When we enter a store, look around, like what we see and find something (or some things) to buy, the shopping experience tends to feel effortless and seamless as we move from one interesting product to another before making our way in our own time to the counter. A bad retail experience can feel just as intuitively bad – it’s impossible to find something that appeals, and in every  direction we look there are products that we either don’t want or don’t need.


While, as shoppers, we may take note of pleasing or lacklustre decor, or notice that a store is either simple or confusing to navigate, the difference between these two experiences tends to feel defined by the products on offer and their price – either we are happy with these or we aren’t. But as retailers, it’s important to realise that the interior design of your store also plays a large role in dictating which experience a prospective customer is going to have – whether they enter your store in your first place, whether they stay long enough to look at your products, and whether they notice that you have the thing (or things) that they want.


Designing a retail environment that entices people to linger, purchase and return depends on the careful balancing of a range of factors, and while a rule may apply for one retail business, the opposite may hold true for another.That being said, let’s cover three points that it’s essential to keep in mind when designing your store’s interior.


1. Plan your retail space to ensure that people move all the way through it


Space planning is utterly critical to the design of any retail environment. Your store layout needs to take into account where people will feel inclined to move once they enter – otherwise there’s a good chance that it will be straight back out the door. Your retail space also needs to be designed to drive people towards high value goods, and encourage them to circulate through the entirety of your shop instead of just a small section of it.


The direction in which people tend to move around a store actually varies depending on where in the world they are. In the US, customers normally prefer to turn right once they’ve entered a store, before circulating through in an anticlockwise direction, and retail interiors are designed accordingly to accommodate this. New Zealanders, by contrast, will usually do the exact opposite, turning left and moving around a shop clockwise.


Knowing how your customers are likely to move around your store is particularly crucial because of where their journey should end –  at the counter. For Kiwi retailers, this almost always means placing the counter on the right hand side, allowing customers to navigate the whole way through a store and all its product offerings before paying at the end.


2. Combine different forms of lighting to make your retail space both easily navigable and enticing


Supermarkets are known for their bright, harsh lighting, and this is for good reason. Out of necessity, supermarkets offer huge product ranges, and consumers want to be able to compare different products easily, whether this be in terms of grams of sugar or cost per 100ml.


But for most retailers, this lack of differentiation is inappropriate. Stores accommodate significantly more foot traffic than homes or offices, and as such brighter illumination is required for both health and safety and the visibility of store merchandise. But unlike supermarkets, where shoppers typically want to buy what they need and get out as quickly as possible, most other retail environments need to be designed to entice their customers to look around and linger, as purchasing decisions will take longer. This is where the tactful use of high and low lighting on top of a general wash of light comes in. 


The interior of Orewa Optics, showing effective use of combined lighting.


The combination of high and low lighting is inherently dramatic – it is different from our standard, functional way of illuminating things – and is an aspect of what designers call “retail theatre”. Retail theatre can be deployed at any stage of a customer’s journey through your store, but is often at its most effective if used on a part of the store that is visible from the outside, such as shop windows or the central display immediately in front of the entrance, where it can generate curiosity and draw people in. Lighting shop window displays from a variety of angles can enhance the glamour or appeal of certain products. Once your customers are through the door, high and low angle lighting which stands out from the general wash can be used to direct attention towards high value product offerings. 


3. Make your product, not your store’s design, the hero (unless your product isn’t cut out for heroics)


Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of interior design, and with this comes the risk of forgetting that all the good work being done by thoughtful use of things such as space planning and lighting should be drawing attention to the star of the show – whatever it is you’re selling. This is where going to town with the retail theatre can be a bit of a trap. If you’re using all of that high and low angle lighting to wow your customers with your stunning fixtures, it’s easy for them to enjoy the spectacle without actually engaging with the products themselves. Instead of eye-grabbing or garish colours, try naturally finishes for your fixtures. These are often warm and appealing, but leave room for the captivating dash of colour to come from your stock instead.


As highlighted above, there is a notable exception to this rule, and that is when your product isn’t up to holding a position centre-stage. Some products just aren’t cut out for this role, either because they are too small to stand out in a store, or because they have been built for other purposes than visual appeal. If this applies to your products, then your walls and fixtures will have to pick up the slack after all.


When we helped Rocket Kitchen  design their new store in Mt Eden, the variety of stunning & delicious small goods on offer made it too difficult to choose a product or set of products to locate front and centre. So we instead focussed on drawing attention to the brand colouring, a playful combination of pastel colours in block sections.


Rocket Kitchen’s new store interior, with the brand colouring prominently in view.


In Rocket Kitchen’s case, not only are brand images being promoted, these images are also evocative of cake and other baked delights – a connection that isn’t hard to make when the products themselves are also displayed in well-lit cabinets. This is really the key to the ‘loud’ approach to walls and fixtures – in order for this kind of design to effectively sell, it has to lead the customer back to the product.


Further Info

Hopefully our three tips have given you an idea of the some of the key considerations when designing a retail interior that is both enticing and encourages your customers to purchase. For a more comprehensive introduction, download one of our retail design guides, or if you’re looking for more personalised advice, don’t hesitate to get in contact with Spaceworks today