The space in which your organization does its business can be thought of as a stage. The experience your customers will have with your brand depends on how you design your stage and “play” on it.
All organizations, whether they acknowledge it or not, communicate the quality of their products and level of service their customers can expect through their retail space.
Your business’ setting, or physical space, should tell the story of your brand in such a way that the emotions experienced by those interacting in your space match your narrative. Every touchpoint and each detail of your setting should have a purpose and play a role in telling your story. If you are not deliberately constructing your stage, unintended messages will be communicated to your customers. All messages, whether intended or unintended, shape your customers’ gut feelings about your brand.
So what should you address in your space to ensure your stage is set properly to best connect with your customers? There are 12 components of setting that you should be looking at as you dress your “set” for success.
Your exterior structure communicates to your customers before they even step into your physical space, or interior. Once they are inside, the building around them provides a framework for the other components of setting. Even in existing structures, architectural elements can be added or modified to provide a purposeful experience for your customers.
How often are you thinking about the landscaping, or lack of it, around your business? This is another component of setting that might get overlooked if you are solely focused on your interior, but which is of equal importance. The way you choose to maintain or use foliage and natural textures outside your space could very well draw customers into your space, or adversely turn them away. To make purposeful landscaping decisions, reflect on the story you want to tell and the feelings you are hoping to evoke from the outside in.
A powerful component for both exterior and interior applications, lighting is extremely visual, but quickly communicates an emotional mood to your customers. Bright lights open up a space. Warm lighting brings out natural colors in fruits and vegetables. Low-light makes a space feel intimate. Natural light feels fresh and healthy. Your fixture choices will also communicate messages to your customers. Their materials, size, color, style, hang height, and quantities all should speak about your brand and contribute to the emotional narrative of your setting.
Don’t underestimate the importance and impact of color. Not only does color play an important role in your brand identity, it needs to be a carefully crafted part of your setting. In a study done at the University of Winnipeg, findings show marketing managers “can use colors to increase or decrease appetite, enhance mood, calm down customers, and, reduce perception of waiting time, among others.” That’s a powerful punch in your corner as you plan and design your retail environment.
Exterior signs speak volumes to your customers before they even enter your space and sometimes your parking lot. Many times, a business uses their logo or brand mark on exterior signs for immediate recognition. Think about how easy it is to spot an IKEA while driving through a city. Their logo is usually positioned high above their physical building. Using it’s two-color scheme and iconic brand mark, it becomes a beacon for their store. How might you use signage to speak to your target market while playing to the ongoing narrative established by your brand?
A customer journey is not only a figurative way to describe the phycological path your shoppers take through your space. They are “carried” along by your flooring choices, whether purposeful or not. ShawContract, a flooring designer and manufacturer, acknowledges the importance of making purposeful choices in flooring. “Flooring is the canvas on which traffic is directed through pattern, color and texture, making subliminal visual cues that create sections without building walls—the backdrop to increased sales and customer satisfaction.
Directional and ADA signage can be easily overlooked as a component of setting because it is so functional - and in many cases overseen by laws and codes for safety and compliance. Don’t let regulations discourage your creativity! There are numerous ways to meet all the standards of having proper way finding and ADA signage while still ensuring they are a cohesive part of your setting and customer experience.
As if all the other components aren’t already helping you think about details in creating a purposeful customer experience, we might as well add it to the list - just to be safe. “…telling a story through setting means getting the details right. An organization can’t send customers a believable message regarding Quality Service unless every detail of setting supports it.” Details could be something like keeping customer restrooms clean or defining a standard process for bagging groceries. There’s magic in addressing the details.
Just like you choose textures, colors, and a voice for your messaging, you can choose the soundscape of your space. Julian Treasure, founder of The Sound Agency, states that, “most retail sound is inappropriate and accidental, even hostile, and it has a dramatic effect on sales.” In his short TED talk, Treasure delivers four “golden rules” for commercial sound:
Make it congruent with your visual communication.
Make it appropriate to the situation
Make it valuable for your audience.
Test and test again.
Even if you aren’t in an odorous business, such as a bakery or perfume shop, don’t dismiss this sense as a potent component of your setting. Many scientific studies have been done to connect smells with emotions and memories. Scents are processed by our olfactory bulb, which runs from our nose to the brain. It directly connects to the amygdala and hippocampus, our centers for emotion and memory. Strategizing the scents in your space will directly connect with your customers’ emotions and may even trigger special memories for a deeper connection.
This one may seem obvious, since shoppers are expected to touch the products they are interested in purchasing. Think about this in connection to the stage you are designing for your customers which connects them to your brand’s narrative and your goods. Visit any Apple retail store and you immediately see the value they place on touch. All their products are placed on tables conveniently within reach of millions of hands a day. Their stage is set for shoppers to hold, feel, operate, and strengthen a physical connection with their products.
The last component of setting requires a bit more innovation for some retailers, if you are not directly selling food products. It is, none the less, a key ingredient in creating a holistic customer experience. Have you ever wondered who first paired popcorn with movies? How about your local automotive service center offering complimentary coffee and pastries for your Saturday morning wait? Restoration Hardware opened a restaurant in Chicago as part of their sales floor called the 3 Arts Club Cafe to connect customers with their furniture, the arts, and good food. It can be done!
It’s alright if you do not have ideas for how all 12 components of setting can be realized through your brand’s narrative and on your stage just yet. Start with what you know and plan to grow.
1 Singh, Satyendra (2006, March). “Impact of color on marketing”, Management Decision, Vol. 44 No. 6, pp. 783-789.
2 “What if flooring could attract and engage customers?” ShawContract, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway Company, https://www.shawcontract.com/en-US/Segments/Retail
3 Disney Institute. (2001). Be our guest: Perfecting the art of customer service. New York: Disney Editions.
4 Treasure, J. (2009, July). The 4 ways sound affects us [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_the_4_ways_sound_affects_us
5 Lewis Ph.D., J. G. (2015, January 12). Smells Ring Bells: How Smell Triggers Memories and Emotions, Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-babble/201501/smells-ring-bells-how-smell-triggers-memories-and-emotions