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Tips for retailers

Store designs that promote sales

June 2005
By spending a little extra time on planning the layout, lighting, furnishings, lighting, displays — in other words, the design — of a store, a retailer can create an environment where customers will enjoy spending their money, reports CARIN DU TOIT

Retail design encompasses all aspects of display in a store: from the store’s front to the price tags. It deals with, as one would expect, the decoration of the store and the appearance, but also with the lighting the store will use, the point of sale system, the types of display stands, etc.

The aim of retail design is not only for the store to look nice – it is also about functionality. The designer has to make sure that everything will work aesthetically, functionally, commercially, and yet, stay within a budget whilst still meeting all the regulations governing the use of public space.

"The store frontage is the first interaction that the general public has with the shop and its merchandise", says Alan Weiss of the Design Forum in Cape Town. "A well designed and positioned shop sign is therefore the number one priority." Window display systems are often a neglected feature. Effective window displays, that are updated regularly, will give you an advantage over competitors, as well as retain public interest on an ongoing basis. 3-Dimensional views into the store should be included to encourage people to cross the entrance threshold and move into the retail space.

Graphic display systems could also be introduced to highlight the benefits and advantages of the product range, he suggests. "The look of these systems could also form a link between general advertising and the retail shop itself.

Important points to consider when designing a store is to take special care of the directional and departmental signage systems, which enable customers to easily navigate the store. The planning should ensure that a logical traffic flow system is incorporated.

Sport and outdoor people are practical by nature, and therefore it is very important to allow them to experience, as far as possible, the benefits of products that they intend to purchase. Potential customers are more likely to make an effort to visit a store with facilities where a customer can test and handle products.

"There are a number of mechanisms that retailers can use to encourage or direct sales," advises Weiss. "These range from strategic positioning of focal or feature displays, to following basic retailing rules such as ‘eye level is buy level’, therefore place the highest-margin items about 5.5 feet from the floor, etc." says Weiss.

Grouping of products to encourage cross merchandising is also a technique often used in stores.

The way that products are arranged on shelves, particularly the more expensive items, should re-enforce the image of exclusivity and quality. After all, you cannot expect to sell a new Rolls Royce off a second hand parking lot at the correct price. Retail environments should be designed to compliment merchandise.

Weiss says that although retailers generally want to create a "shopping experience" for their customers, it is important to always remember that your aim is to sell products. To this end customers should see the product first and environmental effects second. The shopping environment should be effective yet subliminal.

As a rule of thumb, when considering which colours to use in the shop, keep in mind what colours your merchandise are. Do not use colours that fight with, or attract attention away from your merchandise.

Shoplifting is a big problem for retailers. One way of keeping their hands off your goods is to keep small and expensive items close to staff or security points, for example cashier counters. However, customers need to have access to merchandise and therefore effective, and visible, deterrents such as security cameras, mirrors, security gates, etc, need to be considered.

No matter if you design a new store for the first time, or one that is being revamped, try to have a single theme that keeps everything together. For example, Cinch, the London home of Levi’s premium product, uses the red stitching detail characteristic of Levi’s to lure the customer inside and around the shop. The stitching is the signature on the shop front, a merchandising system, the handrail on the stairs and the navigation system to guide customers through the space.

It is becoming increasingly important to do customer research before starting to design a store. As a result, there is a growing interest within the retail design industry in how customer feedback can be used to shape the design of retail environments. New research methods are constantly being used in retail design to gain more information about consumer attitudes and behaviour. Methods range from observation techniques, including video-tracking and assisted shopping, through to cultural analysis and anthropological studies.

Lighting is a very important aspect of any retail design. After all, without lights, the customer would not be able to see the products the store is selling. "Lighting is everything!" says Weiss. "This item is often overlooked and under budgeted. The look of a store can be totally transformed with lights – this often requiring specialist input." Effective lighting creates atmosphere and helps to enhance merchandise. However, it is not a case of one light fits all. For example, the harsh bright light of fluorescent tubing does not work everywhere. Sometimes you want the light to be more subdued.

In 2004 the magazine Display and Design Ideas (DDI) compiled a lighting industry survey to measure the lighting product use and preferences of retailers and retail design companies - the majority of respondents (33.2%) indicated they use tubular fluorescent lighting products, with the next highest number (18.3%) indicating they use low-voltage incandescent and halogen lighting products.

However, many respondents also indicated that they are changing their buying habits to focus more on energy-efficient products. DDI reported that during 2005 more than 30% of respondents are planning to buy more compact fluorescent lighting, LED lighting and low-voltage track lighting.

To make the most of your design and to ensure the design stays up to date, even over a few years, make sure the design meets a defined customer need and makes the experience more rewarding and better than your competitors. Above all, make sure the concept is simple to understand and manage.

Key points to remember when designing your store:

    » Balance research with intuition. As the link between social / cultural changes and retail trends becomes ever more apparent, the need to incorporate research within the design process grows in importance. However, intuition and professional design experience are also crucial to a successful design.
    » Monitor the results. Results range from customer feedback and sales figures through to more intangible results, including improved brand equity and ability to gain presence within more prestigious retail locations.
    » Make points accessible. Customer behaviour can be described as "grazing" versus "hunting" for products. If the product is over-organized and segmented, a grazer may feel you are suggesting "do not touch". Your display should give them a sense of the product or say "do touch!" Alternatively, to cater for a hunter, organise products - for example as Good, Better, Best.
    » Shopping needs to be easy. Do not complicate your store and make it difficult for your customer to find what he is looking for.
    » Perceived value is often as important to the customer as the actual quality of the product. Successful retail design can improve overall customer perceptions of the product quality as well as the brand.
    » Functionality. Retail design can improve overall navigation and selection for the customer. It can also enhance the service offer and ensures accessibility for customers who are not completely mobile.
    » Customers are becoming more demanding in both physical and emotional terms, as they now want more personalised relationships with the brands they buy and the retailers they buy from. As a result, the tone of the design and approach by staff is becoming increasingly important.
    » Good service. Always invest in staff training if you introduce a new concept. All good retail design depends on good service, as the environment can only set the scene and create desire.

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