Remember when you were invited to someone’s house for the first time? It may have been for a party or a dinner. When you arrive you don’t really know where anything is. You feel unsure of where to stand and where to walk. You take all your cues from your host who moves around the house with ease and who leads you into the room where the rest of the guests are gathered. The new environment makes you a bit more hesitant and it feels like a big effort to put your party face on and meet new people. After a bit of time you start becoming familiar and comfortable with your surrounds and it becomes easier to approach new people. Once you start conquering the new space and you feel like you own the space, you are more confident in yourself and can more easily relate to the people around you.
In the same way, when customers enter your shop for the first time, they are like the party guest arriving at a new place. They are initially uncertain and ready to baulk at the first sign of discomfort. The challenge for designing the inside of your shop is to make customers feel at home as quickly as possible because when they are comfortable in your shop they can stop worrying about whether they should be there and start worrying about what they want to buy. When your customer feels like they own the space in your shop, they are more likely to engage with your sales people and more likely to buy from you.
Your physical environment matters. The space that you are in impacts how you feel. It impacts how you feel about yourself and how easily you relate to other people. Interior design is all about creating a space that conveys a feeling in your customers that promote how you want them to interact with you and your product.
When a customer first walks into your shop they are making a public decision. Everyone can see them entering your store. The places people choose to go say a lot about them – and people know that. Internally they are thinking “what will people think of me if I go in there?” This is the first barrier you need to overcome if you want people to enter your store. You want to ensure that the look of your store gives non-verbal cues about what you value because this will help draw in customers who share your values. This is why concept design is so powerful. If your interior space is designed around a concept that reinforces your values, it communicates those values to potential customers before they even walk through the doors.
Once the customer enters your store, they are still deciding whether they want to stay there. You want to make them feel comfortable as quickly as possible. It may seem very simple, but nothing drives out customers faster than a cramped space. If your customer does not have any personal space in your store, they feel like the people who are already in the store own the space and this makes it harder for the customer to conquer the space for themselves. As a result they do not feel comfortable and they leave. On the other hand, a crowd draws a crowd. You do not want your store to look empty because this makes the customer feel like no-one else agrees that your store is a good place to shop.
How can you avoid your store feeling over-crowded without it feeling empty? Apart from choosing the correct size for your store, the flow of your store is key. People usually turn left when they enter a space. Make sure the flow of your shop makes it easy for customers to turn left and then to disperse from there via multiple pathways – do not force all customers into a single path because this creates a bottle-neck and people will crowd around your entrance even if the back of the store is empty. People feel more secure when they are in a space with a lower roof compared to a higher roof. A store that has a high ceiling at the entrance and a lowered ceiling near the back will draw people in to the back of the store. This will help the flow of your store so that people aren’t crowded around the entrance.
The layout of your shop is important because less is more. It is better to display less merchandise if it means creating more space for the customer to feel comfortable. After all, your sales depends more on how many customers are in your store rather than how many products you display. If you need to display less merchandise, you can compensate by being more strategic about where you place your merchandise. Display your highest margin products at eye-level because these products will get more attention than the products displayed at waist-level. People usually take the shortest route between two points. Place merchandise in the spaces between where customers are most likely to walk.
You want to design your retail space to allow for one-on-one interactions between a customer and a sales person. Once again, the flow of your store is important for this. Your floor plan needs to allow enough space and enough pathways for people to easily move around a sales person helping a customer. This space creates enough privacy for the customer to tell the sales person what they need.
No one likes being sold to, but people are brilliant on selling themselves on ideas. A good sales person will make a customer feel like the sale is the customer’s idea. For the customer to sell themselves on your product, they need a bit of privacy to make their decision. The truth is that the customer has already decided in their heart whether they want to buy or not – they need some time to rationalize this decision with their head. Make sure your store allows space for this (in the fashion industry the fitting room is the best example of this type of space). Also make sure the lighting in these quieter areas is good and there are mirrors so that the customer can clearly see how good the product looks.
When we buy things it is often because we had a really good experience in the store. When we fit on those jeans, the fitting rooms had a lot of space and highlighted how good we looked, so we bought those jeans – and never wore them again! You want to design your store in a way that makes it easy for people to have a great experience because how the customer feels in your store translates to how they feel about your product.
Your environment matters. And when you design a retail space, you create the environment. Make sure you create the right environment for your customers. An environment that makes them feel at home and promotes the way you want the customer to interact with your people and your product.