A store’s layout has a big influence over what shoppers buy, and how much they spend. Aidan Fortune talks to retailers who have made small changes to great effect

Think your customers are coming to your store just to buy milk and the newspaper? Wrong. They’re on a journey, and it’s on that journey around your store they are open to being tempted into buying other items, increasing that all-important basket spend. And with some simple tweaks, you can take advantage of the route they take, or possibly even manipulate it to persuade them to fill their baskets.

According to the HIM Convenience Tracking Programme (CTP) 2013, the average time a customer spends in a store is 5.7 minutes, assuming all the right products are there to buy, of course. Your goal is to lengthen the amount of time they linger, and every extra second counts.

Dennis Williams of Broadway Premier in Edinburgh hit upon a brainwave to direct customers further into his store and increase the time they spend there and hence the number of products they see. “Previously, our front door opened inwards towards the till, which meant customers were missing out on a lot of the store,” he explains. “So we changed the hinge of the door so it swung open the other way instead and led shoppers towards the first aisle.”

This may seem like a small move, but it was highly effective for Dennis. “It wasn’t an expensive job to get the door changed around,” he says. “We have news and magazines on one side of that first aisle and on the other side are teas and coffees, which are premium products.”

Dennis says that customers didn’t even notice the change, but he certainly noticed the increase in basket spend. “It was a common-sense change to the store. The more customers travel along that aisle and the more of the store they visit, the more they’ll spend,” he admits.

Access all areas

Once customers are in the store, then it’s time to get them spending. The HIM CTP reveals that just 24% of shoppers go to all parts of a convenience store, while 56% go to just the aisle they need - so it’s vital that you get them visiting the rest of the store as well.

Kash Khera of Simply Fresh is a master at keeping customers in the store so they spend more. “Customers are like sheep and they need to be herded around the store, otherwise they’ll just drift towards the counter and their spending will be limited,” he explains. “It’s all about making your store sweat and getting every penny possible from each square inch, so you need to make sure you’re being clever with the space you have.”

Kash says the best way to do this is clever merchandising of products. “You need to think about where different categories go and how much space to dedicate for each area. For example, soft drinks might have less shelving, whereas other areas need more. A lot of retailers won’t put fresh fruit and vegetables near the front of the store because they feel their offering doesn’t look good enough and that it doesn’t sell well, but it’s because it’s hidden away that it’s not selling,” he says. “If a retailer puts some effort into their fresh offering and makes it the first aisle that customers see when they enter the store, then that customer will look more favourably towards the store.”

Creatures of habit

Dennis uses customer habits to help prevent wastage, employing some clever merchandising practices. With nine out of 10 people right-handed, customers are more likely to pick the product at the extreme right of a display, so Dennis places his shorter-dated stock there as it’s more likely to be sold quicker.

“Customers don’t want to have to reach across their own body with their right hand so they’ll pick up the product furthest to the right,” he says. “Shoppers don’t want to make work for themselves they’ll do the easiest and most straight-forward action to get what they want. If you recognise this, you can capitalise on this.”

Kash advises retailers to look at how their aisles are laid out. In the Simply Fresh store at Faversham, Kent, the aisles run parallel to the counter to open out the store and keep customers away from the till for longer.

“Just remember that the store needs to have a natural flow,” says Kash. “You don’t want customers ping-ponging against the counter as the temptation to finish shopping is too great. You want them wandering the aisles, picking up products along the way.”

It can be tough knowing what changes need to be made, especially if you’re in the store all day. Dennis says that it sometimes helps to get a fresh pair of eyes to provide a view on what changes could be made. “When you’re at your store everyday, you can get blinkered and not see how it can be adapted,” he says. “Ask other retailers to come and take a look at your store - failing that, put yourself in the shoes of the customer and see how you shop and examine whether the store is taking advantage of it.”

If you can’t get another retailer to assess your store, it may be time to call in the experts. Blakemore Design and Shopfitting commercial director Alastair Haigh specialises in refitting Spar Blakemore stores, but also carries out work for other convenience retailers.

He says it’s vital your store creates the right impression with the customer and that store owners must question what sets them apart. “People want different things at different times of the day, so create areas that display these needs,” he comments. “From a layout point of view you want to give a great first impression, but draw people into the rest of the store. Each zone within the store has to be interesting so that people get drawn into these areas, depending on their requirements.”

He says making improvements is a constant process that doesn’t have to cost the earth. “Retailers should always be looking at how they can improve their business,” says Haigh. “One of the cheapest ways to make a big change is to open up your windows by removing posters, or making sure all your lighting is working to give the store a lift.

If you do want to start over with a refit, there are some rules. Haigh says: “You have to make sure you give the customer a new shopping experience and offer them something different to what you had before,” he says. “They have to feel comfortable, so ensure you give them the space to shop and browse. High gondolas and small aisles don’t encourage this.”

Haigh urges retailers not to get overprotective when it comes to positioning products, either. “The biggest mistake retailers make is positioning products with security as their main objective,” he says. “This normally means products aren’t located in the best position and makes the layout disjointed.”

Kash believes retailers should seek advice from symbol groups when embarking on a refit, but recommends keeping control of the project. “A lot of symbols leave it up to the shopfitter to lay out the store and that will be the finished product, but we’ll go from version A to version H, tweaking things as we go and keeping the retailer involved as they’re the ones who know their customers.”

He adds that achieving a clever store layout is something that comes with experience. “You’ll never get it right first time, but you should learn something each time you change it.”

play it safe

store layout

Plastic strips along the edges of shelves make it harder for shoplifters to steal large amounts

Simple changes to your store don’t just increase basket spend, they can also help prevent shoplifting. Matthew Pout of McColl’s in Grangetown, Middlesborough, came up with some straight-forward ideas to help protect his store when shoplifting was found to be prolific. He started by changing the orientation of the door so that it had to be pulled inwards for it to open. “People were stealing trays of beer from the store and pushing through the door to escape,” he says. “Now that they have to pull it open, it’s impossible to do if their hands are full. It’s actually quite funny to see a shoplifter reach the door and realise they can’t get it open without putting down what they’ve tried to steal.”

A soft drinks chiller near the front door also proved to be a temptation for thieves, who would reach in and grab a drink without even entering the store. Matthew erected a wooden screen between the door and the chiller, preventing any grabbing hands. He also installed a small window so that visibility between the counter and the soft drinks area was improved.

As well as closing the door on crime, he also looked at shelving to see how it could be modified. After lowering the shelves at key points in the store to increase visibility from the till, he set about preventing quick removal of items from the shelves. “Shoplifters were running their arm along the shelves and pushing the items into a bag, before running off,” explains Matthew. “I simply organised for little plastic edges to be put on the shelves so that it would be impossible to do that. Customers don’t have to work any harder to get the products off the shelf, but now nobody can grab a load of items.”

Matthew says these simple ideas have helped curb shoplifting without being too intimidating for customers. “You don’t want to barricade yourself or your customers inside the store as that doesn’t create a comfortable shopping atmosphere, but it doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself,” he says.