The art of persuasion

We’ve all been there, emerg­ing from IKEA mut­ter­ing I only went in for some tealights…how did I come out with two pil­lows, six wine glass­es and a lamp?” Or we’ve popped in to Wait­rose for oat milk and Erdinger and sud­den­ly felt com­pelled to host an impromp­tu barbecue.

In our favourite local, we’ve found our­selves mys­te­ri­ous­ly drawn, as if by trac­tor beam, to mak­ing a last-minute sub­sti­tu­tion of our usu­al tip­ple. Clutch­ing a sin­gle ori­gin choco­late stout, we’ve shak­en our heads bemus­ed­ly at what just happened.

Those with­out retail design expe­ri­ence might put these impulse pur­chas­es down to their adven­ture­some spir­it rear­ing its head – and to some extent that’s true – but we insid­ers know that there are also oth­er forces at play.

A wise client once told me retail is detail’. At the time I thought it just a nat­ty catch­phrase but the more we work with retail clients, the more that phrase res­onates. At its best, retail design real­ly is a process of mar­gin­al gains – of every lit­tle detail adding up to greater impact, cut-through and sales.

In today’s store envi­ron­ment, there’s no room for fluff. Every inter­ac­tion, every sale oppor­tu­ni­ty, mat­ters. It’s not enough for agen­cies to pick up a brief and design nice stuff. We must take the time to ensure we tru­ly under­stand the chal­lenge and then apply con­sid­er­able com­mer­cial nous – as well as real cre­ativ­i­ty – or the result will just be more stuff the cus­tomer doesn’t care about.

In cof­fee shop retail­ing, for exam­ple, we know that the major­i­ty of cus­tomers already know what they want before they walk in: their usu­al. There’s no brows­ing; it’s straight to the main event. With lim­it­ed space and cus­tomers hell-bent on exit­ing fast, how do you encour­age them to try new things?

In this kind of envi­ron­ment, retail design must start with a gen­uine under­stand­ing of the customer’s point of view. Most of us are laser focused on get­ting that cof­fee order in; every­thing else is a blur. But there are moments – once the order’s in and we’re wait­ing, per­haps – when com­mu­ni­ca­tion might be wel­comed. To spot these mes­sag­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, we must build up a vivid and com­pre­hen­sive pic­ture of the cus­tomer journey.

Sit­ting in a cof­fee shop and casu­al­ly ask­ing cus­tomers what com­mu­ni­ca­tions they remem­bered can be a hum­bling expe­ri­ence, but it’s also illu­mi­nat­ing. Armed with this knowl­edge, you can strip things right back, as we did with Cos­ta Coffee’s new store expe­ri­ence, and iden­ti­fy the right places for new prod­uct mes­sag­ing. The result was a stream­lined jour­ney with mes­sag­ing that gen­uine­ly cut through because it was appro­pri­ate, well-placed and efficient.

All in-store com­mu­ni­ca­tion must work har­mo­nious­ly for a joined-up expe­ri­ence, from the first glance up at the menu boards to the beep of a card tap. I don’t know if you’ve ever stud­ied menu boards and choice archi­tec­ture in foren­sic detail, but I have and it’s strange­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. We designed a new sys­tem for Cos­ta Cof­fee that used far big­ger boards, tilt­ed for­ward so cus­tomers could read them from fur­ther back in the queue, giv­ing them more time to browse. We reversed them too, so they read black-on-white – new to the sec­tor but far eas­i­er on the eye. Sim­ple com­mon-sense improve­ments to nav­i­ga­tion and prod­uct hier­ar­chy can instant­ly improve cut-through and shoppability.

The biggest bar­ri­er when it comes to try­ing some­thing new is fear of the unknown. How do I know I’ll like it? Know­ing this, we anchored Cos­ta Coffee’s menu board in well-known cof­fees and encour­aged cus­tomers to try craft cof­fees via a barista rec­om­mends board. New touch­points like beer mats and ramps gave a lit­tle bit more infor­ma­tion, offer­ing peo­ple help­ful hints as to flavour pro­files, out­lin­ing why if they liked a lat­te they might like a vel­vety flat white, and help­ing them to explore the offer. A grad­ual drip feed of cof­fee knowhow and intrigue can be real­ly effective.

It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that some­times as human beings all we want is a gen­uine rec­om­men­da­tion from peo­ple we trust. So, engag­ing with col­leagues ear­ly to help them deliv­er a new prod­uct expe­ri­ence can be key. When we were rebrand­ing and cre­at­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Cos­ta Coffee’s Char­ac­ter Roast, for exam­ple, we dis­cov­ered, per­haps unsur­pris­ing­ly, that a barista rec­om­men­da­tion was a far more effec­tive nudge than a graph­ic on a menu board could ever be.

Of course, our goal is always to delight clients with the cre­ativ­i­ty and thor­ough­ness of our retail design solu­tions. But to my mind there’s also some sat­is­fac­tion to be had in design­ing a cus­tomer jour­ney that offers room for peo­ple to break free of rou­tine, to think about the choic­es they are mak­ing and per­haps con­sid­er mak­ing a dif­fer­ent one. It may be some­thing as sim­ple as order­ing a dif­fer­ent style of cof­fee, but it can also be a way to get peo­ple to con­sid­er a health­i­er alter­na­tive, or decide to use a reusable cof­fee cup rather than a dis­pos­able one. Either way, smart com­mu­ni­ca­tion based on real under­stand­ing can lead the way.