Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Patrick Onions
Knowledge Management Consultant
11:36 AM 31st July 2012

First impressions don't count - lasting impressions do

Exterior of Woodlands DIY store, Horsforth, Leeds
Exterior of Woodlands DIY store, Horsforth, Leeds
There is a transition zone in the threshold of any store where normal rules of retailing do not apply. So how do you make sure that your store layout delivers both a great shopping experience and increased sales?

This is the subject of this fourth article in a series about a DIY superstore (Woodlands DIY, based in Horsforth, Leeds) that revitalised their business.

Shoppers opening the front door will take a little time to become accustomed to their new surroundings, adjusting to the variations in lighting, temperature, sound, signs, colours, people, visual cues, security, staff and other shoppers.

The transition zone can make or break the subsequent shopping experience. Rather than stop and contemplate, shoppers often charge on in and miss signs, discounts and even entire departments. A good window display will undoubtedly attract shoppers, but the entrance must provide shoppers with a moment to mentally map the store layout, plan their route, identify signs and staff, find the focal point of their visit and locate any tempting promotions.

Store employees can readily observe this phenomenon using the same simple tools that researchers like Paco Underhill have been using for years. A pen, a clipboard, a bit of time and a sense of adventure are all that are needed to find out if you are making the most of your store's transition zone.


Observation and experimentation are invaluable skills in improving a business. The first step is to plan the study, beginning with a few basic questions.

How fast did the shoppers enter the store?
Are they familiar shoppers?
How long did it take them to orientate themselves?
Which way did they first look?
At what point on the floor did they decide on their trajectory into the store?
Did they see your signs?
Did they see the items on sale?
Was there anything that stopped their headlong rush into the store?
Did they give up their visual search at any point and ask for help?

Find a convenient spot in the shop from which to observe. Use the questions to discretely take note of what happens when people enter the store. Try to be impartial, accurate and discrete. Collect the notes at the end of the day, draw a schematic layout of the entrance, plot the findings and summarise what has been observed. Analyse the data. Does anything surprise you?

New entrance with U shaped bays
New entrance with U shaped bays

Woodlands found their shoppers were moving quickly into the store, ignoring the first two rows of shelves and then frequently asking staff for directions - despite strong visual cues and signage. Even the shed display that took up a quarter of an acre at the entrance was occasionally overlooked. Shoppers focused on finding the items they came for and did not appear to be temped to wander about and discover.

The solution was to experiment with a range of ideas in the transition zone. The area was opened up to give shoppers space to arrive 'safely' and collect their thoughts. Aisles were widened and promotional items placed visibly down the spine of the store. Novel display stands were constructed to relieve boredom and add attractive features.

The tight grid layout was replaced with themed U-shaped areas with low islands in the middle, improving sightlines deep into the store. Security and efficient use of floor space were still a priority, and the changes to the layout helped eliminate dark corners. Merchandising was used to grab attention and provide strong cues as to where the merchandise was located.

New handmade display stands
New handmade display stands
Each store is unique, so there are no right or wrong answers to store layout. Keep the store vibrant and provide a great shopping experience by experimenting with new ideas, observing the results, and being prepared to try again. This will help drive the continual improvements and ensure your shopper's first impressions are lasting ones.

Coming up

The next article in the series will discuss staff issues and the value of continual improvement in building a motivated team.

Patrick Onions is principal consultant at The Knowledge Studio and an experienced practitioner in knowledge, information and project management. For more information visit