Do shoppers turn left or right in stores?

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Posted on 13 February 2018 in

Store planning: art, science or popular myth

Customers turn right in shops… or do they. In terms of understanding customer shopping behaviour, this is probably one of the most widely repeated claims, but is this well worn phrase a myth or reality?

According to studies, 70%-90% of the world’s population is right handed, meaning that the majority of people who are stronger on their right, generally reach with their right hand and tend to be drawn to the right hand side of any space. This would seem to support the theory that customers do indeed turn right but when it comes to customer behaviour I would argue that reality is a little more complex than that.

An alternative theory suggests that people navigate shops based on the side of the road they drive on (i.e. people turn left in the UK and right in the USA), but over many years studying customer traffic flow in a wide variety of retail industries and in countries across the world, we would say that the chances of people turning right or left are about as even as a coin landing heads or tails – or toast landing butter side up.

So where does this leave our ability to predict or understand shopper behaviour?

In fact, there are factors which affect any “propensity” to turn in a particular direction. Understanding these factors and their influence on customer behaviour can help us anticipate the direction of footfall and produce effective store layout plans that maximise retail performance.

Product Categorisation

Clear product categorisation, visible on the threshold or even from outside the store, probably plays the biggest part in influencing direction of footfall on entry. Customers looking for specific items or categories use visual cues to decide how they will navigate the store space, and the influence of visual merchandising and categorisation in relation to destination categories is particularly strong.

Visual links between the outside and the inside of the store also have an impact. Product promotions presented in the shop window and displayed in a similar way in store pull customers in a very definite direction through the shop.

Store position

Most people do not approach stores in a straight line. Angles of approach are often determined by external factors such as the position of columns, parked cars or shopping mall escalators. These external factors therefore have a strong bearing on which side of the store is most easily visible and accessible.

Combine these factors with shoppers’ tendency to turn at 45 degree angles and not to turn back on themselves, and the most likely outcome is they will continue travelling into the store in the direction they came from.

Position of staff & service counters

The impact of staff and service counters varies according to the retail environment.
In service environments, such as mobile phone stores or banks, people tend to head straight for the counters upon entry, regardless of position in store; direction of footfall is fairly easy to predict. This is in contrast to “browsing” environments, for example, clothes stores or supermarkets, where people tend to avoid counters and staff until they either require assistance or are ready to pay.

Position of entry doors

In theory, doors situated in the centre of a store give people a choice regarding their direction upon entry (although of course other elements then come into play). Of centre entries, however, have a clear impact on traffic flow direction, naturally encouraging customers to get closer to a particular side of the store.

In conclusion

Taking all these factors into account, whether a shopper turns left or right (or indeed walks straight ahead) is very much dependent on the internal and external influences affecting a particular retail site. Successful retail store planning is therefore about using this knowledge in the design of store layout plans to guide shoppers in the direction you want them to go. And while there may e little that can be done to change external factors, it is possible to create a store plan that works with the external environment to maximise in store potential.

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