Giving customers some space


While shopping at Target, I noticed a particular inefficiency with their store layout. Regardless of what’s on display, virtually every aisle is the same width. Walking from one aisle to the next, I saw consistent bottlenecks happening. But these weren’t just related to the popularity of the goods being sold. Aisles with products that everyone buys regularly, like toothpaste, were only a little bit more crowded that the more niche-oriented areas. Instead, the relatively higher-priced, higher-involvement products like women’s cosmetics tended to have the biggest crowds.

Retailers generally do a poor job of providing an optimal environment for purchasing these high-involvement products, whether the venue is their local store or a website. The problems usually include lack of space and too many competing (but unrelated) products and messages. The consumer wants to size up their options, read the packages, and find the right product. But in the typical retail design, they find themselves in a crowded area that’s filled with other customers and off-topic messages, making it hard to get to the product itself and think through the decision. A similar thing happens with online stores, although the mechanics are a bit different.

It’s really not that hard to improve things. In the physical store, this means providing wider aisles or more space around relatively complex products, limiting interruptions from other customers and employees, and cutting back on irrelevant signage (e.g. promoting products that have nothing to do with what’s in front of you). On the web, it means taming overly busy page designs and removing banner ads for other products, in favor of a clean layout that focuses on the key selling points of the main product offering. In both cases, I’d venture to say that creating an environment that’s more conducive to decision making will, in fact, lead more customers to buy something from your store.