A view of the industry through the
eyes of independent and chain retailers.
Color Psychology: The Use of Color in Store Design
Your store's color scheme can
boost sales, or kill them.
by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (July 19, 2010)
There is no reality in retailing
today, only perception. Customers make value judgments about your
store within the first 10 seconds of contact. It isn’t fair but we
all do it. You’ve spent hours in stores because you felt comfortable
being there. You’ve also walked into stores and walked back out just
as quickly. Each store’s décor had something to do with how long you
The first thing shoppers will
notice inside your store is your décor package; we say “package”
because all of the elements – walls, flooring, primary and accent
colors, fixturing, signing, wall striping, etc., -- must work
together to tell a single story.
There are two kinds of colors
used in store décor: Primary Color (neutrals) and Secondary Colors
(bold accent colors). The primary color should be 80% of your
store’s décor; its job is to create a relaxed atmosphere for
customers to shop. Your accent Color(s) take up the remaining 20% of
your décor. You can go with a Monochromatic Color Scheme – the use
of a single color in varying shades – or a Compleimentary Color
Scheme, creating a color contrast by selecting colors directly
opposite each other on the color wheel.
Whenever we do a presentation on
store design, we always ask everyone to take a look around the
meeting room. Convention centers and hotels work with interior
designers to choose décor colors that make sure attendees stick and
stay. We’ve yet to find a meeting room that doesn’t follow the 80/20
décor rule. Color plays a big role in how customers perceive your
store, so before you run to the paint store, you’ve got to
understand how color will affect your customers.
after a presentation on store design, a retailer sheepishly
approached us and asked if we’d take a look at photos of his newly
remodeled store – his newly remodeled BRIGHT RED store. Instead of
a store planner, he had hired an interior designer with wild ideas.
The floors were shiny red, the fixtures were red, the walls were
red, the checkout counters were red – you get the picture. Red is a
great accent color because it stimulates shoppers to make quick
decisions, but as a primary color it’s a bust. Too much red can be
agitating. So we asked the retailer to place an associate at the
front of his store for two weeks to clock how long customers stayed
in the store. Just as we suspected, customers didn’t stay any longer
than they had to, if they stayed at all. To get sales back on track,
the retailer had to re-do his entire store. That’s the power color
has on your business.
Red is the color most used in
packaging because of its “LOOK AT ME!” qualities – red grabs
attention. Look closely at grocery aisles and you’ll notice that
over 80% of the items have red on their labels. On the sales floor,
red is most often used to announce a sale or a sharp price.
Red is an aggressive color that
many people cannot tolerate in large doses. Exposure to the color
red actually speeds up our metabolism. It has been proven to raise
blood pressure and increase respiration rates. Too much red can make
people anxious, even angry. And like our retailer friend found out,
too much red can drive customers away.
Pink is a happy, romantic,
light-hearted color. There’s a reason Pepto-Bismol is pink; like the
color itself, it’s soothing. Sports teams have been known to paint
guest locker rooms pink to drain the opposing team’s energy. But you
have to be careful with pink: it’s a two-faced color. The best
illustration of this is a study conducted on dangerous prisoners.
When the prisoners where locked in a cell with pink walls, the color
calmed them – for about 20 minutes. After that, the color made the
prisoners more violent than before they entered that pretty pink
cell. (Immediately after reading this study, Georganne painted over
the pink walls in her then tween daughter’s bedroom. It’s green now;
you’ll find out why in a minute.)
Orange just makes people happy.
It’s the color of energy and enthusiasm, and it has a positive
affect on people. Orange is a motivating attention-getter that just
makes you feel good.
Yellow is an optimistic color.
It’s warm and cheery – the color of the sun. Have you ever wondered
why legal pads are yellow? The color is supposed to help with
concentration. We see yellow before we see any other colors. It’s
especially effective when used with black, that’s why “Caution” and
other important signs use this color combination. But too much
yellow can be hard on the eyes, causing fatigue or agitation – not
good for quilters. And there are plenty of studies that show babies
cry more in yellow rooms.
