How In-Store Design Affects Your Customers Buying Behavior

How can you make sure that what your customer sees in-store makes them more likely to buy, rather than less?

All five senses can have an effect on the manner in which we shop. Classical music, for example, leads shoppers to make more expensive purchases. The most important sense, however, is sight. Your customers utilize sight more than any other sense, relying on their eyes for 70 percent of their sensory information. This means that curating what your customer sees is vital.

Customers Use Both Foveal and Parafoveal Vision In-Store

There are two different types of sight. These are foveal (also known as frontal) and parafoveal (or peripheral), and we use them both constantly.

Foveal is our central vision — what we consciously focus on with the center of our eye. It is used when details are important — for example when reading or concentrating on a single task.

Parafoveal vision covers the edges of our range of sight and is in many ways more instinctual. It allows us to spot threats, meals, and mates without having to look directly at them. Parafoveal is reliant on broad strokes and is not ideal for fine detail. It has been found to be most responsive to large, emotional images and mood panels.

We cycle our vision between foveal and parafoveal, and some activities make use of both. Driving, for example, involves actively looking ahead and passively monitoring parafoveal vision. When we notice something in our parafoveal vision, such as a speeding moped, we switch to foveal to focus on the immediate threat.

How Do Customers Look at Things?

Our eyes don’t move smoothly from object to object. Instead, they make darting, jerking movements from one point to another. When our eyes come to rest, we have the opportunity to process what we are looking at. There are two different ways that we monitor the world around us, and these determine what we actually see.

When the pupil is only at rest for between 10 and 100 milliseconds, the eye is in a saccade state. This is rapid eye movement which repositions the fovea on a new focal point. During a saccade, we are essentially blind.

When the eye stays focused for more than 100 milliseconds, it is in a fixated state. This is long enough for the brain to process what it is seeing and decide on the appropriate action in two stages. First, an instinctive response and second, a cognitive reaction. For example, an instinctive reaction to seeing a spider might be flinching away, followed by finding a cup and a piece of paper to put it outside.

Shoppers Have Selective Visual Filters and Will Block a High Proportion of Advertising

We respond more strongly to some stimuli than others. Edges and contrast attract more attention than blurred shapes or complimentary colors. Red and white is the most parafoveally striking combination, which is why they often are used for sales displays in stores.

Novelty is key when it comes to attracting the eye. Just as we are drawn to the new and unfamiliar, we automatically block out things that we’ve identified as neither threatening nor attractive. Promotional messages and store displays are therefore most noticeable when they are newly installed; customers are quick to walk past displays they have already seen. By changing the color of a display, we can make the shopper's brains register it as different, causing them to react to the object anew.

While our brains block out displays that we have seen before, the need for novelty doesn't apply to sale labels. Customers are often actively seeking out sales labels in-store, so they bypass the filter.

Shoppers can also ignore their foveal gaze, looking directly at something but not paying attention to it. This frequently happens when a shopper is deep in thought. When this happens, they are open to parafoveal distractions.

The Difference Between 'Looking' and 'Seeing'

We can’t process all of the millions of messages that come through our eyes — we’re only able to handle about 5 percent of the information we receive. Most of what is in front of us — things we are merely looking at — is ignored. If something catches our eye, instead of just looking at it, we see it. We are constantly inundated with adverts, seeing thousands per day. We will process only a few of these into long-term memory, only recalling four or so the following day.

The first way to encourage shoppers to see your advertising, rather than merely looking at it, is to add movement. In addition to the classic video advert, another way to add movement is to add a mirror or live camera feed, either to the display itself or even just by showing a feed of the CCTV. Passers-by are attracted by the movement and then by their own image.

How Can We Analyze the Way Customers Look at Products When They Shop?

Portable eye tracking equipment is the best way to see how customers are viewing the store. Not only does it show what they’re looking at, but it also shows what they aren’t looking at. What attracts a customer’s attention is important. If they are spending a lot of time looking at a product and then not engaging with it, there is probably something wrong with the packaging or the product.

The way that eye tracking works is through the use of two tiny cameras, worn by the shopper on a pair of glasses. One is focused on the back of the shopper’s cornea, and one views what is in front of them. When the cameras are calibrated, it is possible to see what is being looked at and how long they are looking at it. This ranges from big details down to individual words on a packet.

The length of time we look at something is important, especially in the context of packaging. It shows what is important about the packaging, as well as what is attractive or uninteresting. Many promotions succeed or fail because of how the store is designed and how many customers actually see the promotions.

Stop Your Customers in Their Tracks by Mimicking Real-Life Stop Signals

Some signals bypass the logical part of the brain and go straight to the instinctual part. This is why we pay more immediate attention to some colors than others, chiefly red and yellow. Traffic signals are also an instinctual part of adult life, and can be mimicked in-store. Red lights are used to stop traffic, and the same lights can briefly stop a shopper where they stand when used in displays. This can be useful if you want to make your shoppers spend time in an area that they usually speed through.

Drivers are also conditioned to stop at solid lines when driving. When solid lines are put across store aisles, customers can be temporarily stopped by them, whether they notice them or not. Directional lines can also subconsciously redirect customers. In a recent SBXL study, subtle directional lines of gray adhesive tape were applied on top of gray carpet in an electrical store. These lines directed shoppers into an audio aisle. Before the tape, around 4 percent of shoppers would go into the audio aisle but with the tape lines in place, 18 percent were lead into the audio aisle. Many wouldn’t realize they were in an unwanted aisle until they were already a few paces in.

Understanding the role that sight plays in store design, and the different ways that we may be influencing customers, deliberately or accidentally, can help us to appeal to shoppers more and to create a more pleasant and more profitable shopping environment.

12f406da-a897-4585-963d-df6813f8a3ba_image00Phillip Adcock is the founder and Managing Director of the shopper research agency Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd, an organization using psychological consumer insight and retail technology to explain and predict customer behavior. SBXL operates in seventeen countries for hundreds of clients including Mars, Tesco, and B&Q.