Ripple founder and managing director David Wolfenden highlights how improving the physical environment can significantly boost your retail business, brand image, customer experience and sales.
For most retailers, the prospect of improving, changing or re-imagining the physical environment is an exciting one amongst the complexities of operating a modern business. Changing the look, feel and function of your space involves many factors which can achieve a step change and increase market share and bottom line.
Creating a vision for the future state of a retail environment is a fascinating subject and a key part of a successful business model. It influences your customers’ experience of your business, your staff’s ability to service their needs, your image, brand values, communication, product and range offering. In a nutshell, your environment impacts your business’s prospects, market positioning, resilience and profitability.
To begin, let’s consider what the starting point is in creating a satisfying, well-designed physical retail environment. You may have an idea of what you want to achieve - but where you start depends on where you are currently. To begin to scope a brief there needs to be an understanding of the current state; where your business sits in the market, how it is perceived, how up-to-date it is and whether it clearly differentiates itself from competitors etc? How do your aspirations for the physical environment fit with your business's strategy and objectives? Do you want to increase market share, product offer or services?
So, let’s consider these factors:
- Your employees – how can physical change assist their roles and needs? And, how can they contribute to the process to help engender a sense of belief and ownership which then manifests positively in the shopper’s journey?
- Customer experience and service. How much better could it be? How efficient are your transactions and how accessible are your staff for customer enquiries or complaints?
- Brand image. What do you want to change and what do you want to say to customers about your values and your proposition? Does it help differentiate your business?
- Interior and exterior spaces. How do you want to use these? Consider customer flow, interactions and how about some theatre?
- Format design. What, ideally, would you like to do with your product range? Is your present offer equal to, or better than your competitors? Think about the implications to your customer-journey and experience.
- Multiple outlets. Do you have consistency and alignment across your estate? And, what would that mean to your business efficiency and brand perception?
- Navigation, communication and merchandising. How efficient is your business currently? Can customers find what they’re looking for? Do they understand the products or applications? Are they inspired? Do you always have the products they need? Can you raise your average transaction value with add-on sales or special orders?
- Longevity and flexibility. Business never stands still, so how do you minimise the cost and impact of range reviews? Can you easily change your product ranges, ratios and reflows? You may have created a fabulous environment – but is it chameleon? Ability to change, keep it fresh and adapt deftly is vital.
These are just some of the key headlines to develop your design brief, a formula to convey your business’s DNA and shape its future. Once you have a better understanding of what you want to achieve, you can then focus on aesthetics and operational efficiency.
I believe a good starting point is to consider what you ultimately want your customers to experience and how that will influence prospects. If significantly changing this is the essence of your business mission, it drives a complex series of planning, processes and interactions to get the right product in the right place at the right time - and to maintain this. After all, what happens for customers from arriving to leaving your premises will influence their loyalty, what they spend, and whether they are or become life-long advocates.
Take great care about the appearance and arrangement of products as it can make a powerful contribution to your brand. What distinguishes the most-admired retailers is the sensation that someone is controlling the environment to make shopping a more agreeable experience. It’s about having a place for everything and everything in its place. The mission should be for the customer’s journey to be intuitive and pleasurable, every time.
Improving the design of your space and environment should enhance your customers’ experience, increase loyalty, footfall, transaction values and the future success of your business. Here are some key factors:
Decompression zone – this is the area immediately inside the entrance, it should be uncluttered and allow visitors to acclimatise and pick up on navigation cues. Important products or offers that are located just beyond this zone (at least three metres away) are more likely to attract customers.
Navigational signage – kept it clear and logical, directional and zonal signage combined with tidy efficient merchandising, easy-to-read product descriptions and prices will let customers find what they’re looking for without stress. Display information next to products highlighting features and benefits.
Sightlines – make it easier for customers to see across the store or have an unobstructed view between their position and the positioning of a feature area or hot spot. It creates a sense of order and helps them gain their bearings and spot the navigation cues.
Communication - you are an expert in your sector, so display information about use, application and techniques of specialist or unique products to help inform and engage your customers.
Storage - keep backroom, stockroom or hidden storage areas to a minimum through good design. Make your stock work but don’t over-face or overload.
In summary, there is no single magic formula to creating a highly-effective retail environment because your business is unique. Ground-breaking design and solutions must be formed around individual and specific business criteria.