Green is calming and refreshing,
the color of nature. A popular color in home décor, studies have
shown that green is relaxing and the easiest color on the eye. That
being said, be careful of using too much dark green in your store
décor; it’s too easily equated with money. You want customers to
shop in peace, not be concerned with the money they are about to
Brown signifies warmth and
security. It’s a stable, dependable, down-to-earth color. Lately,
brown has moved uptown, becoming all the rage in home décor and
fashion – we’re seeing a lot of products in combinations of brown
and pink, and brown and teal. Various shades of brown in leather and
wood have always been popular choices for store fixturing.
Blue is the poster child color
of interview attire because it represents trust and loyalty and
confidence. The 80/20 rule works with clothing, too: turn on the TV
and you’ll see politicians and anchormen wearing dark blue suits
with bright ties.
Blue is used in office settings
because studies show people are more productive when surrounded by
it. It’s also said to lower your pulse rate. Blue is commonly used
in airplane décor because of its calming qualities. And hospitals
rely on light blue to help with healing and to invoke feelings of
Purple is a rare color that
doesn’t happen too often in nature. Perhaps that’s why it’s widely
considered the color of royalty. Purple is typically used to
symbolize luxury, wealth and sophistication.
White is clean and bright. It’s
used to portray light and purity. White has been referred to as the
absence of color and also the color of perfection. While it’s a good
primary color, it’s hard to take when used all by itself. There used
to be a designer shoe store in Las Vegas that was done entirely in
white. From the outside the store glowed, and the merchandise really
stood out. Inside, the décor was too stark and too bright. It took a
few moments for your eyes to adjust, not exactly a good thing when
the goal is to make customers spend quality time in the store.
Black is at the other end of the
spectrum. It’s been described as the presence of all color and it’s
an attention grabber. Black really makes merchandise pop; that’s why
it’s a favorite décor choice in electronics stores. It can make a
space seem smaller, the same way a black suit can make you look
slimmer. Black is a good color to paint a high ceiling. By making
the ceiling almost disappear, the space becomes more intimate.
What To Do Next
Decisions, decisions! You can
get started by spending an hour or two at the library looking
through interior design books and magazines. You can peruse the
upscale shops in town to get a feel for how store decor works; rest
assured, they have paid someone big bucks to choose their colors.
Model homes and five-star hotels are a good bet as well. You can
hire a store planner or an interior decorator. Or you can just do it
yourself. What’s the worse thing that can happen? You paint
the walls another color. Sure that takes time, but not a whole lot
of money. Paint and hardware stores offer free design help and free
color charts. And if you aren’t into commitment, many paint
companies sell tiny sample jars so you can test drive the color
first. Another great resource is the Colourlovers.com (Color +
Design Community). Colourlovers offers real-life examples of current
color combinations used by others.
At the end of the day, your store décor must do
two things: make shoppers feel comfortable in the store, and most
importantly, let the merchandise shine. You’ll want to choose a
color scheme that suits your merchandise, your space, and your brand
identity. And as always, if you’re not sure what to do first, give
us a call or drop us an e-mail. We’re always good for an idea or
To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand
column. Rich and Georganne will be conducting the following seminars
at the CHA summer show in Rosemont next month:
“Extreme Retail Makeover: The Customer Experience - Hiring and
Keeping Good People To Keep Your Customers Coming Back” on Mon.,
July 26, 1:30-2:30 pm.
2. “Social Media for Retailers: A Step by Step Guide to Join the
Conversation” on Tues., July 27, Noon – 2:00 pm.
3. “Extreme Retail Makeover: Power Merchandising for Profit” on
Wed., July 28, 10:00 am – 11:00 am.
For more show information and to order tickets, visit
KIZER & BENDER Speaking!
Keynotes | Seminars | Consulting | Store Design
103 North 11th Ave., Ste. 206,
St. Charles, Illinois 60174
Phone: 630-513-8020 | 24/7 Mobile: 708-347-2682 Fax: 630-513-8098
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