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10 Retail Design Tactics



Combating the Online Onslaught

Retailing is a turbulent place to live and work right these days. The new reality of streaming natives and the impact of online shopping has dramatically changed the face of selling from brick and mortar stores. We have entered a time when buyers talk to each other instantly and constantly. They influence purchasing decisions via recommendations, likes and follows in ways that are unfamiliar to many seasoned business owners. Customers can do all of the research they want online before they ever enter a store, sometimes giving them the information advantage even over the customer service representatives when they buy. Most buyers are better than half way through their buying decision before they even enter a store, and with the convenience of online ordering and “to-the-door” delivery – why leave the house?

That struggle, to understand the emerging marketplace, can be frightening and discouraging. But often in the midst of major change, major opportunity seems to arise. 2018 seems to be a year when we can point to an economy that is on the up swing.

But the following are some basic starting points you can work with to get the creative juices flowing. They really aren’t in any particular order, and one isn’t necessarily more important than another. They are considerations to help you take a fresh look and launch some new possibilities.


Batman was a “grab.” I don’t know if there is an official term for it, but at $5,000 each in the early 90s they probably didn’t sell too many Batmen. The goal of the Batman was more to grab you and bring you into the store and buy the more “buyable” fare they had on the shelves. We all know we need a way to draw people into the store, but look at the brilliance of using Batman the way Sharper Image did.

The statue was surely unique, not many other stores in the city (let alone the mall) had one. Batman was also rising back as a cultural icon as Tim Burton had brought him back to life on the big screen, and so the “cool” factor was approaching 11 on the meter.


I love the Bass Pro Shop corporate store. When you first walk into the store, you come into a very well done vestibule. It’s beautifully decorated, but distinctively outdoors. It’s an open area that, despite the foot traffic, allows plenty of space for you to stop and orient yourself. In the retail world they call this a decompression zone. As people enter the store, they need a moment or three to adjust themselves to a new environment and orient themselves to the shop. Experts suggest that depending on the size of the store, the first five to fifteen feet of the entry are necessary for people to decompress and anything in that zone is either ignored or a challenge to that transition. Designing a good retail space requires accounting for that transition.


As I said earlier, these are in no particular order. Except for this point and the next, they go rather hand in hand. Research shows that almost without fail, at least here in North America, we tend to traffic to the right. No matter what we are up to, when we enter an environment we tend to make our first turn to the right and then work from there. It’s based primarily on the fact that we drive on the right side, but 90% of people walking into your store are going to unconsciously turn to the right after they enter.  Use that nature to your advantage.


You can see how easily navigation can become an issue in a large store, but you can honestly have the same type of trouble in a small store. Navigation – and not strictly finding what you’re looking for – is a key to the customer experience. Often the combination of helping you get to what you want to buy, but taking you past things that are enticing and interesting is the end result you want. But clarity is the real key. Making the path through the buying experience as obvious as possible while being clever and interesting. You can accomplish this by signage, placement of fixtures and displays or perhaps furnishings.


In a world where it is difficult to compete against online retailers on both price and convenience, one distinct advantage stands out for brick and mortar stores. Experience. Buying habits and brand loyalty have both changed in the digital age. The connectivity of the younger generations has built a far more powerful platform for the individual person to look for things tailored specifically to them. And so, they connect to a brand in ways we haven’t in the past.  Traditional marketing efforts still have some power, but the reality is people are looking for more. And “experience” is really emerging as the new commodity for brand building.


How can you affect the “fun” of shopping in your business? There are lots of different options, and again like I mentioned with regards to immersive experiences budget can go a long ways to help out. But I think you may be surprised at what is probably the most effective way.


Look for ways to satisfy that need for immediacy. How to make it faster for your patrons to find help and products; how to manage your queues for service or checkout more effectively and help people get out faster and how to help make those necessary waits seem shorter are all questions to address. Again, find ways to look at it through your customer’s eyes. Visit other retailers and see what experiences work and which ones don’t. Go to other types of stores and see how they handle various aspects of their business that might help you improve your own. Don’t sacrifice quality for speed. Customers never appreciate that. Most all of us would agree that we would be happy to wait a little longer for a better product or service. But your goal as retailer should be to distract us from that necessary wait.


How can you slow your visitors down? Not delay them, but engage them with something they’re interested in. How can you disrupt their day in a way they will enjoy? Can you activate an interest of theirs? Maybe you sell clothing and you do some sessions on creating outfits in your store that people can stop and listen to.


Almost the most immediate and simple change you can make to your store is the lighting. If you haven’t done any lighting design in your store, take a few moments to do some research on light color and temperature. Establish in your head two things: first, the mood you want. Is your store a place that’s built on ambiance or is it more important to highlight products and draw people’s focus. Secondly determine if your focus is on people or things.

Buy a couple of lamps you can plug in and try at different parts of your store. See what jumps out at you. Visit a few higher end car dealerships and some established department stores and see how they are using lighting to effect what you are seeing. It’s a good starting point to reviewing your own site.


It’s not something you wash with. Eeeeeeew.

You know that awkward moment you sometimes have? You are in a crowd of people, packed in tight, all trying to get in or out of some place or another. You are bumping into each other a little bit, and it is causing everyone to laugh here and there because it is awkward and we know we are uncomfortable. But then it happens.

So, consider yourself moving through a store, and every now and again you have your backside glossed over by the clothing rack behind you. Or you get goosed by the display of picture frames in aisle. Maybe you can laugh at yourself the first time, but at least by the third it is going to get uncomfortable. Most people will feel slightly violated (though, not really in a traumatic way) and a little claustrophobic. That constant bumping will translate into the space feeling closed, tight and constricting, ultimately driving them to start the process of leaving. Yes, you want to get as much dollar per square foot sales as you can. But don’t do so at the expense of making your customers feel uncomfortable and straining their shopping experience.


Maybe you are one of the leaders out there who has already unlocked some doors to taking on what seems to be the new age of retailing. I hope some of what I’ve put in here will spark some new ideas and give you a jumping off point to do more amazing things.

Note: If you desire a more expanded explanation on each of these points, please download our eBook “10 Factors of Retail Design” on the sidebar of this page.

Inspiring Quote of the Day:The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”  ~ Walt Disney