The Psychology Behind How Your Store’s Aesthetics Impact Sales

Elevate the retail experience with an impressive design that still feels approachable.
While symmetry in your store is important, make sure your layout is not so perfect that it appears untouchable. (Photo: fiphoto/Shutterstock)

For customers, shopping is about more than just buying products they want and need. It’s an immersive experience into spaces with thoughtful aesthetics that create a positive mood and sense of intrigue. The design of your retail store can directly impact customers’ perception of your brand — and their decision to make a purchase.

“People are more likely to buy from your store when they consider the store layout, the merchandise display and the items themselves to exemplify good design,” explained Bruce Sanders, consumer psychologist and author of “Retailer’s Edge: Boost Profits Using Shopper Psychology.


“People are more likely to buy from your store when they consider the store layout, the merchandise display and the items themselves to exemplify good design.” -Bruce Sanders (Photo: Bruce Sanders)

So what styles resonate most with customers? Here, Sanders explains the aesthetic design principles you can use to organize and decorate your store, and ultimately elevate the retail experience for shoppers.

Imperfect symmetry

Humans are naturally drawn to the order and balance of symmetry. But if your layout appears too perfect, it can feel stiff and unapproachable. Break up symmetry at your store with a subtle imperfection that adds beauty and character, said Sanders.

“The underlying design should be balanced, with matching elements on the left and right and on the front and rear. But there also should be a few surprising asymmetries to help stand out from other stores, while offering sufficient familiarity to customers,” he said. “That element of something different draws attention.”

When executed effectively, unexpected asymmetry can convey increased value. Sanders recalled one study in which customers evaluated two products — one in a container with an unusual shape, the other in a more traditional (symmetrical) package.

“On average, participants said they’d get more for their money if they were to buy the product in the unusual container,” he said. “The researchers concluded it’s because the unusual shape draws more attention, and the consumer’s brain subconsciously translates the extra attention into higher value.”

Look around at areas of your store that feel balanced — then introduce a decorative object or display to break things up in a beautiful way.

Related: Introducing New Products at Your Store? Here’s How to Get Them to Sell

Repeating themes


Hang a mandala-like design in your store to appeal to customers fondness for repeating decor and visual themes. (Photo: BarsRsind/Shutterstock)

Shapes, patterns and themes that repeat themselves also appeal to shoppers. Look for ways to unify themes throughout your store. If you need some inspiration, take a look at the mandala, suggested Sanders.

“The Hindu and Buddhist design (in its basic form) is a square with four gates containing a circle having a center point, each gate in the shape of a ’T.’ Variations on this theme in religious and nonreligious contexts use four projections of the same image,” he said.

Customers find visual appeal in the echoing shapes and repeating decor. You could hang a large mandala-like design on one of your walls, or find more understated ways to incorporate a distinctive pattern in the fixtures and decor of your shop, said Sanders.

“If a visual design theme is also reflected in sounds or aromas in the store, this augments the aesthetics,” he added.

Related: 6 Sensory Branding Ideas to Grab Customers by Their Emotions

Nature inspiration

Aesthetics that resemble nature — directly or loosely — have universal appeal. This style will increase the friendliness and familiarity of your store, said Sanders.

“Visual aesthetics that mimic the designs of nature are less likely to cause shoppers to hesitate disturbing the arrangement or using the item. It becomes, perhaps subconsciously, more like picking a fruit from a beautiful tree and then eating the fruit,” he said.

An assortment of lush indoor plants, decorative trees or even a bouquet of blooming flowers on a display table can help make your store feel more welcoming.

“To the degree that you can, use shapes found in nature and put them in different places throughout your interior design,” said Sanders.

Related: 7 Ways to Boost the Curb Appeal of Your Small Business

Loose ends


Arrange colorful and artistic items in a haphazard way in order to give customers ‘permission’ to touch these products. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Ever walk into a space, like a hotel lobby or a museum, wherein everything feels a little too perfect? The flawless design certainly pops, but it also feels untouchable. Give customers implicit permission to touch the products by adding some “loose ends” to an otherwise pristine presentation.

“When the items feature highly artistic designs, arrange them in a slightly haphazard way. This tactic works even better if the salespeople periodically pick up and move a few of the items around,” said Sanders.

Rather than arranged on a stiff bracelet display, bangles could be spread randomly in a basket that beckons customers to try them on. Mismatched bowls could be loosely piled atop one another, instead of sorted by color on shelves.

The idea is to infuse your aesthetics with artful, imperfect arrangements that feel homey and authentic.

Related: How to Get Customers to Fall in Love With Your Brand

Limit repeats

The quantity of items on display can also impact customers’ perceptions and willingness to buy. They generally don’t want things that feel mass produced or a product that seems like it’s one of a kind, explained Sanders.

“Present an item as being more like one of a restricted set of prints than like a unique original painting. This reduces concerns that consuming the product dishonors effort exerted during item design and physical production,” he said.

In other words, when customers see that there’s more than one hand-printed T-shirt at your store, they feel that it’s OK to try it on and potentially take it home with them.

Related: How to Boost Sales with Customized Products

Incorporate “limited sets” of products throughout the aesthetics of your displays, and restock frequently as customers make purchases. If you do have a highly unique item, display it near similar products that are less extraordinary.

“For example, if you have a kitchen supplies store and you’re selling a decorative vegetable peeler, place it near a bunch of other more functional peelers,” said Sanders.

The aesthetics of your store matter in the minds of customers. Strive to develop designs that are equal parts visually impressive and physically approachable to create an inviting, appealing shopping experience.

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