PROFILE: Kate Nightingale

Kate Nightingale is a leading consumer psychologist and founder of consumer behaviour consultancy Style Psychology. She recently published the Sensory Retail Design report, which explores why certain retail environments are more commercially effective than others. She talks to Rebecca Nottingham about how consumer minds work and the power of senses in retail design


Your recent report talks about how sensory retail design influences consumer behaviour and how consideration of this can make retail spaces more commercially effective. Can you explain what that really means in relation to showroom design?
The human brain has the ability to process 11 million bits of information per second on a subconscious level, but can barely manage to process 40 on a conscious level. This means that our brain picks up everything that happens around us instantly and uses it to form a judgement on situations, people or brands, as well as inform our behaviour. Any retail environment naturally contains plenty of sensory information, which affects our perception of the brand, the time we choose to dwell and the amount of money we spend. A space that has been consciously designed to create the best possible experience is more likely to have the most positive effect on consumer behaviour and be more commercially effective.

How does that translate to independent KBB retailers who may be on a budget and have limited showroom space?
Good retail design doesn’t have to be expensive. The basic principle is to consider the behaviour of consumers when they’re buying a kitchen, bedroom or bathroom and make the buying decision as simple and pleasant as possible. That can be achieved by creating a warm and cosy environment conducive to browsing and social interaction, encouraging customers to chat with sales assistants and talk about the products in the showroom. For example, retailers should consider putting in a seating area where they can sit down and talk to customers. How soft or hard your seats are will determine how long the customer will be willing to spend on the discussion. So, if you want them to sit longer, choose soft seating.

Is this all about designing the right showroom from the start? Or can these principles be applied on a continual basis?
It’s best to design a retail space well from the start, so that you include all aspects of behaviour and emotional experience in the design, as well as including the cues that enhance customer spending. However, if a retailer has recently invested in their showroom and doesn’t have the budget, adding small touches, like fresh flowers, freshly brewed coffee or suitable music, can really boost the experience and therefore customer spending.

What is the right kind of in-store experience for KBB studios?
That very much depends on each individual brand. Retail experiences should be designed to suit the personality of the retail brand and its target customer. The basic principle, however, is that it should be designed to make shopping easy, entertaining and engaging, but never overwhelming. There is a strong push on the experiential aspects of retail at the moment – anything that helps the customer imagine themselves in their new kitchen, bedroom or bathroom.

Nightingale created this stand at the Retail Design Expo to highlight the importance of connecting with the customer
Nightingale created this stand at the Retail Design Expo to highlight the importance of connecting with the customer

Buying a kitchen or bathroom is not a snap decision. How does this all relate to long-term buying processes like those of buying a kitchen or bathroom?
As well as the emotional investment, KBB retailers have the additional problem of managing the substantial financial investment that comes with the purchase of a kitchen, bedroom or bathroom. Therefore, strong customer service is crucial, but there are also various sensory elements of the environment, like sounds and scents, that can put customers at ease, decrease the overall level of anxiety and help close a sale. Sensory cues are also the ones that communicate the expertise and trustworthiness of the retailer’s brand. For example, studies prove that hard seating in retail environments subconsciously communicates that the brand is trustworthy and dependable, but not that friendly. It also comes down to understanding how the decision process of buying a kitchen, bedroom or bathroom really happens in the brain. And actually, 95% of our decisions are subconscious, even big decisions like that.

What role does technology play in all of this?
Incorporating technology in showrooms can facilitate the ease of shopping. However, it needs to be carefully thought through. Will your customers really appreciate the technology? Do they really need it, or would they prefer to speak to you? Is it consistent with your brand personality and your brand experience? These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself when considering including technology as part of the showroom experience.

What are the most important factors of good showroom design?
The story. People store objects in stories, not in isolation. Our minds are also not that great at imagination and product manipulation. So the more stories you can show them, the more ideas of creating their dream lifestyle, the more they will engage emotionally. From there to purchase, it’s a mere step.

What are the key principles of the physical process of designing the showroom?
Start with your brand. The number of times the company doesn’t understand what its brand stands for is astonishing. It is not your logo. It is not your name. It is the dream, the promise, the lifestyle, the personality you are selling. Research shows that our brain perceives brands as human beings. The mental models we build of brands resemble those models we build for other people. When we [Style Psychology] work with the retail brand and architects/interior designers to design premises, we start with identifying brand personality, then we establish brand experience across all steps of the customer journey in that space. And finally, we create the sensory brand signature.

What are the benefits for independent retailers of creating the right sensory retail experience?
The benefits are endless. The time customers take to dwell on the purchase, customer spend, customer loyalty, word-of-mouth recommendation – those are just some areas that can be strategically influenced by a well-designed sensory store.

How do you inject uniqueness, creativity and innovation into the design, so that it’s not just another KBB showroom?
That boils down to each individual brand. It’s looking at what interesting personality characteristics the brand has that we can play with in the design of the environment or the customer/brand interaction.

As the retail landscape changes, is there always going to be room on the high street for KBB showrooms? Some experts suggest that the ‘traditional’ KBB showroom needs to evolve or it will die…
People still need to see, touch and experience certain purchases, especially such personal ones as home décor. The innovation in technology allows you to create all possible imaginary designs. But that sensory interaction with the product you are looking to invest in will be key. The human brain habituates to familiar environments very easily and is then incapable of paying attention to what is displayed within them, even if a product is new. The majority of KBB showrooms look exactly the same to consumers. Rather than evolving, think about what makes your brand unique and use that as a key accent in your showroom.

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