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How to SHAPE In-store Behaviour

Recent discoveries in neuroscience, psychology and behavioural economics have straightforward implications for designing retail environments and point of sale materials which can be summarised as SHAPEing behaviour:

  1. Simplify the environment and minimise choices
  2. Humanise the experience
  3. Attract by engaging the senses
  4. Persuade using brand imagery
  5. Explain to activate choices

Simplify and focus

The first principle is to SIMPLIFY.  All research on communication shows that the most effective communication is based on simple stories.  This does does not mean “dumbing down” but does mean that messages should be single minded and focused on key messages.  Keep the environment simple for easy navigation, making it easy for customers to find what they need.  Make marketing messages simple and focused at all areas in the store, paying to attention to the customers path through the environment.  Simpler communications make it easy, quick and accurate for customers to choose and for the retailer to close the deal.  Chunking is a key principle of design and neuromarketing principles.  Three or four (3-4) information chunks are easily processed by the brain, and more than this and information and detail are lost.

Simple choices make it easy and quick for customers to find and choose what they need with confidence:

  • keep the environment as open and uncluttered as possible
  • make visuals clear and simple
  • use pictures and not words as much as possible (especially as key transition points and for impulse purchase)
  • focus on leading items (and perhaps high value items nearer entrances)
  • chunk information for clarity (keeping to a maximum of four visual elements in any communication)
  • use branding to simplify choices and support quality perceptions

Humanise to connect

HUMANISE the customer experience by connecting emotionally and provoking their curiosity, as empathy and curiosity are powerful drivers of human behaviour inviting customers to imitate rewarding behaviours, seek out novelty and mentally engage to solve puzzles, especially at the start of their journey through the retail environment.  We are intensely social animals and providing emotional connections helps customers engage with and understand messages.  Human visuals and especially faces and pictured behaviours attract almost as much attention as real humans, and a lot more than and other kinds of non-human messages.  We are especially drawn to faces when they have interesting or unusual expressions, automatically engaging with them to understand their meaning.  Faces are also mentally processed and recognised more quickly than any other form of stimulus, inviting entry and engaging more effectively than anything else.

Humans are naturally curious and we are intrigued by puzzles, and simple visual puzzles (e.g., partially hiding a logo behind something else or arranging elements of signage to create a simple puzzle) will create much greater engagement than other communication in-store (we all love to work out what something means).  Customers will also be drawn to new elements or changes in the environment (remember we all seeking threats in the environment), so it helps to flag new items to attract attention and create interest, although changes should be kept to a minimum to avoid disruption.  Focus changes to key new items and offers, to make them stand out from the crowd.  Finally, humans find straight lines boring and sometimes threatening, and prefer more interesting shapes and arrangements which are more visually engaging.  It helps to create a depth of field and use non-linear arrangements of products to create more interest, and curved lines and staggering arrangements are more appealing.

To humanise the environment:

  • use humans (especially faces) to provoke empathy and curiosity
  • use merchandising which has an emotional connection
  • remember that most decision making is intuitive and not rational or conscious
  • partially hide logos and create intriguing pictures
  • create occasional change to stimulate interest in new items
  • keep the environment open and use curved shapes to alleviate straight lines

Attract to engage

ATTRACT customers by engaging their senses with realistic and attractive pictures and using contextual cues to trigger interest by reminding them of previous enjoyable experiences.  Context triggers imitation and attractive pictures can build anticipation by engaging the same areas of the brain that experience the enjoyment of the activity itself.  Memories are triggered very powerfully by contextual cues, so use cultural, social and occasion reminders to trigger memories of past positive experiences which customers will want to repeat.

Product imagery which has clear sensory and contextual cues (e.g., showing a drink with ice cubes, bubbles and condensation) is highly persuasive, but always keep such imagery realistic and authentic (even if less than perfect).

Customers will anticipate enjoyment using remembered sensory experiences and contextual cues:

  • Engage the senses (for food products, remember that customers ‘eat with their eyes’)
  • Use images not words
  • Engage with bold and simple colours
  • Give clear signals (especially through context)
  • Provide context with cultural, social and occasion cues

Persuade by providing confidence

PERSUASION is about giving the customer confidence in their choices, and brand imagery and logos help create greater confidence in quality and variety. As noted before, customers process visual information much more quickly, so using logos helps them to easily and quickly understand the quality and variety of products in-store much more powerfully than names and other written information.  Logos are shown to have a significant impact on perceptions of quality, and they help inform customers about the variety of choice in-store particularly in challenging or space limited environments where information is difficult for customers to scan.

Avoid repetition blindness, where more than three or four (3-4) instances of an object repeats, then the brain will ignore the object (and it may even detract from what is around that).  Use a variety of visual cues and brands.

Persuade your customers:

  • Use logos and brand imagery to clarify customer choices (and increase sales)
  • Make decisions easier and quicker by providing visual support
  • Use brands to increase perceptions of quality and variety
  • Vary brands to avoid repetition blindness

Explain to activate

Finally, give clear EXPLANATIONS to customers with enough information to activate their choices easily and confidently knowing the price and benefits of the items they desire.  Much of the time such information (especially price) will only be considered at the point of purchase, and not before, so make it easy to understand.  Provide clear pricing information and structures to support the benefits of what the customer desires.  And arrange signage with visual and written information according to cultural conventions (which in many cultures is with pictures on the left and words on the right).  The right brain (which processes the left visual field) is more visual and holistic and the left brain (which processes the right visual field) is more detail oriented and focused.

Use framing to help provide context for prices, as the first price point a customer sees will set the context for other options.  It helps to structure pricing from low to high or high to low in order to frame choices, remembering that customers will typically avoid the lowest and highest price points and be more likely to make choices in the middle of a range.  This means that you may sometimes want to provide items which customers are less likely to buy, in order to help them decide on something else!  The same is true of sizing options, and in many cases offering around three or four (3-4) options is the optimal range of choices to encourage purchase.

  • Explain costs and benefits to the customer:
  • Provide just enough information to confirm and activate choices
  • Visual perception dominates decision making
  • Keep written text and information to the minimum and also leave to last (point of purchase)
  • Keep pictures on the left and text on the right
  • Frame choices so the customer is encouraged to buy ‘middle of the road’ choices
  • Keep options to three or four to maximise activation

A simple framework to SHAPE the path to purchase:

  1. Simplify choices
  2. Humanise experiences
  3. Attract by engaging
  4. Persuade with brands
  5. Explain costs and benefits

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