Every convenience store owner wants to increase their total retail sales. Doing so depends on utilizing the limited space of their store’s layout to present as many potential purchase options to customers as possible in a way that grabs their attention and creates a feeling of need for items that they have not yet considered. The problem is that when they start designing the layouts of their store, most convenience store owners frequently make several intuitive mistakes. Some of the most common mistakes include making the gondola shelves too tall, underutilizing end caps, making aisles too narrow and incorrect placement of the checkout counter.
The first mistake too many convenience store owners make is laying out tall long runs of gondola shelves like a series of massive library style bookshelves. The problem with this is that most people cannot stand being stuck in a library. When a customer feels like they are stuck in a library, the customer is sure to rush to the checkout counter and then rush out of your convenience store without looking at your products. While the convenience store owner’s instinct to want to display as many potential purchases to the customer with tall long runs of gondola shelves stacks is understandable but ultimately counterproductive. It both encourages your customers to ignore your products while requiring you to purchase more stock to keep your convenience store from looking like a ghost town. Consumers do not like to see partially stocked shelves. Instead, modern marketing research shows that to increase sales convenience store owners should lower their gondola shelves, shorten gondola shelves into several smaller runs, and widen the space between each gondola shelf. Now before you quit reading this article because this advice seems to counterintuitive to be accurate let us explain the research behind these statements. They are based on both market research & customer psychology. Most customers do not enter your store with the intent to take their time and browse the products on your gondola shelves. Customers come in with a mindset to get in and out as quickly as possible. To increase your sales you need to break that mindset and to do that means you need to be more creative and welcoming than an over packed library of products. Narrow, mile-long aisles with products stacked as high as the eye can see do not market your product to your customers, they tell your customer to run to the checkout counter and run out. Instead, lower the height of your gondolas shelves, remember your customers are most likely in a hurry and are not going to take the time to walk down each aisle so you want them to be able to see at least a portion of each aisle from anywhere in the store. This is how you present more products to your customer without them becoming overwhelmed. If your customer is presented with too many products at once they may feel like they need to know the Dewey Decimal system to find anything. Having gondola shelves beneath eye level not only lets customers see what is on the other aisles but also makes your store feel more open and less claustrophobic. Keep in mind people do not like to feel hemmed in, the smaller and more claustrophobic your convenience store feels the more likely customers are to rush thru it. Maintaining an open and welcoming atmosphere has a noticeable impact on customer’s willingness to pause, look around, and shop as opposed to rush thru the convenience store. Also when the Gondola shelves are beneath eye level and a customer sees a product they are interested in they can see a clear path to the product. This is important because most convenience store owners mistakenly think a customers’ number one motivation is price but a customers’ greatest actual motivation is convenience and speed. If the customer was primarily worried about price they would be shopping at Costco or on Amazon. The customer is at your convenience store for the convenience and every conceivable inconvenience you can eliminate is just a bit more likely you are to making a sale. However, if you are short on space and must raise your gondola shelves for adequate product space, a potential compromise is to have the upper shelves of the gondola recessed from the lower gondola shelves. Having the upper gondola shelf recessed allows for the products on both the upper and lower gondola shelves to stand out while also granting a sense of increased space. Needless to say, you can also have gondola shelves recessed that are beneath eye level but that mostly works to bring attention to products on the lower shelves. Wall shelving is another great way to take advantage of the space in your convenience store while displaying more products without making the store feel congested. You will want to leave the windows open for natural light but any wall without a window should have wall shelves as high as possible with as many products as possible. This works because it allows the center of the store to still feel like an open area and because a convenience store will only cover one or two walls with shelves. So as long as one or two walls are left for open windows it will not be overwhelming to the customer the way having every aisle stacked like a bookshelf would be.
