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how the store environment can create a rewarding shopping experience

    Rewarding Shopping Experiences

    What you’ll learn to do: Illustrate how the store environment can create a rewarding shopping experience

    A store layout determines how your merchandise will be displayed and how your shoppers will move through your store. But add all the environmental elements—from the flooring to the building materials to the lighting—and then you’re starting to create a shopping experience for your shopper. Help your product along with some balanced, artistic displays, and you’ll be converting sales like a master.

    In this section, we’ll talk about the goals of different product displays and their best uses, and how you can set up your store environment to further enhance your shopper’s experience and engagement with your merchandise.


    • Describe why a store’s exterior influences its image
    • List the benefits and drawbacks of each presentation technique
    • Outline the important aspects interior store design

    Store Exterior

    A retailer has a new brand of mustard that he wants to promote. In fact, the manufacturer of the mustard has given him a few promotional dollars to get the product out in front of shoppers. The retailer can either use the money to give shoppers a 10% off coupon to try the new mustard, or he can put together a nice merchandise display.

    He decides that he wants his shoppers to really notice this new mustard, so he puts together a display. And it works well—the mustard flies off the shelf. Visual merchandising has done its job, even better than a coupon. In fact, one study suggested that, when trying to get customers to switch brands, good visual merchandising was approximately equal to a 15–30% price cut.[1]

    If that’s true, the retailer just made more money than he would have if he’d offered his shoppers that 10% off coupon.

    The power of displays is pretty formidable. Let’s take a look at some of the common merchandise displays you see in retail stores, and what their goals are.

    End Caps

    Commonly found in grid layout stores, at the end of those very square aisle fixtures, you will find end caps. A lot of the time, they look like this:

    floor plan in a grid format. Three of the shelves have semi-circle caps on one end
    an end cap display of pepsi

    Figure 1. Pepsi-focused end cap

    That end cap might be a short set of nesting tables (a series of two or three tables that fit under each other) or a cardboard shelving structure provided by a manufacturer, or just a series of shelves to show off products. Often, end caps are used to promote a single brand in a store. Particularly in grocery stores, manufacturers will pay for that space and retailers will highlight their products in an end cap feature. The end cap in Figure 1 featuring Pepsi is an excellent example of that.

    In other cases, retailers can leverage that space to celebrate a season or event. In the grocery store industry, Thanksgiving is a pretty important season, and often end caps feature items that the shopper will need for her Thanksgiving celebration. These manufacturers may have paid a small fee for the space, or the retailer may have created it on his own.

    Window Displays

    A window display is usually made up of items carried in a store, and they’re displayed at the front of the store, in the window, so they can be viewed by passers-by on the street.

    The goal of a window display is pretty simple. There are people outside the store, and the retailer wants them to be inside the store, shopping. So the retailer entices those street people by putting his most attractive items out to be noticed. People look in the windows and see items they want, and they enter to purchase. Or, as is the case in many movies and television shows, they see items they can’t afford and stop by regularly to admire them.

    Stores like Barneys in New York, Bergdorf Goodman, and Macy’s have been known to put some creative effort and thought into their window displays, particularly during the holiday season.

    window display celebrating Easter

    Figure 2.

    Of course, window displays aren’t just for the outside of buildings. Mall stores also use window displays to beckon prospective shoppers into their stores.

    Promotional Aisles and In-Aisle Promotions

    Stores like Target and Meijer, who are primarily grid format stores, will often dedicate entire aisles to promotional items. The trick of these aisles is that the items in them usually do not feature items normally carried in the store at discounted prices. Usually these aisles carry products that were purchased for the sake of stocking the promotional aisle. They might feature a huge dump bin of flip flop sandals and a shelf of citronella candles at the start of summer, or stuffed snowmen and wrapping paper during the holidays.

    Promotional aisles are basket builders—products that you hope shoppers will buy to add a little extra to your bottom line.

    In-aisle promotions are another tool that stores with grid layouts commonly use. If an item is on sale, it’s often marked accordingly with a tag showing its sale price right on the shelf, like the example shown in Figure 3:

    price tag placed on a shelf in front of an item

    Figure 3

    This is a common practice in many stores, particularly those that feature a weekly or monthly ad sent direct mail to homes. It’s a team member’s full time job to take down and put up those tags.

    When a retailer wants to call out an item on sale in an in-aisle promotion, he can use a shelf talker. A shelf talker sticks out from the display fixture, usually sitting perpendicular to it so that it faces the customer. It sends a little message to the shopper, saying, “New Product!” or “Sale!” In the case of this shelf talker below, the retailer is leveraging a “complementary grouping” approach by reminding people to get their flu shots where they sell their pain relievers.

