One might think right now the last thing a company should worry about in 2020 is how their customers’ flow through a store or retail center occurs. However, it is even more important now than ever if the retail business wants to stay viable and move forward. Designs of traffic flow, distancing, singular direction paths and population limits inside a facility are all part of customer flow management. The COVID-19 scenario we now deal with just emphasizes more what every retail store should already have in mind when a customer enters the front doors.
Developing a Physical Customer Experience in Your Store
Traffic flow isn’t just about going into a store, finding a product and walking to the cashier point with the easiest path possible. It is actually far more about designing the customer’s experience so that he or she feels encouraged to engage with what is available to see, touch, smell, and hear. More often than not, an experience designed right will frequently produce more in sales than what the customer first intended to buy during the visit. So, customer flow management matters a lot; it has a real impact on the bottom line of floor sales revenue. Done incorrectly, flow management could hinder revenue channels from upselling, add-ons, and similar, leaving money on the table that could instead be part of a store’s revenue for the month.
Technically termed a “fitout,” a store traffic flow redesign involves planning a store layout for a desired behavioral effect on customers, inherently communicating to them how to travel through the store, what to look at, what might be easy to reach versus take more effort, and which areas the store really wants to emphasize for a buying reaction. This is an area of marketing that is often overlooked by many retail stores and is typically set up with a standard complement of displays, wall shelving, central room furniture and common pathways for easy entrance and exit. Some of the design choices are also dictated by local rules for public safety and fire escape as well, which stores must comply with.
When Does a Fitout Happen?
Interestingly, the fitout doesn’t get much of a re-evaluation on an ongoing basis. It typically happens on the natural when a store first moves into a location and the management decides the initial layout where all the internal fixtures will be placed. This is one of the most critical decision points for a practical fitout because it sets the stage for so much of the rest of the store in terms of traffic, work areas, advertising, interior decoration and more.
There are a number of generic approaches that often function as defaults for fitouts. There is the straight floor plan, for example, which just involves a basic use of walls and floor space. Wall fixtures enhance storage area, providing additional places to put products versus just tablespace on the main floor. The area is also dissected either by a main walkway that runs across the length of the floor or multiple runways, smaller in width but the same purpose. Most small businesses and basic stores use this approach.
There are other approaches that involve more of a weaving style of traffic flow. This design is intentionally created to get the customer to see far more of the selection in the store than the above, where they typically just go to the section they want and ignore the rest. The weaving style of flow moves the customer through the entire store, inherently allowing him or her to see the greatest amount of selection available. Wall fixtures are typically deeper in the store, requiring the customer to move through the floor inventory before getting to where more of the stock is on shelves. Many import stores like this model, for example, so they can show off all the different inventory they have from different countries. Furniture stores exclusively use this traffic flow style as well.
No One is Locked Into a Pre-Set Box
Fitouts do not need to follow a preset model, however. They can be easily customized to how a given store needs to operate. In fact, many stores find themselves looking through a number of different options and then taking bits and pieces from other models to form their own unique fitout. This hybrid approach works far better when a business wants to have a very unique look and experience or may be operating two or more different types of customer services in the same location. For example, a beauty store may also incorporate a salon, a spa and a regular product inventory are under the same facility roof. The traffic flow for the beauty product inventory will be very different than that for the spa or salon, but both might be impacted by the ability to do upselling or add-ons to spa and salon services if the product is within range for the customer to see. This approach of partnering functions can produce higher sales than if the two or three functions were completely isolated but joined as the same physical business address.
Again, the easiest and most efficient traffic plan is the straight floor plan. Whether it’s for a tech giant like Apple or a local grocery store managing traffic flow between fresh food and processed food product that doesn’t need special care aside from shelf placement, this approach is the most direct. It is often laid out in a grid or row format for the fastest path in and out of the store. Yet folks often mistake simple with unprofessional, which is very much a myth. A straight floor plan can look extremely professional, even ultra-modern and minimalist when desired. What makes a store interior design “unprofessional” is oftentimes more an issue of the furniture chosen and the décor or lack of maintenance versus the fitout choice itself.
