3 Ways Store Layout Decisions Impact on Customer Experience

3 Ways Store Layout Decisions Impact Customer Experience

A recent post on LinkedIn by business mentor Miriam Simon got me thinking about the relationship between store layout decisions and customer experience. Miriam’s post was short and to the point. It simply stated:

“Plan your store layout from a customer point of view (not your own!)”

How many retailers actually take this approach? From the outside looking in, it appears they do things that maximise profitability, at least in the short term. Is it a case of this is the way we’ve always done it and we’re doing fine? The customer-centric retail environment that now prevails means its time for a rethink. It would be interesting to learn how many retailers have reassessed the evidence behind their store layout decisions in recent years. Are they designing their stores to offer the best possible customer experience?

The following covers three of the most common and obviously non-customer-centric strategies that retailers use. Each of them maximise short term profitability but at the potential expense of long term customer loyalty. These examples focus primarily on supermarkets, but the thinking behind them could easily be applied to other retail businesses looking to create better customer experience management. 


Daily Essentials are at the Back of the Store

Daily staples at the back of the store

Most supermarkets stock basic daily essentials like sliced bread and milk at the rear of the store.

Retailer Reason: To make sure customers who are only looking to buy staples like milk and bread also have to pass by lots of other goods that have higher margins. The hope is they will purchase more items than they came into the store to buy (note: in some cases heat at the entrance of the store may also be a consideration). 

Consumer Issue: We all occasionally need to go to the store simply because we’re out of bread or milk. Why do they make us run the gauntlet through sets of drill bits and fun-size chocolates to get there?

There’s a small newsagents type store next to my local supermarket and I recently asked the owner what his main revenue drivers were. Despite their location and higher prices, both milk and bread were in the top 5 highest-grossing items. This suggests to me that the supermarket is missing a trick in creating an effective customer journey.

Suggestion: If I owned a supermarket, I would want my customers coming into the store for all their family’s needs. Why not include a mini convenience section with bread, milk and newspapers etc. right at the front of the store and beside the self-serve checkout? 

This would make it less painful for someone to quickly nip in and out of the store when all they need is milk. This retail experience strategy also gives the customer fewer reasons to shop somewhere else and that’s always a good thing.

Squashable Goods are Displayed at the Store Entrance

Squashable goods at the front of a store

Most supermarkets display delicate fresh foods like fruit and vegetables as well as baked goods at the entrance to the store.

Retailer Reason: Make the store appear healthy and “green” to appeal to the consumer’s desire for fresh products and a balanced diet. There’s also a psychological impact, as purchasing healthy products early in your shop is thought to reduce the guilt when you pick up something indulgent later on (one of the reasons why alcohol tends to be at the end of the shopping journey).

Consumer Issue: Placing tomatoes or fresh croissants at the bottom of a large shopping trolley can badly damage them.

Is there anything more frustrating than getting to the checkout till and seeing that the sliced pan you just bought is no longer square at each end? They’re not designed to withstand the weight of 2 litres of milk and a bottle of wine.

Suggestion: I would suggest the optimum order to display products from a customer satisfaction perspective would be something like the following:

1. Chilled section with milk, fresh meat and frozen veg etc. (who wants to put a fresh chicken on top of the lettuce they will eat after only a quick rinse?)

2. Next should come alcohol and heavy sodas (these are among the extreme crushers).

3. Dry goods like canned food, cereals and biscuits.

4. Fresh (delicate) produce like eggs, vegetables and baked goods.

This arrangement would give the shopper the optimum sturdy to delicate stacking order of their goods. Granted, a large bag of potatoes could be the ultimate crusher but this order would facilitate such items being carried to the till separately.

Maybe this will seem trivial to some readers and I admit that I only have anecdotal evidence of it being a significant problem (it bothers the hell out of me and I’ve seen others grumble about it at the till). But as a CX evangelist, I’m asking the question as to whether retailers are taking the customer journey into consideration when watching customers browse their stores? And would doing things differently to nearly all other retailers create the sort of offering that would actually result in an increase in market share? I would be very interested to hear answers to those questions in the comments section.

Treats and Snacks at the Checkout

Snacks at the checkout counter

Finally, we have the proliferation of snacks and treats that tease you when you’re queuing at the checkout. 

Retailer Reason: Looking to squeeze the last few pennies out of the customer by putting a host of high margin sugary treats right where they know you’ll have no choice but to linger. 

I’ve previously covered how this tactic can actually improve CX by taking the customer’s mind off the fact that they’re queueing to hand over their hard-earned cash. But that effect could be achieved with any products that are interesting (e.g. magazines).

Consumer Issues: The primary CX issues here are:

  1. The potential annoyance factor caused by children looking for their parents to buy them a bar of chocolate; and
  2. Trying to control one’s own urges to buy something that is very tempting but not good for the waistline.

Suggestion: The tactic of putting items here makes a lot of sense both financially and from a customer experience perspective. But the choice of items is worth reconsidering. 

I have seen some retailers using this space to display high margin healthy snacks and/or local products. There’s also the magazine option and I’m sure a true retailer can come up with something more imaginative. How about a range of eco-friendly items that might leave the customer feeling good about themselves? Positive customer perception encourages loyalty.


Conclusion: Start thinking about the customer journey

I totally understand that these tactics have been tried and tested over many years and the evidence must be that they contribute to the bottom line of the business. 

However, consumers change over time and retailers must ask themselves if they have fallen into the heuristic traps of social proof (all other retailers are doing it) or familiarity (this is what we’ve always done). Customer feedback should always be taken into consideration.

I would love to hear from any retailer that has changed its store layout around with these factors in mind.

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3 Ways Store Layout Decisions Impact on Customer Experience

by Oisin Ryan time to read: 5 min