Beware the barrier

It had been awhile since I had shopped Old Navy, but I was battening down the hatch, or so they say, on spending and wanted to try to find something stylish for about $15 that could I could easily pull on after shoulder surgery.

I was two steps or five seconds inside the store, when I was stopped dead in my tracks. There was a wall in the center of the store in front of which was a huge display with numerous body forms. As I was attempting to take in what this barrier meant, a salesperson cheerfully greeted, “Good evening.”

Whoa. Too much, too soon. This wasn’t a ‘speed bump’ as Paco Underhill might say in “Why We Buy.” This was a barrier, and I felt like I was being attacked. The aggressive combination of greeter coupled with a front of store display of this magnitude just as I entered was sensory overload. I couldn’t enjoy the elements of the display (which I appreciated a few weeks later once I was mentally prepared for them).

While speed bumps, or power displays (tables of well-organized product, etc.) can be an effective merchandising tool, they should not make customers feel they need to ‘navigate’ around them. Proper, well thought-out placement is everything.

Things you can do:

  • Understand your traffic flow. Make believe you are a customer and walk through your store from time to time. Be sure to try this, even for a few minutes, when it’s busy. Do you bang into tables, fixtures, or displays? Is it challenging to figure out where to enter a department?
  • Watch your customers carefully. Where do they naturally slow down and begin to get their bearings? Consider this spot for that front of storedisplay, even if it is a few more feet inside the store. The Old Navy wall and display felt like a barrier because of its placement and size.
  • If you are using tables, remember basics like color blocking and keep the merchandise to similar items. If it’s water bottles, stick with one style and multiple colors. Clothing does well when it’s one or two types of product (i.e. all sweaters, or sweaters and jeans). Keep it simple and you will sell more.
  • Think carefully about your larger fixture placement. It’s better to block a portion of a focal wall then to block movement into your store or department.

Remember, you want to create opportunities for your customers to pause, not barriers that push them away.


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