Mind the (Fridge) Door!

Accepted wisdom tells us that the one aisle shoppers really don’t look forward to in the supermarket is the chilled and frozen foods section. You can almost feel the chill on your shoulders just reading that last sentence, can’t you? Whatever the time of year, the thought of the chilled aisle produces that shiver reaction in me almost by reflex, an effect almost as strong as the weird fit of sneezing I get whenever I think of the perfumes section in a department store and its trigger happy staff!  Chiller cabinets with doors make perfect sense then, don’t they?

Doors not only keep the aisle at a more comfortable temperature for shoppers, they also reduce energy consumption and help the store’s carbon footprint. So, good news all round then. Everyone wins – don’t they?  Turns out that this isn’t actually the case at all, except perhaps for the environmental angle (important, I don’t doubt that). Several studies have looked at the fridge door effect and the results are quite surprising.  For instance, footfall studies suggest that chilled aisles with doored fridges attract slightly lower levels of customer flow, which implies that they aren’t more attractive or comfortable at all. This seems to me to be at least in part due to the related finding that consumers often regard the door as a barrier, showing reluctance to open it and examine the merchandise. Bit like seeing designer goods displayed in glass cases, an analogy perhaps reflected in the tendency for shoppers to also over-estimate the average price of frozen foods when they are behind those glass doors.

In general, around one-in-three shoppers normally pick up and examine chilled and frozen products, but this drops to below 10% in aisles where this would involve opening a fridge door.  And it gets worse for the retailer – of the shoppers who do examine goods, conversion into an actual sale is almost 30% lower when the fridge has a door.

Of course, everything in life is a trade-off and many of us will think that reduction in purchasing is a price worth paying for a greener world. Retailers do need to be aware of this barrier effect, however, as it’s a not insignificant drop in sales and they need to think of new shopper marketing tactics that will help persuade us to open that door.