6 Psychologist-Approved Tricks for Effective Merchandise Arrangement

Counterintuitive tips on how to stock your shelves for maximum sales.
Try embracing some disorganization in your store, it might lead to more sales. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

As anyone who’s had to navigate an entire store to find what they’re looking for or battled with overcrowded racks knows, how you present products can have a big impact on how well they sell.

“Merchandise arrangement can significantly improve revenues. If it’s fresh and making use of shopper psychology, you’ll see sales go up,” said Bruce Sanders, author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers.”

You’re no doubt aware of some common, effective tactics, like showcasing flashy items on aisle end caps and placing heavy items on lower shelves. But Sanders offered some other, surprising tips that should help your products fly off the shelves.

Organize by benefit


“Merchandise arrangement can significantly improve revenues. If it’s fresh and making use of shopper psychology, you’ll see sales go up.” -Bruce Sanders (Photo: Bruce Sanders)

Retailers typically organize products by category, such as shoes or bags. But sorting your products by their benefits can be a more effective sales driver, said Sanders.

“Benefits are what customers want to put their money into. While whoever designs the product is thinking of what they can put into it, the shopper is thinking about what they can get out of it.”

Sanders pointed to a study in which customers were asked to choose a nutrition bar from two assortments: one arranged by type (such as chocolate, nuts and fruit) and one arranged by benefit (muscle building, energy boosting and fat burning). The benefits arrangement better fit customers’ desires.

“When you arrange items by primary benefit, you help the shopper select the lowest priced item that achieves the shopper’s objective. Your revenue from that one sale will be less than if the customer bought a more expensive item, but price-sensitive shoppers will remember your store as having better prices, so you’ll get more repeat business,” said Sanders.

Related: How to Develop a Pricing Strategy for Your Small Business

Embrace disorganization

If you’ve ever found yourself frustrated by disarray in your store on a busy day, here’s some relief: disorganization can boost sales.

“When your shelves, racks and showcases contain inventory that’s been systematically arranged, shoppers can more quickly find what they’re looking for,” said Sanders. “But there’s also an advantage to having those who enter your store browse for a while, treating them as ‘Possibilities Shoppers,’ who, even if they have a specific item in mind, enjoy considering the alternatives.”

Disorganized shelves can increase sales among shoppers who enjoy browsing.

Strive for a balance between making it easy for a customer on a mission to find what she’s looking for and presenting the opportunity to discover a few unexpected products nearby, said Sanders.

“Have featured items such as new products, seasonal goods or sale items in the middle of other things. It will catch some real attention because it doesn’t go along with the organization principle.”

Let stock run a little low

Take a quick scan of your shop. Are some shelves looking a little low on stock? Good. Keep it that way.

“Scarcity makes products more attractive. A lack of full shelves implies that the items are in demand, drawing extra interest from shoppers. In addition, when the merchandise is not packed in closely, the spacing around each item makes it more readily noticed by prospective purchasers,” said Sanders.
Sanders recommends restocking a shelf when there are only a couple of a particular item left. That said, don’t overuse this tactic — customers will catch on to a store with an artificially low stock.

“It works as long as the consumer doesn’t think you’re fooling them. If they think you’re playing with their minds, they feel manipulated.”

Related: 5 Pricing Strategies That Will Work For Your Small Business

Strategize the order

When customers see items arranged horizontally on a shelf, they’re naturally drawn to products in specific slots.

“When you show the shopper choices arranged horizontally, such as you might do in online selling or an in-store shelf arrangement, shoppers will be drawn to an option appearing neither first nor last. If there are five choices, the strongest draw will be to the choice at position four,” said Sanders. He said this phenomenon is rooted in people’s inclination to rest their eyes in the center of a space.

“So why isn’t the strongest draw to position three, exactly in the middle? When everything else, including benefits, convenience, cost, quality and value, is equal, items displayed toward the right of the visual field will be estimated by shoppers to possess higher quality.”

Partner complementary products


Displaying an item next to a complementary product will encourage the customer to buy both. (Photo: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock)

If you’re putting an item on sale, displaying it next to a complementary product will encourage the customer to buy both, said Sanders.

“It’s the peanut-butter-and-jelly principle of product adjacencies: When you’ve assigned the peanut butter a bargain price to draw people into your store, shelve the popular jelly flavors — priced for your profitability — just to the right of the peanut butter.” -Bruce Sanders

Shoppers’ eyes will go to the right after they realize they scored a great deal, and they’ll be more inclined to buy a partner item at full price.

“Our eyes move rightward when the left hemisphere of the brain gets active. It’s that left hemisphere which specializes in doing the math and telling the whole brain, ‘Hey, we saved some real money here!’ and gets more likely to ask, ‘Are we ready to splurge?’.”

Related: Why 99 Is the Magic Number for Pricing Products

Give light items height

You may already be placing heavier items on lower shelves — it makes it easier for customers to lift them and helps stabilize the shelves. But Sanders said there’s an additional benefit to arranging your products this way.

“The configuration feels more natural to people’s brains, and what feels more natural is more likely to be purchased,” he said. “The preference is so strong that it even spreads to color considerations. Lighter-colored packages sell better when placed above rather than below darker-colored packages on the shelves.”

While these techniques have helped boost sales in many retail settings, you should experiment to see what works in your own store, said Sanders.

“When aiming for the retailer’s edge in profitability, it’s the small tendencies we’ll leverage for big profits.”

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