Emotional retail design

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Modern customers are mobile and they make comparisons. Focusing solely on the product is far too limited, too aggressive and too predictable. So how can you win over customers who are becoming more and more indulged and sophisticated and fill them with enthusiasm? You need to offer something unique to make your customers remember you. In essence, you need to transform your shop into a brand, and turn your customers into devotees.

Alongside verbal selling (well-trained staff), non-verbal selling techniques play a particularly decisive role these days and should no longer be neglected.

Every person has three basic needs: stimulus (discovery, curiosity, spontaneity), balance (tradition, maintenance, security) and dominance (achievement, prestige, status). If these needs are stimulated correctly, they trigger a good gut feeling that prompts consumption. The key is in the way our emotions are played with and in the telling of an authentic and interesting story.

Customers have to be emotionally engaged, with their curiosity awakened and a sense of identification created. This gives a product a subjective value and generates desirability.

Design fundamentals: A. I. D. A.


From outside on the street, the design of the façade and the entrance must make customers want to stop – my shop must penetrate their consciousness. Customers must perceive me in a positive, attractive and engaging way. If cleverly used, light, scent, cleanliness, anti-reflective glass, window displays, images, A boards or pavement signs, carpets, plants and special service facilities can all play a part in this.


As soon as customers slow down, you have the opportunity to show them that you have something of interest to them. Design parameters include lighting at the entrance and inside the shop, flooring, dirt trapping mats, a door that is heavy or easy to open, clear arrangement or initial contact with the product (using a table or a stand), but also a cheerful welcome by your staff. People have a natural urge to move to the right, in an anti-clockwise direction, but tend to look to the left, so particular attention should be paid to creating an especially attractive area on the left. Offers should be publicised in the “check-in zone”, but you should avoid too many written words, placards or information – overloading quickly causes confusion.


Desire is the longing for more: once the customer has perceived (seen, touched, tasted or smelled) the product, and if the trigger is stimulated correctly, there is an explosion of hormones, followed by the “must-have” feeling.

Within the retail area, you must support this “I want” feeling by providing anything that generates a feeling of wellbeing: seating, chill-out zones, music or multimedia facilities. Elements that work subconsciously but should not be underestimated in their effect on the sensation of wellbeing include humidifying fountains and water features or, as a more expensive option, a “green wall”.

If a customer perceives a shop to be engaging, the likelihood that they will make a purchase is very high. Now it is time to activate the second “A”.


Here you need to guide the customer towards their decision to make a purchase but without creating a feeling of pressure. Well-trained, service-oriented staff and cleverly structured service packages provide added value.

By creating a positive environment, the shop interior can increase decisiveness.

Confronted with smiling, happy people, our brain is beguiled into feeling much more positive. Active images of young, successful people speed up customers’ pace and make them demonstrably faster and more active. After making a purchase, customers must be encouraged to come back, so the checkout zone must be not be neglected. This area must be well thought out, positively decorated, and designed in an diverting way, because the customer’s final impression is an important memory.


Only those who have rough edges, establish an identity and admit their weaknesses will achieve recognition and, most importantly, stand out. If you fit this description as well, then you as a retailer have already achieved a great deal.

About the author

Wolfgang Gruschwitz is the founder and managing director of an international design and implementation agency with its head office in Munich and a subsidiary in Moscow. His clients include FC Bayern, Red Bull, Mango and all Inditex Group brands (such as Zara). In 2005, Gruschwitz drew international attention with his design and expansion of the brand environment within the Allianz Arena in Munich.

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