Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. Build a better path, and customers will spend more time in your store.
Whether they know it or not, shoppers want to be shepherded through a store, and will often unconsciously follow paths laid out by the designers like a trail of breadcrumbs. This presents an opportunity to guide shoppers past product displays the retailer wants to highlight, and direct them around the store in a semi-prescribed manner.
Forging a Path
Well thought-out pathways can facilitate browsing and even make shoppers spend more time in the store, and not just by building an interior with difficult-to-find exits or confusing signage, but with subtle psychology and a well-conceived interior layout.
North American shoppers have a natural tendency to walk through a store to the right, which makes the area directly to the right of the store entrance a great spot for a first impression. Shopify recommends stores put high-impact, eye-catching displays in this area to get customers’ attention and encourage shoppers to proceed further along the path. It’s also a good place for seasonal items or items in high demand.
Once customers are on the path, a loop (or “racetrack”) layout works best to guide shoppers along the perimeter of the store, ideally past impulse buys or high-profit margin items. Once a customer gets the lay of the land they will often venture more towards the middle of the store to check out other displays beyond the initial path.
You don’t want the path to make customers want to simply reach the end in a hurry, which is why Shopify recommends adding “speed bumps” along the way, or attention-grabbing displays that customers will want to stop at and explore. End caps can also be strategically placed to display impulse items and visually break up the space along the loop. Positioning complementary decor items near each other inevitably makes customers imagine how those items would coordinate nicely in their homes, like a chair and ottoman or an end table and lamp.
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It’s something of a delicate balance avoiding overwhelming customers with too much product displayed haphazardly, which can discourage spending. Shopify cites Bed Bath & Beyond as an example of a store interior that can feel intimidating with its floor-to-ceiling displays and cavernous, labyrinthine interiors making it difficult to find the exit. The flow of a store layout should be natural, and guide customers to product displays that you want them to find.
Anyone who’s shopped at IKEA before knows their marketplace section is a maze of twists and turns each customer must traverse on their way to the register. But it’s laid out in a way that encourages last-minute browsing, with eye-catching displays of inexpensive items scattered throughout. The layout of this section turns shoppers on a mission into browsers, and browsers usually spend more money and linger in stores for longer. IKEA also uses a literal path down the center of the floor of this section to guide customers past displays, which they will typically subconsciously follow.
Setting the Scene (and Mood)
Encouraging customers to stay in stores longer involves setting the right mood and feeling. The store should be at a comfortable temperature, and layouts spread out enough to not make shoppers feel boxed in. Any music playing should be ambient and non-jarring, and comfortable lounge or snack areas should be available to give browsers a space to relax and refuel with caffeine or food.
The experience aspect of brick-and-mortar shopping has become a major differentiator in the ongoing battle with e-commerce. Stores are using their spaces to foster a feeling of luxury and personalization, another key aspect of a unique in-store experience. Sephora, for example, has stations for free facials, which gives customer a chance to try before they buy. Urban Outfitters’ conceit is to have each store be unique in its layout and interior architectural design, which stokes curiosity and encourages stopping in to multiple locations.
Keeping customers in stores longer is part psychology, part intelligent layout of product displays. There are many subtleties that can be employed to guide shoppers’ in-store movement which ultimately lead to more purchases and a greater interest in what items are available elsewhere in the store.