    Shippers/Manufacturer Displays

    display of a jerky brand in a grocery store

    Figure 4

    While often referred to as point of sale displays, these “shippers,” or manufacturer displays, are often displayed in wide aisles around a store. They’re provided by the manufacturer to draw some extra attention to their product. The shipper in Figure 4 is for Biltong, and is destined to be hung with that extra case the manufacturer sent along with it. The goal of this display is to stop shoppers as they progress along their normal traffic flow pattern in the store, make them pause and say, “Oh! Biltong!” After that, they hopefully purchase a bag or two.

    Sometimes, shippers are used to do a complementary bundling, or cross-merchandising. A retailer may have deli meats on display in the refrigerator section, and he may place a shipper of pickles nearby to facilitate add-on sales.

    Dump Bins

    Dump bins are a favorite of the bargain hunting shopper, and indeed, you won’t usually find them in a high-end store. They’re meant to give the shopper the impression that an item has been deeply discounted. Shoppers don’t expect anything fragile or high quality to find its way into a dump bin, because they’re meant to be rummaged through.

    If a single product is featured in a dump bin, usually it’s in several different colors or styles. Going back to flip-flops on sale for the start of summer, you might find pink ones and blue ones and ones with beach ball prints . . . you get the idea. In Figure 5, Wal-mart is using a dump bin to sell a variety of books. The customer has to go in looking to see what’s in there. In this case, the dump bin itself helps a little bit by displaying the covers of the books on the sides of the bin, but shoppers will still go through and see if there’s anything else there. You never know!

    a dump bin full of books with a sign labeling them up too 80 percent off

    Figure 5

    Point of Sale/Point of Purchase Displays

    The Point of Sale (or “POS”) is the last effort to sell a little something more to your shopper. Point of sale displays have been vilified by mothers everywhere, as candy bars, gums and mints are a common find at checkouts, even in bookstores and pet stores! But point of sale displays aren’t just for kids – retailers will try to attract adults with various magazines and tabloids, and even batteries and other small items they may have forgotten while shopping.

    Some retailers make point of sale displays that act as queue managers. Joann and Home Goods are among those that wind their lines of shoppers through shelving fixtures that sell everything from candles to key rings.

    a check out counter in a grocery store with many shelves with items to sell while customers are in line.

    Figure 6

    Retailers seem to be finding new ways every day to display their merchandise in the store, but these methods are well-known, well-researched and known to work. Now let’s talk about the benefits and drawbacks of each.

    Presentation Techniques

    Every display method a retailer uses for his merchandise has its benefits and drawbacks. When choosing a type of display, one should consider if the display works for the type of store layout and the kind of environment you’ve created for the shopping experience.

    Let’s look at each type now and determine where it will succeed and where it might fail.

    End Caps

    End caps are very successful in grid layouts. Grocery stores and big box retailers use end caps to promote brands and celebrate seasons in their stores. They’re eye catching, and the space is easily “leased” to manufacturers that want to promote their brand.

    The drawback of an end cap is its ability to be seen. If aisles end too close to a wall, the end cap may make walking space too narrow. And depending on where the aisle ends, the shopper may not even turn toward it as she follows her traffic flow path through the store.

    Window Displays

    Probably the most fun a merchandiser will have is creating a window display—it’s artistic and expressive and fun, and retailers can leverage your window space to tell outsiders what they can expect in their stores. Funky and hip? Serious and elegant? Your store window starts telling the story of the shopper’s experience before she’s even inside.

    The drawback is that your window display, while taking up quite a bit of square footage at times, doesn’t always move product. The mannequin that wears a pink sweater might attract the shopper to come in the door, but because the product can’t be displayed adjacent to the mannequin in the window (and shoppers can’t go in there and browse), it’s not always going to sell your merchandise directly.

    Promotional Aisles

    This is the space you trip over when you walk into Target or Meijer, that little cove of space they didn’t know what else to do with. They filled it with junky stuff and put a bunch of bright colored signs up so the customer can shop it and get excited over the big values he’s finding. People often come just to shop these areas—they need trinkets for an event or they want to buy the kids something fun. They can be a draw for a shopper all by themselves.

    The drawback of the promotional aisle is that it doesn’t really work for every kind of retailer. Target can use it well, but a Chanel store isn’t going to have one of these types of displays. And not every retailer wants to convey “cheap fun” as a part of their brand statement.

    In-aisle Promotions

    A store with a grid layout will almost always use an in-aisle promotion. Why is that? Well, grid layouts are for stores that carry a lot of product, so if a retailer is doing a sale they’re not going to be able to give every sale item its own display. Shelf tags and shelf talkers are a great alternative, drawing attention as the shopper browses.

    The drawback of this display is that it’s not really a display, and therefore not as visible as the other types we’re talking about here. And, of course, if the store isn’t a grid (or at least a mixed) layout, it’s a bit harder to execute—but not entirely impossible.


