Essentially, it is difficult to talk of display design and exclude the concept of branding from the equation. In most cases, the two complement each other. While branding relates mostly to what the customer sees from outside the premises - the red background in Uchumi and the blue synonymous with Nakumatt supermarkets for instance - once inside, it is the shop floor design and the overall arrangement of items that creates the all important impetus for the customer to shop.
So, could we briefly start with what we see from outside (branding) before moving inside to floor space and display design, and the psychology behind it all? "In order to make it effective, branding must be supported by a number of key elements," says John Cheruiyot, the chief consultant at Kicher and Associates management consultants.
"The most recognisable of these are corporate colours," he adds. For instance, While Kenya Commercial Bank uses a green background as its corporate colour, Equity Bank uses brown, while Commercial Bank of Africa uses blue. However, a good outward appeal needs to be bolstered with a superb interior, and this is where design comes in.
Through use of various colour combinations, a business can create a welcoming, calm, warm or dynamic aura, or a combination of any of these among other atmospheres. Through use of wide clear glass windows at the teller desks for instance, banks create a feeling of openness, transparency and accountability in customers' minds. Use of various shades of the white colour in banking halls creates a spacious sensation, which has a relaxing effect on the customer. These, among other design considerations, are necessary in creating a trusting relationship between customers and the institution, which improves business.
Another important intersection between branding and display design is accessibility of goods. Once a customer has been lured inside a store by its good branding, the least he expects is to find items placed out of reach and on clumsy shelves. Thus explains George Vikiru, Chairman of the Department of Fine Arts at Kenyatta University: "Most goods in stores are located not higher than the eye-level, for the simple logic that if an item is out of sight, it is as well as out of mind!"
Coupled with this, says Mr. Cheruiyot, is the psychology of space. "Congestion among humans, as is evident in slums among other areas, tends to increase chances of conflict. This is bad enough for any business". In contrast, wider spaces create an aura of freedom - both physical and mental. This, added to creative coordination of colours and appealing displays on shelves, walls and shop windows, creates a 'freedom-to-shop atmosphere." This is what in most cases triggers a shopping impulse that most customers find tricky to resist.
Today, shopping has become a social activity and weekend trips to malls have become a way of life for many urban families. This has become an important consideration among modern stores designers. Shopping complexes now have to create wider pathways for easier movement for the whole family. With this ever increasing numbers of customers, there is a corresponding need for fresh air and a conducive environment for social interaction.
This explains why modern retail outlets have higher roofs fitted with fans, and have invested in high quality music systems. "This is designing for comfort," says Mr. Cheruiyot, "and it allows for inclusion of more decision makers in the shopping process". This is an important strategy for boosting sales that the not-too-spacious stores are missing out on.
Go round, baby and turn around
"If you want to boost sales, the size of your shop not withstanding," advises Judy Khaemba, a retail business consultant in Nairobi, "find ways of making customers stay longer at the shop." The longer they do, the greater the possibility of them finding something attractive on display and buy it, though they had not budgeted for it. Thus, adds Mr. Cheruiyot, it is not uncommon to find toys located at the far end of the store. But here is the catch: the way to the toy land is lined up with popcorns, ready-to-drink juices, sweets and other goodies alluring to children. With the kid yelling from being bombarded with all sorts of niceties from left, right and centre, the family has no alternative but to make some supplementary purchases of these 'wonderland' goodies to appease the kid.
If you doubt that stores designers started taking the kid-shopper concept seriously longer before we realised what they were doing, consider the number of businesses providing shopping carts with specially designed spaces for carrying children. Like it or hate it, the child is no longer a passive participant in shopping. Sales people in most of these businesses - be they take away joints, hotels, name it - are well trained on how to petition the emotions of this category of shoppers, as kids present an easy entry point into parents' wallets.
In other cases, and in an attempt to make customers stay longer inside shopping outlets, items will be seasonally moved around from their usual corner to another. If, for instance, you left your favourite brand of cooking fat at the far right corner of the store, you could find it replaced with a new brand of cooking oil. The idea here is to make sure that you get to see the new brand. And if its quality is good and price better relative to that of your favourite brand, chances are that you will give the new brand a trial. Nonetheless, if you are loyal to your specific brand, there will be someone at hand to show you where to find it.
But this is not all, says Mr. Vikiru: "Shop floor and space design is getting ever more dynamic. Today, many supermarkets have upper floors where they stock washing machines, fridges, cookers, and other forms of household hardware." The rationale in this case is that most first time shoppers are unlikely to pick such items on the first sight, but go to such places specifically because they want to make a sound investment decision. If they like an item, and if the store offers it at a better price, then shoppers are likely to pay a second visit to make a purchase.
Shop floor designers are paid to ensure that you keep spending from the moment you enter the store to the moment you leave. This ensures they maximise on the time you spend at the store, which makes sound economic sense for the business. This explains why in their choice of where to place items, a customer is never left with an idle moment, not even when you are exhausted and queuing to pay for what you have picked so far.
At this point, shoppers are presented with beautiful displays of ice-cream, sweets and chocolates - important items that one is least likely to have planned for. These are always located near the cashier's desk, plus a tin where you can donate to a charity the coins you receive as change. These are supple expenditures that are not likely to do much damage to your pocket.
Towards the outskirts
Considering this need for wider space as an important consideration in the design of shop floors and display, and given the rapidly evolving nature of shopping as a forum for social interactions, one sees the sense in large stores migrating towards the outskirts of major cities. In this category are shopping complexes such as The Village Market, The Junction, Nakumatt Hyper and Thika Road; Uchumi Ngong' Road, as well as Lang'ata Hyper, amongst others. There are fewer hustles in such locations, the environment is serene, and there is better security compared to the city centre. All these work collectively to give customers a better shopping experience and improve business for the outlets.
This article was first published in the Nov/Dec 2006 issue of The Masterpiece magazine, Nairobi, Kenya