Proven Secrets that Increase Foot Traffic

The other day in the car, my 6-year-old son asked me why there were balloons on the side of the road. I told him they were there to get people to notice the sign for an Open House. I guess it worked.

What are you doing to get customers to notice your store? Bob Phibbs, known as the Retail Doctor, recently published an excellent article highlighting specific examples of retailers getting customers to notice their store. Every time, foot traffic increased and sales went up.

Don’t Stick to the Status Quo

So what tricks did these retailers use? They decided to do something out of the ordinary. They created displays (often including a person) that would draw customers in and make them ask questions.

As the Retail Doctor puts it,

“Retail brilliance comes from surprise and delight, not efficient and predictable”

-The Retail Doctor

So now maybe you’re thinking, okay I can stick some stuff outside the shop. I have some clearance bins.


The Doc says you might want to reconsider.

“What can you show or demonstrate to your passersby?

And no, it’s not racks and racks of sale junk in front of your doors!

You want to begin by offering something on your busiest days when there is the most chance at discovery.”


So what can you help your customers discover? We’ll talk about that in a sec, but first, make sure you note this nugget from the doc’s article:

“You never want shoppers to feel shopping is work.”


I don’t know about you. But just looking at the photo above stresses me out.

I would not be excited to dig through that and I wouldn’t think, hey I bet that store has some high-quality products I should check out.

I would think, they must be so desperate to get rid of that junk that they don’t care if people just take it.


If this is how it looks from the outside, I bet it’s disorganized on the inside. I don’t want to go in because there’s probably barely enough room to walk, let alone shop. 

Maybe these assumptions aren’t entirely fair, and I’m sure they don’t apply to everyone, but I’m also guessing that I’m not the only that has these thoughts.


Make ’em Think Happy Thoughts

Now. If I walked by something similar to what is depicted in the photos below, I would get excited.


Ok. Full disclosure here. I don’t like guacamole. I know, I know. It’s the new black. I just don’t like it. But you know what? This guy making fresh guacamole outside the restaurant would get me to go inside.

Why? Because it makes me think the following:

  1. If they make fresh guacamole, the rest of their food must be fresh too. I’m hungry. I’m goin’ in.
  2. If they care enough to pay a guy to make guacamole outside, they must put great care into what’s inside the restaurant.
  3. This is genius marketing. They must know how to run a business. As a marketer, I admire that. I’ll give them my business.

These thoughts are night and day from the thoughts I get from seeing boxes of random stuff outside a store. One stresses me out and makes me run, the other draws me in and gets my credit card.


The Advantage Small Businesses Have

So. You may be thinking, well that guacamole idea is great, but I don’t run a restaurant.

Well, what can you do to increase foot traffic? Retailers are in a great position. You get to choose what products you sell and you can become the go-to person shoppers come to when they want help finding the perfect product for them. This means you can set up displays to make your customers see you as the expert, displays that pique their curiosity. You got this.

The Retail Doc shares an example of what he did in his retail store where he sold cowboy clothing.

He had an employee set up outside the store “just steaming cowboy hats into custom shapes.” The result?


“It brought attention to the front of the store and drew customers in from the mall who had never seen anything like that. That demonstration resulted in the number one question, “What are you doing?” Which led to a conversation and many times a hat sale.”

Seeing this hat steaming demonstration I would think,

  1. Wow, that’s cool. I never knew they did that. I want to watch. Maybe I should get a hat. 
  2. These guys must know what they’re doing. This looks like a specialized skill. This must be the place to go for cowboy hats.

I love the example of the hat steamer and the guacamole maker. In both cases, there is a human advocate for your business. People like to connect with other people. It’s one of the reasons they still go to physical stores. They want to ask questions from the experts. By setting someone up outside your store, you make it easier for people to learn about your store before they enter it.

Now, be careful on this one. If I saw someone standing outside a store looking like their sole purpose was to sell to me, I would stay far away. But, if he or she was doing something intriguing that I had to see or handing out a free sample, I’d be all about it.

Bring it Home

So, what can you do in your store? I can’t tell you exactly what you should do at your store, but I can give you some ideas.

  1. Put Out a Product that Gets Customers to Interact. When I was in high school. I worked at a piano store. The owners put a used piano outside the store and it resulted in passersby playing a few notes, and often coming in. Do you have a product that customers can interact with? Is there something they could try out for possibly the first time?
  2. Show Customers What They Don’t Know.  “What services do you offer on a brochure or only when people ask? How could you represent that in a new in-store way?” Do you do special orders?
  3. Do You Have Services You Can Demonstrate? Does your shop do repairs? What if you put the employee outside to do a repair? Do you offer classes? Can you teach shoppers a quick tip or skill from that class as they pass by?


Bottom Line

You know your products best. Find what makes your products unique and showcase them in an interesting way. With a little planning, you can transfer your excitement and love of your products to your customers, making them want to learn more and buy more. Thinking this way will increase foot traffic and your sales.

Also published on Medium.

Holly Wade is a lover of words and marketing. She can’t read great writing without smiling, and she can’t watch a commercial without analyzing its success as marketing content. She gets a little carried away every time she goes to the library, and she always sides with using the Oxford comma. She loves writing articles that help small retail businesses find success.