the evolution of retail experience

A couple of years ago, I was musing about how miserable an experience it is to trudge around in giant warehouse-style retail outlets with their concrete floors and gloomy aisles:

Large, warehouse retail environments are damned unfriendly… nearly all the home repair and office supply stores fall into this category. […] I am betting there’s a big market for a friendly office store, with a more sensible (task-based?) layout.

Dan Hartung replied that a lot of thought went into those store designs, and while I was willing to concede the point, it still seemed like there was an opportunity being missed.

That made this excerpt I found today in Baseline (by far the best business technology magazine in existence, and kudos to Ziff Davis for that) all the more satisfying:

[S]hopping experience at Lowe’s is not haphazardly guided. Lowe’s shuns standard warehouse techniques such as “pallet drops” and “dump bins” where merchandise is put at the end, or middle of aisles, to move it quickly. Instead, the company uses “planograms”�data-driven shelf plans�to influence where and at what level it puts every product it sells.

…Lowe’s cares what goes where. Consider one of its most important aisles: fashion lighting. End-caps at Lowe’s can have items such as chandeliers with Italian crystal beads with prices topping $200. In the aisle itself, lighting fixtures hang against realistic backdrops depicting a living room. Pricier items are typically at eye level, following merchandising conventions, with high-turnover impulse purchases such as dimmer switches and 40-watt light bulbs always in reach.

Lowe’s lighting aisle and other design areas use such “atmospherics” to increase the willingness of customers to buy, says Michael Levy, a retailing expert at Babson College. The key is to allow a customer to visualize a project, easily find items specific to that project and then purchase them.

In all, it sounds as if Lowe’s is on the right track. And I have to confess no small amount of satisfaction in the fact that those of us who’ve had weblogs for years can reference back to conversations that began three and a half years ago and continue them today. Both the increasing success of Lowe’s and the increasing popularity of weblogs are proof of what a focus on good user experience can yield.