The Psychology of Good Retail Design

It’s no secret to shoppers and retail business owners that people seek out and employ the benefits of real-life positive experiences. Period. As a species, we’re neurologically designed to curiously find and capture the very roots of our happiness. We seek to surround ourselves with people, colours, objects and feelings that portray positivity, safety, pleasure and health.

Good retail design, therefore, thrives on its ability to both provide a desirable product, an easily navigable space, and an experience creating lasting memories that inspire brand loyalty based on positivity.

In this post, we’ll decipher some of the best ways to implement the psychology of modern retail design geared at increasing the effectiveness of design-based experience.

Magnets & Triggers

Good retail design should draw largely on the psychology of attractiveness and the neurological processes in which instantaneous attraction is nurtured and bred.

Psychologically, we are engineered to be attracted to faces. This plays out as a romantic sentiment, but in retail design the goal is to attract people into a space with the distinct goal of converting them into paying customers. As a result of this knowledge, it’s a good idea to embolden your retail design strategy by utilizing packaging or a piece of merchandising material in a storefront or as part of a marketing display that features an attractive face.

Neurologically in the medial prefrontal cortex, says a report from Ireland, the brain is abuzz with increased activity when it sees a face the mind deems attractive. Further, the design of the display can prompt a response from the rostromedial prefrontal cortex, which furthers this attraction by asking ‘is this face a good fit for me?’ This connection is the beginning of building positive psychological rapport with a shopper.

Decompression Zone

Once you’ve enticed your shopper to come inside of your retail store, the next step is to help them along the road to transitioning into your space. Typically, a good retail design will allot for about 15 feet of space, depending on how big your store is, so customers can make critical judgements like how affordable and inclusive your store is, and what you have to offer. This space is meant to help your customer refocus on shopping, tell your brand story in as little time as possible, and promote a positive response from shoppers by getting them to continue moving inside.

Customers will psychologically assess the little details in this time as well – judging and critiquing your lighting, displays, colours, and overall aesthetic – this is where you must make your mark, but not in terms of your product. Because they’ll be busy assessing your space, they’re going to miss products and signage you place here, so take note and don’t clutter the entranceway with a slick offer, or sale items.

Give Them Something To Look At

Historically, human beings are attracted to spaces that protect and nurture safety while reducing the likelihood of injury, complication or entrapment. In this regard, an open concept retail space will allow a potential shopper to feel relief in the amount of space they have to explore, while eliminating any deep-ceded feeling of claustrophobia. Similarly, a retail space design that reduces the amount of sharp angles and edges within can have a positive psychological effect on shoppers.

The brain also prefers natural textures, which help evoke deep emotional responses in the brain. Always remember, we’re creatures of nature first and foremost – so we’ll continually seek and engage with settings that allow us to engage with organic textures and materials like wood, grass, water, etc., rather than industrial or man-made materials like steel, brick and glass. Understanding the delicate relationship in blending the natural with the structural is key to understanding and promoting a positive retail experience for customers.

Provide Direction

90% of consumers in North America will unconsciously turn to the right upon entering a store. The first wall or display they should see, should be a pseudo power wall, where you put your key merchandising; the biggest, boldest display up-front and centralized in order to entice them to take a closer look, and to continue to move along the journey in your store.

Knowing that your customers will likely turn right, provides great insight on how to potentially make a sale by controlling the movement, ebb and flow of your store. Most stores will incorporate a circular pathway, to get customers to go to the back of the store before coming out the front again on the opposite side. Some designs even call for making sure the prescribed pathway is a different colour or texture than the shopping floor of the space, helping the head go where the feet want to go.

Remember: you want to use a path to lead and guide your customers to exactly where you want them to go. This can mean strategically placing another eye-popping display at the back of the store to engage their neurologically induced triggers.

Slow Them Down

The last thing you want to happen is for your customers to blindly rush past your prime real estate within the store. Give them a reason to slow down and stop to investigate further. One design strategy that many retailers employ is that of ‘speed bumps,’ meaning anything that gives your customer the chance to break visually from the pathway you’ve set out for them. This can be done by offering an impulse purchase mid-store, placing complimentary products in close proximity with large ticket items, and placing high-demand popular products at eye-level to encourage their exposure.

Lastly, make sure they’re comfortable. This means having a plush space for people to congregate when they’re preparing to make a purchase, wait in line for a change room, or waiting on a straggling friend.


If people are likely to turn right upon entering a store, the most ideal spot for a check-out counter is probably the front left of the store, where people will end their journey in your store and make their purchases after seeing and experiencing everything you have to offer. As well, it’s a great way to enforce the neurological notion that the friendly faces of your staff are the last things they interact with when exiting.

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