It is interesting to understand how peo¬ple are individually and collectively conditioned by socio-cultural influ¬ences and education. This conditioning defines how we react to a certain space. Retail designers, too, are influenced by this very sentiment. A designer has to think: “How will I react?” … “How will each segment of the target audience react to the space?” … “How can I maximize the design elements to prolong customer dwell-time in the outlet?” … and so on.

 Design plays an important role in influencing customers and fulfilling the client’s objective of a ‘sale’. To be able to catch the attention and influence the thought process of a highly diverse target audience is the challenge a retail designer faces in every project. Whether it is a retail outlet in a mall (type of mall/mar¬ket segmentation of the mall matters) or a high street outlet, anybody and every¬body needs to be influenced.

The psychology of retail design should aim to convert any and possibly every shopper into ‘my’ customer. It should strive to present the product or products in a manner that entices, invites, engages and empowers the customer and, finally, converts it into a sale.

Entice: I believe this is the most impor¬tant part in a shopper’s experience, the magnet. Customers usually walk in when a sale (say a 50% discount promotion) is announced or if the product is well-known. But when it is neither, design needs to create the difference. The shop front needs to be attractive (not just the products) with branding that is visible, creating adequate contrasts in color and light. This is where the education begins. The shop front should attract the customer to approach and explore the product. In other words, the win¬dow design should be a parameter of the product itself.

Invite: Once the initial curiosity is aroused, the shopper is at the threshold  of an internal debate – “Should I go in or not?” He/she needs an invitation to enter the shop. The design needs to create a “landing space” - a physical space that allows the customer to see/touch/feel the product at close quarters or review in detail any ongoing promo - and engage with shop personnel. That’s very important. Visual contact with “human” needs to be established at this stage.

The “landing space” is crucial in creating an atmosphere that gives the feeling of familiarization and comfort, replete with brand recall/product display and visual sight lines.

Engage: Once the invitation to step in is accepted, the design¬er’s spatial composition should keep the customer engaged, revealing new aspects of the retail outlet at every turn of the head, every forward step. This anticipation and sense of curios¬ity is aroused through continuous visual engagement (binding the customer’s attention), with products revealed in display designs at different levels - wall displays, floor-level displays and counter displays. Each display should stand out and speak for itself through branding/information/product and yet form part of the whole. Any conscious design attempt should envis¬age a customer’s reaction from different planes and sight lines of the displays.

Empower: If all the above works well and influences the cus¬tomer to decide to ‘BUY’, is he/she then positioned by design to catch the eye of a shop attendant or visually/physically find an information counter or cash counter? Many times the lack of clear lines creates confusion and disengages the customer, who then wavers, thinking “I DON’T NEED IT” or “I CAN’T BUY IT”.

The designer needs to directly influence the engagement of the customer with the product/shop by ensuring that sales person¬nel are strategically located to respond immediately.

Retail design needs to be structured and layered to ensure clarity among all stakeholders - the retailer, designer and cus¬tomer. The mental engagement begins before the physical retail encounter so the experience of walking through the retail outlet - irrespective of its size - needs to be rewarding.

Walking through the minds of a potential customer is the way to design. Impulse acts but does not re-engage. Thinking of the thought processes of a shopper’s reaction and consequent actions are the key to good retail design.
Indu Varanasi is principal designer at I R Design, an interior design company.