a relative term when it comes to the retail shopping experience. It can sometimes feel like businesses cater more to their own need for convenience than to that of the customer. It’s easy to miss simple solutions for creating a great customer experience if you haven’t spent any time shopping your store in your customers’ shoes.

It’s always a good idea to get a fresh look at your store, customer tools and processes through the lens of a customer. How often do you try and shop your own store as a customer (no special treatment allowed)? Shopping carts are a key tool at brick-and-mortar retailers, and this one simple tool can totally make or break your customer’s experience in your store. You can’t really know if your shopping carts serve your customers well unless you’ve tried to shop with them yourself.

The fundamental purpose of a shopping cart is to hold product, right? Well, look around any garden center, and you’ll see customers need shopping carts to hold some of your product as well as some of their stuff. “Stuff” being kids, dogs, purses and hot/cold drinks. If you’ve never attempted to pilot a shopping cart full of product whilst balancing a kid on one hip while your mega-purse (which you need because it holds all essentials for running your entire family’s lives) slides off your other shoulder, causing your hot coffee or wine (both of which you may need due to the kid on your other hip) to pop out of your hand, as you watch the cart roll away from you because now both of your hands are occupied managing chaos — you should definitely give it a try.

I’ve seen many such carts go abandoned in stores as the customer gives up and leaves frustrated.

Choosing your carts based on the maximum capacity for holding your product is certainly convenient for you, but not so convenient for your customer. You’d be helping everyone by choosing, or customizing, carts that have designated areas to hold children, personal bags, and drinks, so that your customer’s belongings (and spawn) are safely secured — leaving their hands free for shopping.

In terms of other retail outlets that do a good job with shopping carts that accommodate customer needs, I’d have to say Target seems to make an obvious effort. They have shopping carts with built-in child safety seats that face the driver, as well as a new cart known as Caroline’s Cart, which was invented by an Alabama mom who needed a solution for her daughter who has special needs. This type of cart allows you to secure a larger child or adult into a seat built into the cart, facing the driver.

Make shopping more convenient by giving customers carts that have places for their purses, drinks and their children, as well as products.
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Other customer convenience strategies include creating areas for tag-along shoppers who may not be interested in browsing your product, but who will nonetheless influence how long your primary customer does, or doesn’t, stay in your store. If you don’t have a café, consider creating a lounge area with some comfortable seating and media entertainment (stick to home improvement or nature stations) to give spouses a place to relax without getting too impatient.

Many customers can’t manage loading big plants into shopping carts or wagons anyway — and a cart is only as good as the surface a customer must roll it across — so consider boosting your concierge-level plant shopping services and pull larger plants for customers so they don’t have to. Ordering online with curb-side pick-up or personal shopper services with delivery are good ways for brick-and-mortar retailers to make plant shopping much more convenient for their customers.
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Traditional garden center carts have the benefit of holding large quantities of product, but may not have room for personal items like water or purses.
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If you have an area that can be made safe for kids to play and be entertained, that’s another convenience for parents. However, I realize that none of us really want to be in the babysitting business, and our retail environments typically come with many safety hazards. Nonetheless, parents these days expect to take their kids to all sorts of establishments our parents may not have (bars seem to be full of kids these days), and be provided with entertainment, so you need to look at ways you can make the shopping experience smoother for parents. The goal is to have them stick around long enough to reach your target average sale.

In the world of on-demand online shopping, IGC retailers need to give serious consideration to in-store customer convenience. If all it takes is a simple drink holder on your shopping cart to elevate customer experience, I’d say that’s an investment you can’t afford not to make.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com