The shelf is a pretty fundamental component of the retail experience. It allows retailers to display their products and encourage sales. And that’s it. A shelf is a flat surface that shop owners put things on. Specifically, things they want to sell. A shelf is just a shelf, right? Wrong. Retail experts realised long ago that psychology plays a role in customer behaviour and this has led to the formulation of effective floor plans and shop shelving layouts. Shops nationwide use the same basic layout principles to create a “flow” to their stores that keep customers moving efficiently through the aisles and spending money.
Supermarkets layouts certainly aren’t random. They’re a carefully designed territory with psychological triggers that prompt specific responses in customers. Whilst the stores are designed to give customers a pleasant shopping experience there are, in the background, subtle design features that are calculated attempts to get the customer to spend more money. The placement of products on supermarket shelving hasn’t been left to chance either. Generally, the most expensive items with the highest profit margins are placed on the shelves at customers’ eye level, although supermarkets sometimes put their special offers there to entice shoppers into buying. Items that complement each other, such as pasta and pasta sauce, are often placed side by side on shelving, to encourage a customer to buy more. You will often find that own brand cheaper range goods are placed on the bottom of supermarket shelving, and in bland packaging, so it’s harder to spot. And, long ago, supermarkets hit on the idea of placing essentials such as bread and milk at the back of the shop, to make people walk past many other items and heightening the possibility of impulse buys.
Garden centres work on very similar principles, although case studies have shown that correcting the poor retail layout of a garden centre can have much more of an impact on sales figures than for that of a supermarket. Shelving and displays also have to cope with an incredibly diverse range of goods, in terms of shape, size and weight. Everything from gardening gloves and packets of seeds to bags of compost and huge terracotta containers, all have to be accommodated on garden centre shelving. Garden centres do have one big layout advantage over supermarkets and that is of far more flexibility in their methods of display and layout. In supermarkets, all displays are pretty much a variation on the theme of supermarket shelving and racking, everything arranged along neat aisles. In garden centres, there is shelving, of course, but there are also benches, tables, and the option of hanging items such as baskets from the ceiling. Whilst there will be pathways “controlling” customer flow, it is more about creating a “feel good” ambience to encourage sales and the layout will feel slightly less prescribed.
Whatever the retail environment, psychology is crucial to customer manipulation and none of us is completely immune. The only way to survive a trip to the shops is to keep your wits about you. Or stay home and shop online.