    Shippers are great little attention getters in a wide aisle, as they’re usually colorful and eye-catching, and stocked full of something the shopper didn’t know he wanted. Because you can put them right in a common traffic flow path, they’re always going to act like a “speed bump” and slow shoppers down to take a look.

    The drawback of this kind of display is that it’s cheap. Shippers are usually made of cardboard and shipped flat, and, after a team member struggles for an hour or two trying to get it all put together, they sit out where they’re touched, bumped, and abused by customers. You’ll never see these in a higher-end store (unless it’s a high-end shipper!) On top of that, they take up valuable aisle space, which a small retailer might not have to give.

    Dump Bins

    Dump bins scream “find deeply discounted items here!” The shopper understands that some amount of effort will need to be spent to find the right size, the right color, the right title, but she dives in willingly, because it’s part of the game. We are reminded again and again that shopping is an experience, and the dump bin is a discount experience all its own.

    The drawback is that this type of display implies discount . . . and not necessarily quality. Higher-end stores may not want to move in that direction because they don’t want to send that kind of message to their shoppers – even if they have a product that would work in a dump bin. Also, dump bins take up a lot of aisle space too, so, like shippers, they may not work for a smaller store.

    Point of Sale/Point of Purchase Displays

    Point of sale displays get shoppers with that last little item they didn’t know they wanted or needed. Whether it’s a pack of gum or a cooking magazine, retailers get one more opportunity to add to the final ticket.

    Even in its drawbacks there are pluses. Moms have forever complained about candy in the checkout aisles at the grocery store, but that gave grocery stores the opportunity to offer something to Moms by having a couple of “candy free” check out aisles. Few retailers miss the opportunity to do this. Those that do . . . and Apple comes to mind . . . are offering a different kind of check-out experience.

    Store Interior Design

    A retailer’s store layout isn’t the only thing that informs the shopper of the kind of experience he or she is about to have. In fact, everything about the store helps add to the environment of the shopping experience.

    The options for interior store design are as limitless as the imagination of the designer. There can be neon signs or natural wood, industrial looking ceilings or LED lighting.

    Some retailers go out of their way to provide that experiential moment, and it’s not always directly related to shopping. Some interesting elements to add to the shopping experience might include the mall in Dubai that features a 2.6 million gallon fish tank at its center. That might seem odd, but it’s already caught on. The Great Lakes Crossing Mall in Auburn Hills, Michigan, also features an aquarium as part of the mall shopping experience. As malls start to fall out of favor, we’ll likely see more retailers pushing for interesting solutions that use empty mall space and attract shoppers.


    Bass Pro Fishing shops put nature on display for their shoppers. Each of their stores is designed to reflect nature in the store’s location. And not only do nature lovers come in to enjoy the display, they purchase tents and fishing poles and other items to facilitate enjoying the real thing.

    Kids come in school busses to see what is essentially a natural history museum within the store. People have gotten married there. And all of that is probably pretty good for business.

    These are drastic store environment examples, and most of the time you won’t find anything quite like this. But they’re excellent examples of why you have to think about your store environment. You want your shopper to have a reason to come to your store. It’s a bonus if you have shoppers that want to get married there.

    So where can you start your store environment study? How about under your feet?


    Photograph of a retail area; half the floor is tiled and has clothing displayed on it. The other half has wood floor, and has tables displaying jewelry.The flooring in a store makes a statement in the shopping experience. Is there carpet? Tile? Wood? A carpeted store is usually quiet, allowing for the shopper to have a quiet, serene experience with the merchandise. Tile, cement or wood will be a little louder.

    Tile allows a retailer to bring in brand colors and demarcate different areas of a store. Perhaps the tile changes when the shopper moves from department to department. A toy store might have pink and blue tile in an area where baby toys are sold, and then the boy’s department becomes a bright red and blue as you move from soft plush to Tonka trucks.

    Wood flooring sends a “natural” or “outdoorsy” message. A pet store owner once decided to highlight all his natural food offerings in a separate area with a wood floor. When you walked from the tile to the wood, you walked into a higher end dog food area where you could find nutritious offerings without additives or preservatives. Natural. That’s what the wood floor was saying to customers.

    Painted cement floors are a common find in retail stores today, a nice look for a variety of retailers. The cement can be painted and sealed for easy cleaning (important in states with bad winter weather). It’s economical, stylish and versatile.

    A combination of these flooring styles can be used to drive traffic as well. Department stores, like Sears, are known for having tile walking aisles and then carpeted browsing areas. The use of different kinds of flooring can help guide traffic flow, especially if the retail location is quite large.


