Perfect your design – and the footfall will follow

Perfect your design – and the footfall will follow

There’s no right or wrong way to set up a convenience store – but you’d be amazed what a high quality shop design can do when it comes to encouraging customers to get the most out of their shop visit.

Plenty of store-owners still subscribe to the ‘square box’ school of thought when it comes to store design, but even they may be having a rethink since bringing in their pandemic restrictions.

Store-owners were bringing in one-way systems to protect their customers and staff, but all of a sudden they were incidentally discovering that customers now visited every part of the premises and purchasing from those areas.

So if you’ve discovered the difference those changes made to your bottom line – who knows, your next revamp could involve tapping into the psychology of the customer to make sure they don’t miss out on a single thing.

It’s a well-known fact that people will naturally look left first and then right as they enter a shop – and that they prefer to move right and travel anti-clockwise around the store.

But while that is useful to know, there’s a lot more you can do to influence customer behaviour in your store, including using the decor to create subconscious cues and arrows that will lead them.

Customer flow

Shopify merchant Alexis Damen suggests starting off by taking a look at how customers are currently using your space. To monitor the customer flow, you can observe the number of people who come into your store, analyse your purchase data and make use of any CCTV footage to create a time-lapse video that will give a useful picture of how customers are moving about and which areas of the shop are well-used or not visited at all.

“Your store layout should help you achieve your retail merchandising goals by guiding customers through the store and exposing them to your products, all while managing important stimuli that encourage purchasing behaviours. How people experience your store is a big part of your brand and needs to be as carefully crafted as other aspects of your business,” she says.

But before you even get to what’s happening inside your store, you first need to take a look at the exterior – you can have the best layout in the world, but if the siting of your store is deterring passing trade, you’re already losing a large potential customer base.

High impact

Ashley Lamont, Director of Whittaker + Watt Architects, says that creating a high impact and strong kerbside appeal should be at the forefront of all good retail designs. This approach creates a footfall generator that will last throughout the lifespan of the business.

Whittaker + Watt Architects have developed a five stage process, starting with analysing the local competition in the surrounding area, investigating the potential demographic of the area, examining how to create good kerbside appeal, a method to slow the customers down once they are inside the shop and psychologically planning a shopping route using effective interior design cues. Employing these design techniques will lay the foundations for a very strong retail business.

“First time passing customer opportunities only arise if the retail offering is highly visible from the adjoining road network,” Ashley explains. 

“We analyse the speed of the vehicles passing the retail site and tailor our façade designs to maximise impulse thinking time for the customer.

Passing trade

“Ideally if we can make the retail offering visible within the 5-7 seconds window, you have the strong possibility of attracting passing customers to use the retail site.

“A large element of the site analysis is about the positioning of the building in the correct location, while also using cues like totem signs and LED light technology to improve the visibility of the retail site.”

Craig’s Costcutters in Derry / Londonderry was a perfect example of a store located on a fast flowing 60mph dual carriageway. The building design had to attract the customer’s attention beneath the 5-7 second rule, and therefore needed to grab customers attention at the earliest opportunity.

“To achieve this, the facade design had to be striking – the use of glass, bespoke cladding and LED lighting technology created the best opportunity for customer thinking time, and as a result traffic would slow down and pull into the site,” Ashley says.

“You really only get one chance to try to attract a new passing customer. Existing customers who enjoy the shopping experience will hopefully return time and time again – however, to build a retail business you’re always focused on trying to attract new customers. This is when kerbside appeal becomes a fundamental element of good design.

“We believe an attractive and creatively designed retail building will unlock a site’s potential and forms an integral part of the lifelong footfall driver for that business.”

Widening the catchment

Ashley says that the design techniques that Whittaker + Watt Architects employed at the Creighton’s Balmoral site confirmed that it is possible to attract customers from a wider catchment area.

“The position of the building on the site was pivotal in trying to create a vibrant kerbside appeal, and the use of glass, cladding and LED lighting technology gives a strong impression that the store is always open and trading, ready for business,” he says.

“We have witnessed good design generating upwards of a 80% boost to trade that previously was thought not available on that road network. This was a strong indication that our design ethos was actually working.” 

Having successfully attracted a customer into the retail site, we then flip our attention to customer experience, and we do this using high quality interior designs.

“We use our interior designs to do two things – one is to create a point of interest which slows the customer down and in doing so inside the retail shop, provides more impulse purchase opportunities which in turn increases the basket spend,” Ashley says.

 Psychological direction

“The other technique we employ is psychological direction of the customer in a predetermined path around the shop. We create this shopping journey through good interior design and directional cues within the shop and that’s proven to be very successful by allowing the customer to have the best opportunity to view all of the products on sale.

“We use material selection, signage, ceiling features, floor finishes and lighting to effectively cause the customer to pause upon entering the shop. This is achieved with high impact design and forms the basis of good first impression upon entering inside of the store.

“If you create the high impact, you automatically slow the customer down. Using lighting and interior design cues like feature ceilings, the choice of materials, the colour of materials you’re using, you can direct a customer on your predetermined route round the shop and they’ll be completely unaware of why they’ve chosen that route.”

One example is the recently completed McBride’s Lakeside in Enniskillen.

“Peter McBride wanted it to appeal particularly to a younger demographic, so we employed modern interior design techniques here – we’ve framed out the deli using striking branded colours, we’ve framed out the checkouts, we’ve quirky geometric patterns on the floors and we’ve got striking LED lighting placed around the shop,” Ashley says.

“Almost every corner you turn inside the shop, there’s a point of interest, and that’s the technique we use to slow the customer down, so that as they turn the corner they have to take a second to pause, creating better opportunities for a purchase.


If you stand at the entrance of a poorly designed shop, Ashley says, you will inevitably see 80% of the customers coming in with a clear idea of what they’ve come to buy – and short cutting the shop for that item.

“They shop on their own predetermined route, so you see a very segmented approach to the shopping journey, with people dispersing around the shop going to look for that one particular item.

“You would tend to find that these customers typically have a low basket spend, and that is a direct correlation between allowing them to choose their own journey around the shop vs a predetermined shopping route created using good interior design to help increase the basket spend opportunity.

“There are times when our design approach has to change – for example Green Foodfare in Lisburn. The objective by way of good interior design was to create an interior that was respectful to the long standing trading history of the shop.

“The business has been trading since the late 1800s and our focus was on creating an environment where customers young and old could enjoy a shopping destination like no other.

New materials

“The choice of materials, lighting and signage was extremely important to appeal to far reaching customers 30 miles plus from the site. You can only create such an attraction through creative and sympatric design that is respectful to the past while appealing to current and future customer base.

“We’re definitely seeing vast improvements in terms of lighting technology, the shapes of lights, the various different styles of lights that are available – as well as the wide range of material choices,” he says.

“You’ve got fantastic shopfitting techniques which are allowing us to push the boundaries of interior design. Basically we generate 3D models and virtual reality walk-throughs of the shop interiors, which not only help our clients visualise the design but aid the manufacturing process. With the advance of CNC manufacturing technology, we can have the interiors manufactured to replicate what was once only possible in a 3D world. 

Such design techniques have improved the customer shopping experiences and delivered businesses with a competitive edge over their rivals. With improved trip generation and increased basket spend, good retail architecture and interior design has secured its place within the retail sector.

To read the full feature, visit Neighbourhood Retailer magazine HERE.