You may recall that I mentioned discovering new cupcake flavors at my favorite bakery. And you may recall that I claimed to be the Queen of Cupcakes. In reality, though, I didn’t go to the cupcake bakery that day to purchase a cupcake. I just wanted a place with a good cup of coffee and a table for my laptop. I had planned on grabbing a seat and surfing the world wide web. But I ended up taking a counter seat, leaving the “real” tables for larger parties. And once I took my seat I noticed a mirror directly in front of me. Now, mirrors can be distracting for a variety of reasons, but I wasn’t interested in staring at myself. It isn’t a particularly large store, so that one mirror gave me a great perspective to see who entered, who bought, who ate, and who left. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time in stores for retail operations and customer experience projects, that mirror was mighty intriguing. Byebye, world wide web. Hello, cupcake ethnography.
Ethnography is a type of research commonly used by anthropologists, sociologists and marketers to find out more about a specific type of person or to determine how people use a certain environment or how they interact with a certain type of product. Typical methods include interviews, observations, time and motion studies, surveys, etc. I’ve done a bit of retail ethnography over the years between jobs in consumer behavior and retail consulting. So that mirror pulled me in, and I began to study the movement of customers through the store. Really, a cupcake store has a pretty clear task at hand: sell customers sugar. But as any cupcake connoisseur will tell you, the cupcake market is a competitive one these days, so the stores are decked out in themes and cute decorations and gimmicks. As I looked in the mirror, I watched how people used the bakery. They’d come in the door, look around, and get excited when they saw the display case up front. They would then wait in line for a 5 minutes or so to place their order. If they were in a group, they would use those 5 minutes to take turns going up to the case to get a better look, then go back to their friends and chat about what they planned to order. Once they reached the front they would debate a bit, then declare what they wanted. The next stop was the sprinkle station, where you can shake some extra sugar on top of your, well, sugar. Simple concept but adds a nice touch of customization and charm that makes the cupcake experience more fun.
Because that is what this bakery is really about- while its business objective may be to sell a lot of cupcakes, it really needs to sell the idea of fun. Some customers may dash in just to grab a treat and go, but there needs to be an environment that welcomes customers with more time on their hands to sit around and stay a while. This particular bakery has board games all over the place, a good way to encourage customers to see the shop as a hangout spot rather than a version of a fast food joint. Keeping a customer in a store longer is generally a good idea given the chance for add-on purchases, unless that extra time is spent waiting in line (in which case the customer will be antsy. Very antsy). But in this case it also increases the likelihood of positive association with the bakery’s brand. Remembering a bakery for its yummy treats is one thing, but remembering a bakery for its treats PLUS the experience you had while there is a whole other trick.
I was amazed at how many people came in and out of those doors in the hour I was in the store. I shouldn’t have been; I’ve seen crowds in that store pretty much every time I’ve been there. But the constant churn of customers was still pretty impressive. I have to say, they run a smooth operation: smiling associates, treats that look good and taste good, excellent music, and pretty efficient service. It was interesting to see how excited customers were coming in the doors, and how pleased they look going out the doors. All in all, I’d give them a rather good grade for customer experience. And if they happened to want to hire me for an actual retail study, complete with notes and recommendations for improvement- I might be willing to charge a little less than my usual rate in exchange for some cupcakes.