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The Myths of Customer Dwell Time – What It Can or Cannot Tell

The Myths of Customer Dwell Time – What It Can or Cannot Tell

In retail industry, dwell time is one of the most commonly used metrics to measure the engagement of customers in offline stores – believing that customers generally tend to spend more if they stay longer in the store or shopping mall. However, after some discussions among the team, it is thought that by looking at this metric alone cannot fully tell us the true picture of their behaviors. Instead, it can be confusing or even misleading to the decision makers.

What Does Dwell Time Actually Mean?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, dwell time means how long people are likely to stay in an area and what it can imply is nothing more than that. During a customer journey, customers may first spend time on window shopping outside the store, then come in and browse around the store. Next, they may stop by, look at the products they are interested in and ask staff for more detail of the products. They may even go to the Internet for product review and price comparisons using their mobile devices. Finally, they will decide if they will pay for the products or not. If it is the case, then dwell time can somehow tell us the extent of how customers being engaged to the shop.

However, it may not be always true when things are not going ideally smooth. Sometimes, the real case may be that the customers wanted to go in but they waste a lot of time in queuing outside, then they lose the way while they are searching for product they need due to poor direction indications in the shop and they cannot find any staff for help. Next, they start to seek help in the Internet but the Wi-Fi is too bad and the network is too slow. Both scenarios can result in similar dwell time but the first one indicates a better customers experience than the next. Of course, most of the time the truth would be a mix of the two cases, which makes us doubt if dwell time actually means more than just how long one stays in a store.

Flowchart of customer journey – different customer experiences

Does Short Dwell Time Really Mean Low Engagement?

Customers with short dwell time does not necessarily mean they are not engaged at all. The most extreme case would be that the customers grab the product they want and pay immediately once they get into the store – very loyal and 100% engaged in a sense that they do not bother to spend a second to make their purchasing decisions. Depending on the size of the store, the crowd traffic and what kinds of products to sell, some of the shop owners may even prefer a short average dwell time so that they can let more potential customers come in and buy their products. This situation is even more common in grocery stores.

Does Long Dwell Time Imply Higher Sales?

Many marketing researches (e.g. SavillsLatimer Appleby) have said that increasing dwell time of customers can make them willing to spend more and hence taught us how to elongate dwell time to increase sales. It makes sense that dwell time and sales may be positively correlated but those researches cannot draw conclusion of which comes first – it is still ambiguous about the causal relationship between two factors. The true case may be that people who pay for the products probably stay longer as they need to queue up at the cashier. This ambiguity is one of the limitations in performing marketing researches.

Conclusion – Do’s and Don’ts

In order to increase the engagement of customers and hence the sales, shop owner should focus on improving customer experience instead of blindly increasing their dwell time such as by rearranging the location of products in a nonsense way, making customers confused and generating bad customer experience. The strategies will depend on different instances but the main concept is that the increase of dwell time should serve as a sign of improvement of customer experience rather than the results of manipulation of the shop owners.

By just investigating the dwell time alone, it is almost impossible to fully show and understand what is going on among the customers. What else do we need to know is where they spend their time on as spending time on queuing and finding the way are very different from spending time on looking at the products and talking to staff. So here analyzing heatmaps and customer paths in the store come to play – heatmaps and customer paths analysis can let us know which areas the customers usually spend time on. With these two additional pieces of information, we will then have a better picture of how they behave before making any business decisions.

Example of heatmap from a clothing store

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