10 practical psychological tips for shop and product range design

Dirk Ziems

Rochus Winkler “Fortunately, despite the synthesis of online/offline shopping, local shopping at the POS has not fallen entirely out of fashion. Here are some psychological tips which you should know about!”


1.     Always keep the big picture in mind

The atmosphere conveyed and overall impression are decisive factors in the run-up to buying

The customer always has a general image – at least unconsciously – of a shop, a shelf etc, and always sees this through the glasses of their complex consumer mind. As soon as people enter a shop, they are caught up in the overall atmosphere of a full-range shop, discounter, delicatessen etc, and this affects their behaviour. Perception of a product’s quality and value for money depends not only on the price, but on the atmosphere.


2.     Don’t be misled by simple “stimulus-response” thinking

No matter how attractive they seem, isolated incentives don’t work.

“You have to create incentives,” is quickly and all too easily said. When we perceive something, it isn’t a matter of simply forming a pattern of stimuli on our retina which are sent to the brain. We always produce whole images which we invest with meaning. In other words: we perceive everything through our senses, and immediately attribute a sense to everything as a result (even if it’s non-sense).

This is particularly impressively shown by looking at a reversible image (e.g. the young/old woman). At any given moment, we can only see one figure against one background. If we try to see the other figure, the interpretation suddenly reverses. Under the simple stimulus approach, we should actually only see unorganised black and white spots – and certainly not a switch in representation.


3.     Never forget: the whole is more than the sum of its parts

In perception, we put all the elements together in a whole – and that includes what we don’t see (e.g. unconscious elements).

The merger of perceived elements to give a perceived whole follows rules whose guiding principle is suprasummativity. In a mental context, 1+1 is at least 3.

An example: for a consumer, “a thousand things under one roof” can be a consumer temple, a paradise, a warehouse, a junk shop or a labyrinthine obstacle course – in any case, something more and different than a large range of products. It depends on how the products are organised, including in our perception. However disorganised it’s supposed to be, the salesroom is not a jumble or a collection of stimuli – it’s a mental space, or more accurately a space of mental effects, which are divided into conscious and unconscious.

Kaufhof was certainly on the right track when it called itself “Galeria”. The name no longer stands for a wide purchasable range of goods in a spot not far from a Kaufhalle store, but describes a categorised, relatively pleasantly designed and organised shopping experience space.


4.     Take care what neighbourhood your products are living in

It’s the same for product placement as for real estate in the city: there are good locations and bad ones.

In all your designs, make use of the figure-background principle and the law of proximity. The product environment is the background which helps determine how the product itself is perceived. If you want to sell a high-end perfume successfully, you shouldn’t present it on europallets in the cold light of bare fluorescent tubes next to cheap household goods. An exclusive environment unconsciously enhances the value of a product – a cheap one downgrades it.


5.     Always think in contrasts – the customer is inconsistent

In the purchase decision, the customer acts inconsistently, even if they are unaware of this.

Have you ever asked yourself why there’s a “cream yoghurt diet”? Psychological speaking, there are always two hearts beating in the consumer’s breast – at least. On the one hand, there are alluring desires, wishes and cravings. On the other hand there’s the inhibiting influence of morals, conscience and common sense. Successful product, brand or product range design builds a bridge between these two worlds which the buyer is happy to cross. Many sweets which have dubious value nutritionally speaking take this approach, and throw the conscience a bone with the “extra serving of milk”.

Even strict mothers will turn a blind eye to this. What applies to sweets on a small scale also applies to store design as a whole. The bare atmosphere of a discounter arouses the impression that this is the place for justified basic supplies, not a site for the next shopping orgy.


6.     Help the customer with navigation

Instead of appealing relentlessly to drives or needs, provide “lighthouses” for the customer to orient themselves.

If you provide a consistent balance of allurement and justification for the customer, you will get further than if you simply appeal to unrestrained desire and greed.

What’s needed is a middle course, justifying the purchase despite the objections to it.

For example, selling sweets. Consumers generally have a strong childish craving for sweets which doesn’t need further encouragement. Instead, special attention is needed to the contrary adult restraints. A display of chocolate bars can be designed as a slender “lighthouse” in the endless sea of products, its shape communicating the product promise that this pleasure won’t make you fat.


