How to Reduce Friction in Selling

By Bob Phibbs

iStock-163641997.-confusionjpgIHOP created a tsunami of publicity when they teased they were changing their name to IHOB. A few days later they revealed the B would stand for burgers.

Did they actually become a burger place? Did they abandon breakfast and pancakes?

Their “name change,” in quotes because IHOP did not actually, officially change its name to IHOB, left many feeling duped and confused.

Lots of social media chatter tried to answer those questions. Commenters thought it was a brilliant marketing campaign that now had people talking about a brand that was moribund and while they had a 1% increase in sales this past quarter, had been sinking for awhile.

The challenge with the supposed IHOP name change was that it made people question the whole brand; would it be the same? Would they still be serving breakfast?

That’s important...

McDonald’s – who everyone knows has served breakfast for decades –  expanded their breakfast to all-day long while Subway has allowed franchisees to STOP serving breakfast because it was unprofitable.

Yet breakfast - IHOP’s core promise to the market -  is the only day part in which the restaurant industry saw growth.

Shoppers hate confusion, and when they enter your store and feel overwhelmed or confused by your choices and lack of clarity, they don’t buy.

The uproar about IHOP for many became that they had duped us, it was just a stunt to announce a new line of burgers.

Do confused customers who feel duped want to check out a brand? Time will tell.

It got me thinking other ways businesses confuse their customers…

In Their Visual Merchandising

  • Displaying so many similar products it overwhelms the shopper.
  • Nothing helps shoppers distinguish between your products other than price.  
  • Or you’ve created displays of too many unrelated products.

On Their Website

  • Having a website that’s just pretty but not easy to use; design is more important than functionality.
  • Having a website that lacks key elements as to how to buy, how it is built, etc.

With Their Customer Service

  • Your product knowledge expert uses jargon your shopper may have no understanding of - I’m looking at you camera stores, TV stores, and electronics stores.
  • Or your product knowledge expert inundates your shopper with more information than they wanted or needed to decide on a purchase.

In Their Signage

  • No directional signs; shoppers can’t find their way around your store.
  • No display signs to make connections between merchandise obvious.

With Their Marketing And Promotions

  • An asterisk after a 20% off everything in the store sign or ad which then denotes exceptions but in tiny print.
  • A long email filled with lots of pictures, coupon, and text.

How to solve confusion?

  • Look at everything from your potential customer’s eyes; will they understand?
  • Clearly state what it is you do and how you do it.
  • Eliminate distractions.
  • Give them direction.

Here are just a few fixes to shopper confusion…


  • Cut down your wall of product into smaller display units.
  • Make relationships between products obvious.
  • Consider a good, better, and best signage option.


  • What is it you want them to do first? Join your newsletter list? Search for an item? Take them down the path most efficient for them.
  • Give them simple, specific calls to action and keep distractions to a minimum.
  • Your site must not look the same as competitors. Make your brand rememberable with content and direction you want visitors to take first.

Customer Service

  • Train your employees to be able to explain the most important elements to a friend who knows nothing about your product as if they were at a Starbucks explaining it over a cup of coffee.
  • Give a store tour to first-time shoppers and explain where everything is.


  • Highlight the benefits shoppers need to know to make a decision.
  • Help shoppers move around the store on their own with directional and departmental sign that doesn’t need interpretation.

Marketing And Promotions

  • Avoid gotcha moments which happen when a reasonable person assumes the word everything means everything, don’t hide reality in the fine print.
  • When creating an email, think what is the most important thing you want this reader to do? For my newsletter, it is to read one article; that’s why it has a big picture, a headline, information that will help the reader, and a link to click.

It’s really quite simple...once shoppers enter your brick and mortar store, you have to provide direction:

What do you want them to look at first?

How will your sales staff guide them to buy something that day?

Where do you want to them to look?

Answer these questions, and you’ll build a strong brand that doesn’t have to resort to fleeting gimmicks.

See also, Marketing Won’t Help If You Don’t Know Who Your Retail Customer Is [Case Study]

In Sum

I once checked into a hotel that had ashtrays in the lobby yet a strict no-smoking policy posted. Which was it?

Shoppers hate confusion, and when they enter your store and feel overwhelmed or confused by your choices and lack of clarity, they don’t buy.

To raise your conversion rate, look around your store now and see pockets of confusion in your signage, merchandising, and sales process – those increase friction in the buying process.

After that, craft your retail sales strategy to minimize anything that confuses your shopper.

You Might Also be Interested In: 

3 Things You Must Do to Help Selling to Men 

How To Engage Retail Customers Begins With A Wow Moment

What Does Your Product do for Your Customer?

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