Store design: how clever use of space and clear layouts encourage customers to linger

Why does a food market, with its many sights and smells, generate a stronger response in us than a dreary store with all the charm of a drab warehouse? And why does exploring a small Italian city elicit such emotion? Retailers can encourage customers to linger by making good use of space and appealing to all of their senses.

Shopping with all senses

Aristotle suggested we have only five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. However, modern researchers have already put forward up to 13 senses, such as a sense of movement, of time, of temperature and of equilibrium, in other words the ability to hold our balance, assess distances and proportions and remain in motion. And there’s one that has both a physical and cognitive effect on how we act and feel: our experience of space.

Timeless shopping

Our perception of time in relation to space also has a role to play in shops: we can notice this in the way that we lose track of time when guided along a specific, carefully considered route – think IKEA – because we are being led as if by a magic from department to department and there is always something new around the corner. This alone makes shopping an “event”. And it seems to change our perception of time as well, which fades into the background as our emotions take hold of our subconscious mind. The longer we linger, the more we want to buy. How many of us leave IKEA empty handed?

Decision supports

We are faced with many decisions every day. This begins from the moment we get up. Should we drink a coffee or healthier tea, perhaps with honey rather than sugar, or even just some lemon? Prof. Gerhard Roth, a leading German brain researcher, says we believe we have free will, but we actually do not: we want what we do, rather than do what we want. This means we can influence how our customers act, while also making them feel good. This is achieved by reducing the stress of shopping, such as by carefully considering how you use space and clear structures to prompt customers to effortlessly browse your store, at their own pace, always maintaining an overview and feeling at ease. Arrange goods by category – sorted by brand, appeal, colour, price segment, innovations or special offers. Determine what space you need and the perfect placement. Work calmly and listen to your gut. After all, customers invariably use their intuition rather than technology to navigate your store.

Your biggest… yet cheapest investment: cleanliness

If your store seems unclean, unkempt or cluttered, customers will subconsciously feel put off or even disgusted. You are really going to find it difficult, then, to convey competence, sell high-quality products and earn good money.

Train yourself and your employees to notice such things and provide little aids to help with everything from quick clean-ups through to skilful product sorting. It looks good to customers when they can actually see for themselves through the care invested that the product and therefore the customer making the purchase are valued.

Anchor points

Right at the point customers enter the store, it is worth presenting them with a well visible brand wall which can serve as a focal point, almost like the altar of a church.

The brand wall should stand out in terms of colour and structure and must display your company logo. It is extremely unprofessional to have customers in your store who cannot tell at a glance in which establishment they find themselves. Additional and simple accents, such as a large and impressive poster, targeted lighting or unusual decorations show who you are and what you can do.

Smaller versions of these anchor points should then be continued throughout the departments, establishing a visual reference to the goods groups there. Customers are thus subconsciously guided and invited to meander from department to department and discover the entire range or even additional incentives to buy. This trick also helps encourage customers not to stay milling around near where they came in – especially in smaller shops – while also increasing the time they spend in your store.

And even brighter lighting at the entrance acts like a magnet: light not only attracts flies, but people as well.

A very efficient tip:

Treat your store to something large or unusual. This might be a big pink chandelier, an impressive sculpture (perhaps made out of easily transportable plastic) or an interesting wallpaper: such emotional surprises are more easily anchored in our brains and likely to be remembered. And the next time we feel like shopping and ask ourselves which store we’ll visit today, it will be your store, of course, that automatically springs to mind!

About the author:

Stefan Suchanek is an aesthete, retail designer, consultant, speaker and lecturer in visual rhetorics, presentation and reasoning at the AMD Academy for Fashion & Design in Munich. He draws his expertise from knowledge of traditional design theory, evolutionary biology and brain science to design more interactive, intelligent and mindful business spaces and showrooms: spaces which bring forth a positive response, value people and boost sales by creating a lasting feeling of well-being through meaning and sensuality.