7.     Be sophisticated in segmentation

Range and product presentation should follow the ideal of unity in diversity

Excessive uniformity – for example, through a dominant colour or inadequately varied packaging shape – confronts customers with a shelf of blocks of brands which they back away from, disoriented or dazed by colour.

By contrast, excessive segmentation and unsystematic product individuality seem chaotic – there is no room for a valuable brand impression to emerge, or the product choice seems unmanageable.

The Nivea brand is an ideal example of the development of a product range architecture. In its internal segmentation, the brand works with colour graduations, packaging forms and settings which preserve brand identity despite the diversity. However, colour coding needs care. It is often used with packaging to indicate specific product categories and evoke associations and emotional responses typical of the culture. However, in times of multiculturalism and globalisation, this provides opportunities to slip up. Depending on the context, yellow stands for luck (closeness to sun, gold) or for danger. In the USA and UK it’s associated with cowardice, in Japan with membership of the aristocracy..


8.     Don’t worry about paradoxes: less is more

Overstocked sales rooms can make the customer want to get away as quickly as possible

A lumped-together undifferentiated product range can be oppressive, and arouse a desire in customers to get out of the shop as quickly as possible.

You may be familiar with the sad story of the hungry sweet eater. He exits the motorway to fill up before he reaches his destination. But the car isn’t the only thing needing sustenance. The driver heads for the next petrol station and goes into the shop. Here, all he sees is chaos, a forest of “reduced!” signs – confused and disappointed by the discount atmosphere, he goes to the cash register, where he’s faced by a disorganised tray of sweets, the counter is full (the attack of the killer sweets) – his overloaded appetite for sweets gives up, unable to choose.

He’s lost all desire to look around quietly for other sweets, and hungry and thirsty he drives to a new, modern self-service store. A reduced range, arrangement and highlights with small product islands would have made him a happy hunter at his first stop.


9.     Remember that consumers aren’t cool-headed calculators

Consumers and mental arithmetic.

Purchasers calculate on the basis of holistic logic, which doesn’t work the same way as the mathematical logic you learn at school.

On example is the frequent “extra size” labels, with the apparently free additions – 10% more here, 50 g more there, two extra washes free over there. Simple logic says that a total price is paid for the total quantity.

But consumers see this differently. The label “18 + 2 washes” on a laundry detergent pack seems cheaper than 20 washes at the same price – conscious awareness rejoices at the message of the “deal”, and overlays actual reality.


10.  If you want to sell something expensive, put it near more expensive things

Price evaluation also follows the law of figure (individual price) and background (price environment) – it matters what prices are found in the neighbourhood

If you want to sell something expensive, you have two possibilities. Either you put it near something even more expensive, or you place it between a cheap product and an expensive one.

If customers have a choice between two more or less equivalent appearing products (for example, bottles of wine), they choose the cheaper product nine times out of ten. If you add another product, this changes the coordinate system of consumer perception, which is relative rather than absolute. By adding the third product, the originally most expensive product now seems significantly cheaper – and this gives the customer the opportunity to yield to their own fantasies of enrichment (not always buying the cheapest) without seeming wasteful (the most expensive product was left on the shelf).



Rochus Winkler
Co-Founder and Shareholder


Dirk Ziems
Dirk Ziems ist Experte für tiefenpsychologisches Marketing und berät auf Basis von Markt-, Medien- und Kulturforschung weltweit Unternehmen und Konzerne in zahlreichen Branchen und Ländern. Als Mitbegründer der Global Research Boutique Concept M und der Marketingberatung Flying Elephant begleitet er Themen wie die Adaption von Erfolgsprodukten in neuen kulturellen Kontexten, das tiefe Verständnis neuer Konsumgenerationen in China und USA, die Transformation der Werbekommunikation in der neuen digitalen Medienwelt oder die Neuorientierung der Brands in Post-Corona-Zeiten. Dirk Ziems ist auch als Gastdozent an verschiedenen Universitäten tätig.

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