Evolution Over Time Happens on the Natural
No one should think once a store is done that the original fitout is locked into cement and can’t be changed. It is quite common to make new modifications without needing an entire, new refurbishment. In fact, many times simple changes can be made to placement, signage, temporary installation and more with the fixtures to move things around. A simple reorganization oftentimes produces very dramatic results as well as renewed existing customer interest as something “new” becomes attractive. However, the key goal is to have a clear plan where the store wants its customers to move through. Ideally, the entire path in and out of the store should allow the customer to realize more than just one particular goal, interest or purchase. The person should be exposed to additional ideas and options, which often turn into either immediate additional purchase or the customer comes back shortly after because something new caught his or her eye during the experience.
A store may also find over time that the original placement and fixtures used aren’t matching the interest or need of customers over time. This can happen when too much stock is being displayed, and customers start to feel like the store is more of a cluttered maze and a confused drop of inventory. The clutter effect can also happen as store personnel continue to restock and the original design effect gets lots in everyday floor updating. A perspective in the weeds often forgets what the forest is supposed to look like. The solution is to rethink what is needed now and re-imagine the flow again. It may be a matter of reducing inventory in the immediate path and adding some simple signage. Or it might be fabrication of new fixtures with an entirely different interactive approach. The point is that change is a good thing, and an update of an old fitout is not unthinkable after a bit of time.
Other Drivers Can be Impetus for Change Too
Local rules and laws might trigger a redesign review as well. Municipal codes for facility safety and access regularly change every few years, and some of those modifications can have practical impacts. A big one that affects lots of small businesses tends to be updating for easier access. Folks in wheelchairs and with disabilities need to be able to move freely without feeling they are barred from public access areas in many cases. These requirements can cause a sudden demand for shop fitting supplies and new furniture to accommodate the changes that were not required years before.
Aside from rules, more space tends to be more attractive these days. Cramped, tight quarters overflowing with inventory gives a sense of a second-hand store, which could actually detract from attracting new customers to come in and browse. While it might work for the nostalgic old bookstore perspective, the cramped-quarters feeling of everything about to fall on a person doesn’t do so well with other types of goods. Plus, a very cluttered environment also makes it very easy for things to be hidden from floor sight which contributes to shoplifting and shrinkage, a common problem with smaller goods businesses.
So, bottom line, evolution and changing out your floor plan is a good think. Don’t be afraid of it, embrace the change.
Continue to Analyze Traffic Flow for Tweaks
Once a fitout is generally in place, feedback is still very useful for future adjustments. Some stores can find that suddenly switching to wide aisles, for example, creates too much efficiency and then customers whiz past inventory the store would like people to browse but they otherwise miss. A tweak could involve breaking up the traffic flow straight line in and out, causing the customer to stop momentarily and visualize what’s in front until he or she adjusts to the diversion to turn to enter or exit. Again, these are intentional changes to the traffic flow to direct the customer’s attention proactively. They can be easily included as modifications to a brand new fitout by simply narrowing aisles or creating a point block a key points of engagement with the store’s products and traffic zones.
It’s also a good idea to consider applying metrics for a period before and after a shopfitting Auckland change occurs. This gives a store a baseline of what is occurring with its customer traffic prior to the change and then a comparison of the same type of metrics after the fitout is applied and completed. What will likely happen is some noticeable changes in how buying behavior happens in the store and with what products. This is one of the best ways to see real-time how a new fitout with interior design in Auckland can create significant change in customers as well as revenue numbers firsthand.
There is no question that traffic flow has a tremendous impact on a store’s revenue and ability to sell goods successfully. Traffic flow management is an ongoing balance between helping people find what they are looking for efficiently as well as “pushing” them into an opportunity to see other ideas and possibilities they weren’t thinking of when first entering the store’s floor area. Redesigning a store’s traffic flow is far more than just simple graphic design on the walls. It is an applied science regarding how people behave and encouraging movement behavior that works to the benefit of your business.
Most times customers are unconscious about how they walk through a store; they are fixated on what they are looking for or they are simply open to see what might be interesting. Both are opportunities to steer customers to the greatest potential for buying and revenue generation. But the store has to accommodate this by using traffic flow as a catalyst. Your business spends a lot of capital on securing the facility for your brick and mortar operations, so utilize it as much as possible versus being passive about your floor plan. Talk with a shopfitting expert to find out more as well as to gain an insight on what’s possible with your current store plan. You might be surprised by the number of options that are available and doable.