Smart Ways to Use A/B Testing in Your Store

Borrow this scientific approach to learn what really works with customers on the sales floor.
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A/B testing is a great way to compare your business practices to see what works best for you. (Photo: Ahmetov Renat/Shutterstock)

A/B testing pits two approaches — marketing slogans, brochures, landing pages, etc. — head to head against each other to see which works better. Also known as split testing, it’s a tried and true research technique, one that can help ensure you’re spending your advertising, promotion or marketing dollars to best effect.

But did you know you can also use it in your retail store?

“For retailers, time and energy are really important resources, so taking advantage of easy and specific A/B testing can help validate the time and money being spent on certain efforts, or stop them before the company continues to invest in something that isn’t working,” said Kim Brown, CEO of marketing consultancy Centrally Human.

“What can happen,” noted Sheana Ahlqvist, PhD, of Ph.D. Insights, “especially to small business owners, is that they can get into the rut of relying on their intuition. But unless you’re being very deliberate about examining a specific thing and testing around a specific goal, you won’t really know if that is really the best approach for your business.” Ahlqvist uses her doctoral training in quantitative social psychology to help business owners gather and analyze data to run their companies more effectively.

Here are five things you can try A/B testing in your store.

Customer information requests

To grow your email list, you need your customers to provide their email addresses. Brown suggested using A/B testing to find out what method of asking is more effective.

“Retailers should consider running a test in stores where employees use principles of radical transparency to get increased information from shoppers.” Have one cashier ask for an email address but give no context. A second cashier should make the same ask but explain the reason behind it, such as a coupon or electronic receipt.

“Be very transparent on how their email is going to be used and how sharing it with you will benefit them,” said Brown. “If that five or ten seconds are spent with a customer, then it should reap results. A/B testing will let you know if spending the extra time offering an explanation really makes a difference or not.”

Social media platforms

“Another example is to see how social media works for that business,” suggested Brown. “Test the effectiveness of different social media platforms for bringing people to your register.”

For this test, Brown recommended creating a different code for promotions on each social platform. “As customers come in, note which promo code they use. From this, you’ll be able to determine which social media platform you should focus on.”

“For instance,” she continued, “if everyone who came in used your Instagram code, you’d know that this was the best place to spend your social marketing time and resources.”

Store layout and product placement

Ahlqvist suggested exploring how your store layout and the arrangement of displays affect traffic flow. “You may find that if people come in and there’s a display right in front of them, it keeps them from going deeper in the store so they miss seeing something they would have otherwise bought,” she said.

“In the creative space,” noted Brown, “magazine covers are a great example for A/B testing. Shop owners can put out magazine cover A for one week then switch to cover B the second week and see which sells better.”

Window displays and signage

“Another thing easy to manipulate is a window display or any display that draws people into the store in the first place,” said Ahlqvist. “You may decide you want to try more exciting imagery that creates a feeling of escape. Or try displaying practical items that remind the customer of something they forgot they needed. It all depends on what types of products and services you sell.”

Promotional messages

One of the simpler tests retailers can run is around the phrasing of promotions. “For instance,” said Ahlqvist, “one month, display an offer for $10 off a $50 purchase. The next month, change it to 20% off a $50 purchase. The amounts are equal, but you may find that one message appeals more to your customers than another.”

Other variables to test include store opening hours, background music and even phone greetings. Whatever your goal, a well-executed A/B test can give you some great insights on tactics that lead to increased foot traffic, customer engagement and sales.

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