The next mistake convenience store owners make is the very narrow aisles. Again it seems counterintuitive since narrow aisles mean more space to display products. However having more products on display does a convenience store no good if it is selling less of them. It only increases the cost of inventory. The advantage of wider aisles is that it prevents a single customer from being able to block an entire aisle, which is even more important if the aisle is long. We have all had the experience where we are in a grocery store with narrow aisles and we need a product from the other end of the aisle but somebody has parked themselves squarely in the middle of the aisle. So we are left with the choices of either sucking in our gut and struggling to squeeze past them, take the long route and go around, or just give up on finding the product. This experience is not unique to any of us and most people are shocked at how many other people chose to just give up on looking for the product. Marketing research shows that not only will customers not bother to go around but will avoid even entering an aisle if another customer is in the aisle and they cannot immediately perceive if there is enough space to comfortably walk past the other customer. Basically, if you have narrow aisles one customer ends up taking up the whole aisle but if your convenience store has wider aisles then several customers may enter an aisle so long as there appears to be enough space for them to comfortably walk by each other. This is important because 75% of all sales still occur in the center of most retail stores. Making sure the aisles of your convenience store are wide enough for customers to comfortably walk by each other is paramount to allowing them to get to where they will make the majority of their purchases. This may seem like a small obstacle to the center of the store but remember customer’s value convenience more than anything and every little inconvenience means fewer sales.
Breaking up long run shelves is another key feature of increasing a convenience store’s retail sales. Shorter shelving runs have three major benefits, they allow customers to more easily navigate the store, provide a more open and welcoming environment, and allow convenience stores to take advantage of the end cap effect. Long run aisles not only look like bookshelves but have a sort of tunnel vision effect on customers. Where rather than looking at the products on the gondola shelves the customer focuses their gaze on what is at the other end of the aisle, most often the checkout counter or the exit. As we’ve been over before that is bad. Having a store with a more open atmosphere is part of what keeps customers from developing this tunnel vision and shorter aisles offer a more open and welcoming feeling to people in general. Also, the space between separate shelving runs causes the customer to have a subconscious recognition that they have gone from one category of products to another. Usually, customers do not pay very much attention to the different categories of products on the shelves they have passed by but having the products physically separated by breaking up shelving runs works to highlight the difference between product categories. The shorter shelving runs make it more convenient for customers to navigate the store and as we have mentioned before convenience is the most important factor in encouraging customer’s purchases. More shelving breaks make getting around the store more convenient because it means there are more pathways to every corner of the store and most importantly to the center of the convenience store where most retail sales come from. Also while being able to see over the gondola shelves to see other parts of the store is a good idea, the customer and the cashier should be able to see the center of the store from any part of the convenience store. This is important for two reasons. One the cashier needs to be able to see all parts of the store to prevent pilferage, a surprising amount of theft happens from unlawful persons being able to hide their actions from view while behind a gondola shelf. Secondly, if the customer is going to enter the center of the store they are going to need to be lured there by being able to see the products on display in the center of the convenience store. Having the shelving broken up helps both the cashier and the customer see around the store; in particular, it helps the customer see more end caps and the center of the store from more angles.
The greatest advantage of having more breaks in the shelving run is the increase of the end cap effect. End caps are one of the most useful and misunderstood points of sale in any retail & convenience store. In most retail stores end caps display only about 2% of the total products in the store yet make up almost 30% of store sales. This makes end caps incredibly valuable to convenience stores and a prime location for high margin goods. There are lots of reasons products on end caps sell better than products in other parts of the convenience store. In part products on end caps stand out thanks to them not being located on the main shelf next to many similar items. End caps also stand out visually from the shelf and give any product on them a sense of distinction from being located in a more prominent position, a subtle advantage but a useful one for increasing sales. However, perhaps the biggest advantage products on end caps have is they usually do not offer the customer the chance to price compare them against other products in their category. End caps usually only display two to three products of different categories due to the end caps limited size. This helps customers not feel the need to compare the price of the product they are currently looking at to other products of a similar category because the competing products are not directly in front of the customer’s face. This grants two advantages, one the customer has less to think about and is, therefore, more prone to impulse purchases and two it makes the products less price sensitive making end caps an ideal place for high margin products. That is correct, end caps are not the spot to place items on sale, which is a mistake that tons of convenience store owners make. End caps are the place for the products you actually want to sell, the products with a high margin of return. If you place items on sale on the end cap you are most likely giving away otherwise earnable revenue because we go back to customer psychology, they put convenience first and price second. Research has shown that often customers who purchase items from end caps were not aware of the price before they reached the checkout counter. This makes products on end caps the least price sensitive products in the store, so placing them on sale is reducing their profit margin without adequately increasing their rate of sales.
Of course, these are just a few of the ways you can use the layout of your convenience store’s shelving to increase sales and if you retain Shopco’s committed and experienced design team we will be happy to provide you with even more great advice on how to improve the sales prospects of your convenience store.