    Warm light, cool light, natural light, fluorescent light…there’s so many kinds of light and so many fixtures to choose from! That said, types of lighting in a retail store can be broken down into four general categories:

    • General/ambient lighting
    • Task lighting
    • Accent lighting
    • Decorative lighting

    Your general/ambient lighting is the main source of light in your store. If you walk into Wal-mart, you’re going to have fluorescent lighting. It’s nothing special and, in fact, the message retailers are sending to their customers is exactly that: this is a basic, value-based shopping experience. Grocery stores and big box retailers also use fluorescent light. It’s an inexpensive and efficient way to light a large space.

    Warm, incandescent light sends customers the message that they’re going to have a more intimate, special shopping experience. You’ll often see apparel stores using incandescent light because incandescent light shows colors a little more “true” and the shoppers themselves won’t look pale and bluish when they’re trying on clothes. A clothing retailer wants his shoppers to like how they look in his clothing, and sometimes even if the main shopping area is lit in fluorescent bulbs the fitting areas will be lit with incandescent.

    Task lighting is exactly that—a more intense light that helps the store employees get their work done and converse with shoppers efficiently. The checkout or customer service areas may have task lighting.

    Accent lighting is where you get creative drawing attention to your merchandise. You can accent a specific area of your store with different kind of lighting—a customer’s attention will always be drawn to the area that’s different. Products can also be accented—like framed paintings on a wall, or a lamp carefully placed on a display table of books. High-end grocery stores will sometimes light their meats with a slightly red light in their refrigerated displays, and their fish with a blue light. It makes the product more attractive.

    A dimly lit store with jewelry in glass cases along the walls. There is additional lighting in the glass cases.

    Finally, decorative lighting adds atmosphere to your store. Fixtures that show off sophistication or a little bit of whimsy are going to help inform your shopper on the type of experience he’s going to have in your store. Just like the lighting in your house, your decorative lighting should be interesting to look at and in keeping with your store’s experiential message.

    Walls and Ceiling Colors

    Colors influence shoppers’ emotions and they can be carefully chosen to influence the shopping experience. Colors also take on certain meanings in different cultures, and, depending on your shopping demographic, the retailer is wise to choose his colors carefully. Indeed, the colors the retailer chooses for her store aren’t as important as how her target market will react to them. Younger people respond better to bold colors, and older people like muted tones.

    What kind of messages can a retailer be sending in color choice?

    • Blues are calming. If the product is agitating, painting the walls blue can help keep an atmosphere of calm.
    • Greens convey freshness and peace. Health stores, grocery stores offering fresh produce, often use greens. Florist shops also can benefit from shades of green in their retail area.
    • White can be agitating for shoppers, but it can also convey a sense of cleanliness. Some clothing stores do well with white walls, especially if they are higher end and have fewer products on display. Apple uses white and grays very well in their stores to enhance their brand message.
    • Pink is an energetic color, and purple is a creative color. Often, these colors are associated with romance and used in shops targeting women.
    • Reds can make shoppers anxious because it’s a very powerful color, but oranges tone those feelings down a bit. In fact, orange stimulates appetite, so food stores do well with that color.
    • Yellow is a happy color and is often found as the primary color in children’s stores.

    Other Environmental Elements

    Furniture and fixtures also help form the environment and with it, the shopping experience. A retailer can achieve a very industrial look with natural, unfinished shelving and peg board fixtures, or he can go in a different direction with brushed metal and wood to convey elegance.

    A wedding dress store might have a curvy, overstuffed couch for moms and sisters to hang out on while the bride tries on and models dress after dress. Similarly, a women’s clothing store might have some simple, comfortable chairs outside the dressing room for the spouse that has to wait for his or her better half to try on clothing.

    Inside the fitting rooms, a retailer may choose to add a couple of nice pieces of comfortable furniture, or she might just supply a bench to help facilitate clothing changes. There’s a message to be sent about the shopping experience in there as well. Even the mirror where she determines if the pair of jeans is a keeper should be well thought through. A long mirror, slightly tilted backward at the top, makes a woman appear taller and thinner. There’s hardly a woman that doesn’t want to be taller and thinner!

    Non-clothing retailers can have a lot to think about, too, when it comes to the message they’re sending. The checkout area, for instance, can be very stylized or simple. Even the queue area can make a comment on the shopping experience.

    Finally, a retailer can always add an element of the unexpected in a small but significant decorative item, especially when the customer can engage with it. The owner of a small, independent book store in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was featured on NBC News because of a certain piece of décor he’d chosen to add to the lower floor of his store. At the bottom of the stairway, sitting on the path to nearly all of his non-fiction selection, he placed an old manual typewriter, complete with a fresh ribbon and a piece of paper.

    Readers often fantasize about being writers, so it was natural for his typical customer to come in and type a few words. For many, it became a reason to visit, not only to type on the typewriter, but to see what had been written before. On it, they could understand how Hemingway created, they could write things they couldn’t say aloud, and they could dream on paper.

    Use interior design to fill your store with experiences.

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