Skip to content

Establish Customer Impact as the Driver of Design

By Miller Zell

Your own research and experience tell you that store design impacts customer behavior and shopper journeys. It’s no secret that alluring environments and informative messaging draw in and engage your customers.

But it’s not easy to anticipate and then create the best possible customer impact. So here are five common missteps retailers take with their store design and ways to rethink them.

Traffic Flow

Common misstep: Stores design environments that focus on where they want customers to go, thereby trying to funnel them into specific paths that square with their sales objectives.

Mindset fix: Prioritize customer wants, needs and comfort and then focus design on incorporating them into your space.

The good news is these intertwine, as customers who feel comfortable navigating the traffic flow of your space will increase their dwell time and basket size, which likely fits in with your strategy and design objectives.

Room to browse without bumping other customers always has been significant, but during the pandemic social distancing became essential. Weaving customer comfort into traffic flow will pay off, thereby ultimately achieving your strategic objectives.


Common misstep: Lighting costs can vary in extreme ways and staying on budget during a store refresh can be difficult. Choosing inexpensive lighting, therefore, is an easy way to cut costs.

Mindset fix: Use lighting to elevate the mood of your store. Correct use of lighting nurtures ambiance and highlights products. When used strategically, it provides ROI.

Always focus on cost effectiveness, but never forget “effectiveness” is a critical part of that equation.

Many customers wouldn’t make a specific note about store lighting if you conducted a post-shopping experience interview. But every customer responds to lighting, either positively or negatively, in at least an unconscious way. While there’s no single formula for lighting, it plays a critical role in your customer journey, creating an ambiance that elevates your products.

Further, prioritizing energy efficiency will save you money over time and grow trust with customers who value sustainability efforts. 

Display Space

Common misstep: Brick-and-mortar retail spaces are often getting smaller, so designers try to maximize the number of products that can occupy a reduced space. They prioritize more choices and pushing sales.

Mindset fix: Facilitates general comfort and customer discovery by providing generous spaces for customers to move within. Maximize customer impact with strategic merchandising that presents uncluttered product sales prioritization.

“Choice overload” is an actual cognitive impairment that’s been around as a concept since the 1970s, yet too often retailers overflow shelves with too many products and overwhelm shoppers into a decision paralysis that stymies a potential purchase.

Good research into customer behavior helps focus design, particularly as it relates to steering customer discovery and interaction with merchandising. Often, less is more when mapping out display space.

Purposeful Shelving

Common misstep: Thinking the same shelving that holds your inventory can function properly and engage customers as product-aligned, merchandising shelving.

Mindset fix: Present products in the best possible way with purposeful shelving that optimizes store space. Customer impact with shelving means carving out space for showcasing merchandise vs. just stacking products like inventory.

There are many shelving options that serve a variety of primary purposes, from F-stack displays to dump bins to gondolas to pegboards to customized end caps, so try to see the product/shelving pairing through your customers’ eyes.

Customers respond to engaging product presentation, particularly with impulse purchases and high-ticket items. Retailers routinely follow many merchandising principles, so it’s important that these precisely intersect with shelving choices that best showcase products.

Checkout Area

Common misstep: Reproduce typical retail checkout areas with a basic expectation for customers completing purchases.

Mindset fix: Mine and study customer data on how they prefer to check out and then offer options that are easy to navigate. Checkout areas are a key area for innovation to improve shopper satisfaction.

Savvy retailers obsess about customer experience, and the checkout experience is a critical part of that. Shoppers have long cited checkout as the most significant pain point in a brick-and-mortar store, and that hasn’t changed, even with the addition of an array of technology-based solutions, from self-checkout to BOPIS to mobile point-of-sale systems.

The pandemic accelerated the adoption of contactless options out of necessity. Still, it’s wise to consistently study your customers and then serve their evolving wants regarding checkout. After all, it’s their final in-store impression. If it’s pleasant and efficient and meets shoppers where they want to be, a retailer can win loyalty.

Solve Pain Points, Connect with Customers

Incorporating customer impact into the creative process of retail design is both art and science, as it focuses on providing an ideal engagement with customers who use multiple paths to purchase.

Retailers who studiously focus on customer impact driving their store design ease pain points for shoppers and associates and foster brand loyalty.


5 Strategies for Great In-Store Environments


End-to-end branded environment services under one roof to craft the optimal customer experience wherever people gather, shop or learn.