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By: Ali Levy
August 2, 2012

Tips from merchandising guru, Ali Levy,
Picture this – you walk into an art gallery – excited to see a new exhibit you recently read about.  You’re expecting to be wowed – stopped in your tracks by vivid images, color and shapes.  Instead, it’s just visual crickets… zero…zipsnoozefest.  No signs – no great displays that allude to what’s to come.  Devoid of neither animation nor any level of excitement.  Or imagine this – it’s the height of the summer fruit and vegetable season – you head to your local grocer or farmers market to see what looks good.  But what you find instead is over ripe, moldy, picked over produce.  Clearly this would never happen in real life but you get the point.  As consumers, we want to be taken on a journey, even if for a short while.  There are right and wrong ways to treat your store entrance and this month we will explore some examples of both, along with ideas on how to make a WOW statement when shoppers enter your store each and every time.

Paco Underhill coined the term “decompression zone” in his book Why We Buy:  The Science of Shopping.  The exact size of the decompression zone depends on your overall footprint and store layout.  To best identify it, walk in and out of your front door pretending to be a customer.  How long does it take your eyes to adjust to the lighting and space?  How many steps do you need to take before you feel acclimated enough to move on?  For most stores it’s usually a few feet.  Just beyond the decompression zone is where you should place new merchandise and feature an engaging display that tells a very clear product story that serves as an introduction to what your store brand and vibe are all about.  This display can include clear signage, or some action images that further explain what your entrance display is saying about you and what you have to offer.

I was in this store recently.  This is their entrance.  Other than sunglasses and bikes, I wasn’t sure what else they were selling here.  They had just painted most of the walls black and for a summer day it felt very dark and heavy – not at all like an outdoor store. Also, when there is too much open space, shoppers can feel vulnerable and exposed and a bit uncomfortable.

During their morning and afternoon rush people fill the empty space above between the two cash wraps – one to the left and the other behind the Smith display – so one may not notice that it feels empty. Still, a grouping of mannequins to greet customers can easily fit in this area.  Or use nested tables that don’t take up much space.

Security systems are never sexy but necessary for some stores.  Here – that’s all we see because there is nothing else to focus on.  What does this store sell?  Again, a table display or some mannequins placed on either side of the stairway could tell some sort of product or activity story.  An engaging entrance display would also help direct traffic while distracting customers from the glaring security towers.

On the other hand, displays that greet you right away can be off putting.  You haven’t had enough time to decompress, so this mannequin and the floor fixture straight ahead are wasted efforts.  Now mind you – this shop is a difficult space as it’s a shotgun shape – long and narrow.  They would be best served to remove the mannequin and fixture and place them farther back into the store. Another thought is to hang images and signs from the ceiling – which is very high – to help make the space feel more intimate.  When you have a tough space like this, using your window displays effectively is a key way to create excitement and get shoppers in the door.

So to wrap up, your store’s entrance really sets the tone for the type of experience your customer is going to have.  You need to be cognizant of their personal space, yet quick enough to capture their attention once they walk through your doors.

  • Identify your store’s decompression zone.
  • Plan your entrance display just beyond this space – walk through your doors several times to get a feel of where an entrance display feels like a natural placement.
  • Use what works for your space – mannequins or tables or both – or look to the ceiling as display space if floor space is limited.
  • Fashion displays around a specific product story – include signs, images etc. to deliver your ideas in a clear and easy to interpret way.

Follow these rules – change your displays at least every two weeks and make every entrance into your store a WOW moment.  It will keep your customers coming back for more!

View this complete article and past merchandising articles and our Merchandising Monday’s quicktips at