How To Create a Positive First Impression Through Retail Design

Originally posted in May 2022; Updated in March 2024

You have 7 seconds to make a good first impression. This is true in all aspects of life — and your retail store is no exception.

When a customer visits your store, it will take them the blink of an eye to decide what they think of your store and your company as a whole. That means you only have seconds to wow them and draw them into an engaging customer experience.

The design and layout of your store play a powerful role in determining customer perception. This guide will help you make a great first impression through retail design so you can draw in customers, boost sales, and grow your business.

Why First Impressions Matter

When it comes to brick-and-mortar retail, appearances matter.

Your customers expect you to be the expert — and to look the part. They will make their decision about whether or not to do business with you based on how your location looks.

As consumers gravitate toward spending more time online, their expectations are changing. The “best self” we put forth in our online lives is driving consumer expectations up. When they enter your store, they’re looking for a visually appealing experience (similar to what they find online), as well as a sense of expertise. Without a plan, your store can become dated and cluttered, resulting in lower sales and narrower margins — not to mention the erosion of customer confidence.

To put it simply, your store’s appearance sets the stage for your customers’ experience, and that experience determines whether or not they will buy.

Evaluating Your Space for a Better First Impression

To ensure your store creates the experience you want your customers to have, take the time to evaluate both interior and exterior elements of your building — including your merchandising, digital displays, and more.

Building Exterior

A customer’s experience doesn’t begin when they walk through the door — it starts long before that. In fact, their first impression could be (and often is) formed before they even set foot in your store.

As you evaluate your space, consider the exterior of your building, including:

  • Signage. Is your signage in good working condition? Does it represent you and the major brands you carry? Does it include your current hours and contact information? Does it look temporary or like a permanent part of your store? Are you maximizing what your city will allow you to do?

  • Parking lot. Is the lot in good shape? Is customer parking clearly marked? If the lines are faded or the lot is full of potholes, that doesn’t reflect well on your business.

  • The path to your front door. Is the main entrance clear and easily accessible? Do you have eye-catching exterior displays in the customer’s path?

  • Store windows and front door. Are they clean and in good shape? Do they have any aged or peeling stickers or posters? Is the front door welcoming and easy to open?

Interior Shell

Once you’ve made it past the front door, take a look around your store’s interior, starting with the interior shell of your building. Examine the walls, floors, ceiling, and lighting, as well as the areas around your counter and service department.

  • Walls, Floors, and Ceilings. Are the walls clean and in good condition? Patch and paint as needed: paint is inexpensive and helps tie the space together. Your ceiling and flooring should be clean and well-maintained as well. If they’re looking dingy, it might be time for a refresh.

  • Lighting. Great lighting is key. It’s so important, in fact, that it can raise your prices! Your sales floor should be bright and welcoming. Change out any mismatched or burned-out lighting, and look for dark spots in your showroom. Those dark spots are losing you money. If you have underlit spots, it’s time to reconsider your lighting.

  • Declutter. Walk through the store, removing items and signage that are old, outdated, torn, or dirty, along with items you aren’t selling.

  • Service department. Your service department should reflect your expertise. A clean, organized, well-maintained service area evokes competence. If you’ve updated your pricing, update your signage to reflect the change.

  • At the counter. You should ideally have 5 feet per person for employee and customer comfort. Regain space by purging regularly to remove clutter. Keep the checkout area clean and in good condition.

Merchandising, Sight Lines, and Customer Flow

Once those basics are taken care of, take a closer look at your merchandising, as well as sight lines and customer flow.

  • Plan your merchandising. Are your displays neat and well stocked? Do they have clear signage? Be thoughtful about what displays you put up and where. A successful merchandising plan will guide the consumer through the store for an integrated customer experience.

  • Sight Lines. Stand just inside your front door and take 3-5 photos. Examine and evaluate those photos for sight lines, clutter, lighting, old information, and blank spots. Make adjustments as needed.

  • Customer Flow. Notice where your customers gravitate and how they use your showroom. What door do they enter? Do they head straight for the parts/service counter? What path(s) do they tend to take? Where do they stop? What spaces are unused or avoided by customers?

Digital Displays and Omnichannel Experience

While they form a part of your merchandising, your digital displays are so integral to your customer experience that they deserve a second look. Today’s consumers are seeking memorable interactions with the brands they love that span all shopping channels, and digital helps provide that omnichannel experience.

Routinely examine the digital elements of your store and make changes where necessary.

  • Mechanics. Are your digital elements in good working order? If not, repair or replace them. Outdated or glitchy technology certainly makes an impression…but not the impression you want.

  • Brand alignment. Does the content you’re displaying align with your company messaging? When used well, digital displays can facilitate brand alignment and reinforce the image you want to establish with your customers.

  • Customer loyalty and engagement. Are you highlighting your newsletters, mobile apps, and loyalty programs in-store? Doing so helps tie your channels together to create the omnichannel experience customers want.

  • Promotions, sales, and events. Are you using digital displays to highlight current promotions, boost sales, and build excitement for upcoming events? Do you update your displays as soon as a promotion is over? Make sure the content you’re displaying is up to date to avoid confusion among your customers..

  • Strategic placement. Where you place digital elements makes a difference. Used in strategic areas throughout the store, they can increase visibility and attract more customers. Where could you add digital to improve displays?

  • New uses. How else could digital improve your store experience? Consider using digital elements in product displays, on a feature wall, or in strategic locations for a digital product catalog or product locator. Or, highlight customer testimonials, how-tos, or product demos. The options are truly endless.

Digital elements provide an improved customer experience by engaging customers with interactive, informative, and entertaining displays. If you haven’t yet embraced digital displays in your brick and mortar, now is the time to incorporate them.

To Create a Positive First Impression Through Retail Design, Count on Miller Wittman

Revitalizing your retail environment like this will put you in a position to make a great first impression with customers. What’s more, it will help you energize your team, beat out the competition, and set the stage for your next generation of growth.

At Miller Wittman, we understand how to bring your store to life through intelligent, efficient retail design and a thorough process from site assessment to install. We’ll work closely with you to design a store that reflects how your business operates and how your departments function and interact to create an experience that makes a positive first impression with your customers.

To learn what Miller Wittman can do for your store, contact us here.