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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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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 stayed.

Store Decor

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.

Color Psychology

Once, 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 spend.

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 tranquility.

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 two!

Note: 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:

1. “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 www.chashow.org.

 KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

Keynotes | Seminars | Consulting | Store Design

103 North 11th Ave., Ste. 206, St. Charles, Illinois 60174
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