Would You Rather Look Like A Cheap Hooker Or A Stylish Seductress?

Shopfronts or store windows are the most misunderstood and mistreated spaces in modern retail. Many retailers simply do not understand the concept of the ‘wrapping creating the expectation for the present inside’. There is a disease spreading across the retail landscape – sometimes propagated by landlords who are not retailers but property people – to open up the front of the store or put as much activity as possible on the lease-line.

Let me put it this way.

What do you find more enticing, a cheap hooker who lets it all hang out with everything on display and leaving nothing to the imagination or a stylish seductress who understands how to stimulate your imagination?

Contemporary visual merchandising and store design traces its origins back to the advent of the modern department store. The first of these was Le Bon Marche when it consolidated itself in 1855 in Paris to become the first department store of scale under one roof. Along with its Victorian era contemporaries these department stores established the principles of how to design and operate a store to affect maximum productivity.

They started with ‘window boxes’. Little theatre sets designed to seduce the customer to want to go inside to see what is new. They were not glass openings to look into the store but controlled spaces to show newness and themes that made passers-by want to enter the store. In this era it would have been much cheaper to have glass openings that let loads of daylight into the store. But basic human psychology meant that if the customer could see straight in they could decide – with no commitment on their part – whether it was worthwhile or not to enter the store.

Furthermore, it is far easier to focus the customer’s attention and to plant an idea in their mind through a small space theatre set than in the first impression gained by viewing the entire floor. Visual confusion is not a retailer’s friend when trying to pre-condition a customer.

There are many notable exceptions to the current ‘open-front’ plague. Tiffany with their ‘picture windows’ are an obvious one as are Louis Vuitton, Hermes and many of the luxury brands. But even in more mainstream mass-retail businesses like Target and Zara do the same. There are those who even take it to an extreme like Hollister and Ruehl – both part of Abercrombie and Fitch. Hollister appears to be a Hawaiian beach house while Ruehl looks like a New York brownstone on the outside. Very little product is showing and it is the compulsion of the shopper to know what is going on inside that ensures they go inside.

Today in retail the hardest thing to achieve is to get customers to willingly want to invest their time with you and to have been preconditioned to look for something rather than aimlessly browse with no sense of commitment.

Rediscovering what the outside of the store is there to do will help you go a long way to lifting the performance of your stores on the inside.