Transforming Visitor Centers into Experience Centers

The visitor center traffic is decreasing, the next generation of traveler doesn’t see the value in the VIC as with previous generations. Utilizing their phones to give them direction and recommendations for travel is now a commonplace. Just as with retail, there is a huge shift in the way consumers interact with brands and this is no different with travel. In retail, for many years it was known as the death of brick and mortar, but we all know that is not actually the case, it’s the evolution of these industries and if you don’t evolve you die.

Visitor Centers into Experience Centers

One of the problems we are seeing is visitor centers are waiting too long to evolve, and with this delay and the increase in technology adoption cycles if they don’t change fast it will be too late.  Communities and even visitors still want the VIC, they just want it to evolve in their terms just like retail.

The economics of the visitor center like retail don’t make sense unless you have a plan to be relevant and connect with your consumer. In retail, it’s called conversation rates and it’s studied extensively to ensure its at min. of 25% level. However, to understand how to better engage, you must implement some traditional and digital tools to help evolve your centers.   Let’s take an example from retail to help guide us. The items below focus on retail, but many learning lessons can be had from design, engagement tool to staff training.

See some of our other blogs on Visitor Center technology and solutions you can implement to attract the next generation of traveler.  As well a good article on studies on this topic.

Ways to Increase Conversion


  1. Set up your store for success.

The very first thing you’ll want to look at is how your store is set up. Where are the displays? 

Here are some ideas:

  • Use your “power wall” wisely. If you’re in the US (or a country where people drive on the right side of the road), use your right wall to make a big statement, because customers naturally turn to the right when they walk in. 
  • Remove excess merchandise from the floor (i.e., only have one of each size or product on the floor) to keep the store from looking cluttered.  This is a good example of brochure walls, organize them and keep them lean start pushing more toward digital content
  • Mind your decompression zonewhich is the first 5 to 15 feet inside your front door. Shoppers who are in this part of your store are prone to distractions, which is why most experts agree that retailers should keep the decompression zone simple and uncluttered. Avoid placing too many products or fixtures in this area, as people will likely just walk right by them.
  1. Hide your queue.

Customers can be easily spooked if they see a lengthy queue. The good news is that there are a number of ways to fix this.

  • Put your registers in the back. You’ll notice that many stores do this. New York & Co., for instance, places their registers at the center-back of the store by the fitting rooms. 
    • This could mean opening up your center to allow easy connection points and utilizing technology while people wait in line.
  • Get rid of the registers all together and go mobile. By allowing your employees to ring customers anywhere on the floor, you’ll get rid of your queue altogether.
    • This could mean Kiosks, or Touch experiences as well as a combination of tablet devices to help visitors in new ways.
  1. Staff according to traffic, not just sales.

Many stores will schedule their staff, according to hours where the most sales are made, rather than the amount of traffic walking through the door. By switching to heavily staffing when there are many customers in the store, your employees will be able to more effectively help everybody, which will likely result in an uptick in sales.

  1. Recognize that your employees play a huge role in boosting conversions.

This point is part and parcel of the previous point. Not only do you need to be well-staffed, but it’s essential that you train your employees well. In terms of increasing your conversion rate, there are some important things your staff can be taught to do:

  • Have them greet and engage each and every customer in the store.

An easy method to ensure that your staff is greeting everyone is to have someone work the front zone specifically to greet people.

  • Train your staff on how to prompt customers to share what they’re looking for.

The bulk of this is to ensure that they don’t ask yes or no questions. For instance, “Can I help you find something?” will most often be met with “No.” But “What are you looking for today?” requires the shopper to engage with the question a bit more, even if the answer is negative.

  • Put in the effort — and mean it.

Once your staff member has identified the customer’s wants/needs, train them to go above and beyond in solving these problems. When your employees are putting in a huge amount of effort, they will most likely come up with a great solution. 

  1. Give free samples, nibbles, or drinks.

Ever wonder why Costco has made free samples a part of their business model? It’s for a number of reasons, but the main one is that, as Dan Ariely, a Duke University behavioral economist, says, “Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct.” Basically, when Costco gives you a free sample, you feel obliged to do something for them. Ariely also points out that free samples remind you of cravings you have, making you want to buy what you just sampled.

If you’re selling something that can’t be given away as samples, then find something else to offer. Several retailers are now serving drinks to get people to come in and linger.

  • Think about special maps, hiking guides, things for kids or animals
  1. Use social proof.

Social proof means showing your customers that other people have bought or want to buy your products. The most obvious example is when an online store offers reviews of a product on its page. You can replicate this in your store as well!

  • Look at ways to engage visitors through UGC or ways to show them other people or families enjoying this experience
    • Ratings and reviews are not a bad way either

In Amazon’s physical locations, for instance, each printed product tag contains a snippet of a highly starred review from their website, clearly demonstrating that others have bought and loved the product. McDonald’s offers another option: tell your customers how many people have bought from you. 

  1. Get customers to invest time with you.

The more time a customer spends in your store, the more likely they are to purchase something. The Wall Street Journal actually says that you can see up to a 40% sales increase from encouraging your customers to hang around. How to effectively encourage your shoppers to linger, so here are the highlights:

  • Offer amenities to make shopping easier and more fun. Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary & Supply, for instance, has a children’s corner in the back of the store for parents shopping with kids. Happy kids = happy shoppers, after all. 
  • Train your employees to help your customers spend time in the store. Jumping back up that winery example, part of educating customers about your wine is giving out awesome free education, but another part is that the more the employee converses with the customer, the more time the customer has invested in that winery.
  • Visitor Center option is to provide free itinerary building, trail guides or ways to get the most of the time they have
  • As well saving them money with coupons, or discount ticketing gets them engaged with your local offerings
  1. Use technology to improve your experience

Allowing customers to connect in the manner they like is core to any retail-based organization, allowing kiosk look up of inventory items or visuals and videos of people interacting with products increases engagement by over 50%.   Utilizing options for mobile engagement allowing customers to search their phones connected to your inventory and giving them reasons to build points or rewards will allow you to get more favor. Finally providing traditional models that allow your staff to engage on the floor or behind the counter using tablets and technology that make the experience faster and more personalized.

Douglas Ralston Profile

Written by Doug Ralston, an omnichannel technology pioneer, and hotel owner.