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Products/Shoppers Competition

The second idea that brings navigability into focus here is that there is an actual competition occurring in the store between the products and the shoppers. This competition gets very personal, particularly in the selection process when it is this shelf or product display talking to this specific shopper or passerby (see illustration above.) I won't discuss this in detail here because that personal communication between products and shoppers has more to do with package and planogram design than store design, which is what we focus on here. I will, however, mention one at-the-shelf principle: Shoppers do not like to be talked down to!

This is why top shelves are typically very poor places to sell anything. Shoppers do not want their products staring at them from eye level. Rather, the products should be humble supplicants looking up to the shopper from 30 to 60 inches above the floor. That is where most purchasing occurs. Those products have the decency to respectfully look up to their masters, the shoppers. One way to achieve this proper product humility is to place the bottom shelf protruding into the aisle a few inches, with a slight tip upward. This is an excellent way to give that bottom shelf a bit more prominence. The products are well displayed, humble supplicants to the shopper at the cost of only a few inches of crowding of the shopper’s feet, something they really don’t mind at all. A little intrusion into the aisle down there is no serious offense: The feet scarcely notice!

Other than right at the shelf, the competition between products and shoppers is almost totally under the control of the store designer. The store designer manages this competition through how much space the designer allocates to displays and products versus how much space he allocates to the shoppers. Here we are talking about the total area of the store, and its division into shelves, displays, and other product areas versus the actual square footage in which the shoppers can walk, navigate, and shop. We call this measure product/shopper allocation.2 The more products and displays you jam into the store, the less space for shoppers.

This ratio, product-space to shopper-space, is a major controller of the efficiency of the store. (See Figure I.2, below.)

Figure I.2

Figure I.2 The mathematical effect of the competition between products and shoppers.

All stores must have space for both shoppers and products. But this chart shows that at a certain point the amount of space allocated to products can actually suppress sales rather than increase them. This is not a simple relationship, but it further demonstrates how open space attracts shoppers and generates sales.

Although retailers may be unaware of it, they have learned to provide lots of open space on the perimeter, in produce, and other areas of their stores where the vast majority of sales occur. Increased sales in these areas are not due to the specific merchandise offered there, only, but rather, also, to the attractive way retailers display the products in these locations.

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