Balancing clutter, esthetics and customer flow

By Bill Vetter
As noted in a recent NY Times article, “Stuff Piled in the Aisle? It’s There to Get You to Spend More,” a post recessionary trend to add clutter is being adopted by many major retail outlets. Dollar General has made its shelves taller and Wal-Mart has placed pallets of merchandise in the center of its aisles advertising deals to create a sense of immediate value and bargains that just can’t be missed. As the pendulum swings from sterile, clean and clear aisles to a more cluttered ‘check out this deal’ look there is an important need to balance clutter, esthetics and customer flow when maximizing every inch of saleable space.

Clutter needs to be defined in terms of what is proven to work well in a retail outlet. If you can’t easily maneuver your shopping cart or you are climbing shelves to get to items piled high, or your checkout lanes are poorly defined and littered with random sales items then “clutter” is working against you. In a recent study, two thirds of customers polled said they are less likely to shop in a retail environment if they have challenges with their shopping experience. But if clutter is defined as a busy environment, presenting convincing product opportunities while offering genuine sales value (still keeping in mind store maneuverability and customer flow) then clutter can go a long way in creating customer loyalty.

To produce the right kind of environment that keeps clutter, esthetics and customer flow in harmony, you must keep in mind the objective of your store layout, the experience you wish to create and how you want to merchandise that experience. Coupled with good retail navigation and transaction design, you can increase customer satisfaction and browsing time while improving sales. Consider the following simple and cost effective revamping suggestions that not only help you to promote genuine values, but also to help your customers see items in more visually appealing ways, allowing them to maneuver both efficiently and safely – and even entertain and inform your customers:

  • If you have empty wall space consider using merchandising accessories like baskets, bowls, shelves, hooks and prongs to organize, categorize and display items.  Use clever signage to attract and direct customer flow -- empty wall and even window space can be used to draw attention to items, build brand profiles and help customers navigate their shopping course along the path you would like them to take to get to a hot ticket item. 
  •  Increasing the height of your shelves or leveraging “air space” is another way to add merchandising space but make sure this isn’t going to create problems – where customers have to rely on staff assistance or will endanger themselves trying to get to merchandise.
  • Consider installing in-queue merchandising panels to better define your checkout and express lanes?  This is a great way to offer the newest and best branded impulse items that people can grab and go without holding up the line.
  • Create an environment that informs and entertains your customers.  By using media panels, digital state of the art advertising platforms, these products provide an advanced way to accelerate queues, reduce wait times and generate marketing value.

No one likes to wait on lines, but if you can occupy your customers by creating the right kind of consumer centric atmosphere, a retail outlet enriched with 1) indisputable value and 2) easily accessible items and 3) a maneuverable layout designed to expedite customer flow -- is poised to capture the loyalty of shoppers who are just starting to regain consumer confidence.

Bill Vetter is general manager of Lawrence, a Tensator Group Company. Lawrence/Tensator customer guidance experts are helping hundreds of retailers create value using proven  merchandising formulas, customer flow and queue management techniques and solutions that maximize every inch of existing floor, air and checkout area space, while ensuring shopper safety and pleasing esthetics.