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Research leads retail interior trends

New research is yielding data that helps us determine how retailers can best meet shoppers’ emotional and behavioral needs.

Preferences change over time, and retail interior design needs to change all the time too. Market changes, such as a growth in the Hispanic shopper population, can prompt adjustments; so can attitudes about consumption. The goal of retail space designers is to create environments that motivate people to return after an initial purchase.

Successfully adjusting to retail trends requires research. One great source is Paco Underhill’s bestseller “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” It offers observational research as well as demographic, competitive/market and financial data, with a goal to defining the qualities of an environment that is meaningful to shoppers.

These days, researchers look closely at the interplay of online information, social media and physical stores. Store fixtures have become increasingly modular and changeable to reflect information gathered from social media. The repetition of design elements across platforms from the physical to the virtual increases continuity, branding and customer comfort.

The app Retail Diva inspires shoppers through daily bites of integrated marketing insight. The following articles on consumer behavior are interesting and valuable resources for people integrating e-commerce web sites:

E-Scapes: The Electronic Physical Environment and Service Tangibility, (Koerning)
E-Satisfaction and E-Loyalty: A Contingency Framework, (Anderson & Srinivasan)
Empirical Testing of a Model of Online Store Atmospherics and Shopper Responses, (Eroglu, Machleit,& Davis)

Meanwhile, retailers are under pressure to maintain their in-store sales, even while reducing their display budgets. As a result, even high-end brands employ whimsical environments that use graphics and other design elements to save money. They have renewed their focus on attention to detail, creativity and ingenuity.

Another big change the design world is seeing in retail right now is gender-related. Traditionally, research has long shown that women make most purchasing decisions, even in areas such as electronics. But research by Moseman, Boyer & Bourbon finds that the influence of gender on retail design is changing, and stores are paying more attention to male shoppers. Some stores are adapting by employing gender-neutral design, and by focusing on brand rather than gender.

Brand evolution within credit unions is a good example. We have seen more credit unions displaying items such as cars and boats in promotional materials for loans. Credit unions also may include “a business center to research online investments, stock, real estate, etc.” cites the 2004 Strategic Environmental Report by ASID.

With an aging population, it is important that environments are legible. This translates to clarity of store positioning and circulation paths, with resting zones featuring chairs that don’t impede shoppers and contribute to shopping couples. These zones provide for greater time spent in the retail environment and communicate important social values. With marketplaces that have an integral relationship with nature, a natural environment should also be reflected. Commitment to the environment should be genuine and consistent.

Clearly a thing of the past is the cookie-cutter approach to store design, where no connection to the local culture is visible. The amount of goods shown on display responds to local tradition, brand norm and material/finish practices. An “understandable and deliberate attempt to respond to local (consumer) culture” is encouraged.

Consumers generally respond more positively to cooler colors. This news reinforces the use of low energy LED lighting, associated with the daylight/blue end of the color spectrum. Babin, Hardesty & Suter found that “for fashion-oriented stores, blue interiors are associated with more favorable evaluations, marginally greater excitement, high store patronage intentions, and higher purchase intentions than orange interiors.” Consumers responded more favorably to blue interiors when they were brightly lit as opposed to softly lit.

Beyond the light quality of a space, other visual and multisensory stimuli demonstrate a positive effect on shopper’s emotions and purchase behavior. Multisensory cues are those that complement vision in a store atmosphere, such as the addition of scent in an otherwise odorless store environment, or music in an originally rather quiet retail setting.

This layered atmosphere has been observed “to exert a superior impact on cognition, emotion and behavior.” Consistency between the sort of music heard by shoppers and the products sold is key. An example within a florist shop: flowers are regularly linked to romance. Love songs and romantic music conditions were found to lead to an increase in sales. Retail managers would be wise to focus on designing store atmosphere through multisensory congruent cues to “ensure a stronger appeal to the five human senses.”

Of course, all concepts need to be tested with consumers. Retail design is evolving, and new data emerging informs our work to transform retail into highly successful spaces.

Janice Stevenor Dale, FIIDA, CID, NCDIQ is president of JSDA Inc., an award-winning design firm in Boise, actively preserving landmark structures since 1987.

About Janice Stevenor Dale