It’s no coincidence that when you visit large shopping centres, the experience feels eerily familiar. Centre maps are usually located in the same area, the spaces feel similar and the conveniences are the same.
What you probably don’t immediately realise is that extensive consideration has gone into these spaces, ensuring they are designed to create the best customer experience based on psychological research.
In this article we talk to Pippa Kulmar, senior brand strategist with retail industry consultants Retail Oasis, about the psychology behind space design and get advice for small businesses looking to nail the design of their own store.
Provide shoppers an ‘experience’
Kulmar says that traditionally, the aim of good space design was to create a positive experience for consumers and encourage them to make repeat visits and buy multiple items – but that trend is changing.
“With the increase in people shopping online, the role of the store is being rethought altogether by a lot of businesses,” she says. “They are thinking about it as a marketing vehicle, a place to understand the brand and maybe experience some of the products – and then buy online.
“You have to have a reason – event, experience, service – to go to a store. That experience is the role of the store.”
She says there are a couple of reasons behind why shopping centres and outlets under the same umbrella of ownership incorporate similar design principles, the first of which is building brand equity.
“Given that the centre has the same stores as a centre not too far away, a consistency around the environment is often their way often of signalling to the customer that they are shopping at a specific shopping centre,” she says.
“That said, I think the larger global movement is to step away from this line of thinking and instead have the centre take cues from its locality, becoming more of a community experience than shopping centre brand experience.”
Customers first, store design second
While the psychology of the shopper is still taken into consideration when designing chain stores and larger outlets such as shopping centres and department stores, the role it plays changes from brand to brand. Kulmar says some businesses are very customer-centric in their culture, while others focus much more on internal machinations such as productivity instead.
“My experience has been that the best store environments and experiences start with how the customer shops and work back from that,” she says. “They design for the customer and work out feasibility and viability around that – instead of starting with feasibility and viability.”
She says design tactics such as creating the Gruen Transfer – intentionally confusing customers with a complex layout of a centre or store and thus resulting in impulse buys – still exist.
“From my experience most people will use a confusing layout in order to encourage dwell time by the consumer,” she says. “The idea being that the longer someone stays at a store the more they will spend.
“That said, I think retail thinking has become more sophisticated as we start to introduce skills like customer experience into our mode of thinking. Best in class in the industry are not thinking about things like Gruen Transfer but rather thinking about what is the customer journey, and how can to help along that path.”
She says that understanding that customer journey is crucial when designing the layout of a bricks and mortar business.
“One of my favourite quotes is ‘mediocrity looks for precedent’,” she says. “My advice would be not to look at what others are doing in order to copy it. Instead, spend time with your customer or prospective customers and understand how they shop – particularly if you aren’t the demographic or psychographic of your consumer. The store design should start from this point.”
And don’t forget to do as much research as possible to find the best location for your business.
“That’s what you want to nail,” she says. “If you get a dud location then you’re stuck with it. Nothing you do can improve it.”
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