Retail Psychology: How to Use Colors and Shapes to Convert Shoppers

Coloured pencils

While it’ll be great to preach about how it’s only the inside that counts and that the best product–regardless of how it looks–always wins, that isn’t really the case in retail. With 93% of consumers placing visual appearance above other factors when shopping, it’s pretty obvious that looks matter (a lot) in this industry.

You could have a really awesome store but if you can’t present it in a way that would be irresistible to your target audience, they’re not going to check it out.

Fortunately, there are a number of psychological strategies you can implement to make your store more attractive. Below are a few insights you can look into:



Colors can influence perceptions and actions for consumers, so pick your palette wisely.

Here’s a rundown of what basic colors mean and how they’re used in retail environments:

Red – This gives people a sense of urgency, which makes it ideal when you’re running a time-sensitive promotion or a clearance sale. The color red encourages people to take action and to do it quickly, which is also why a lot of fast food restaurants adopt the color in their stores.

Blue – Blue evokes trust and security, which is why most banks incorporate it in their logo and marketing collateral. It also encourages calmness and can be used to soothe customers.

Green – Like the color blue, green also has a calming and soothing effect, so you can use it when you want to reassure customers and encourage trust. It’s also linked to growth, nature, and wealth.

Yellow – Yellow arouses the appetite, which is probably why a lot of fast food chains use it in their stores. The color also evokes energy and is used to grab customer attention.

Black – Class, sophistication, and sleekness are the most common things associated with black, which is why it’s frequently used when marketing luxury products.


Before you pick up your paintbrush…

It’s important to remember that these color meanings and perceptions aren’t set in stone. Society and ethnicity can play a huge part in how colors are perceived. As Retail Customer Experience put it, while people share similar responses to colors, cultural variations still exist.

For instance, the color red denotes energy in the west and joy in some Asian countries but it also signifies mourning in certain parts of Africa.  And white may be associated with weddings or purity in western cultures, but it is the color of death in China.

In addition, age and demographics can affect how people perceive colors. Younger people for example are more receptive towards bright colors, while seniors prefer subtle hues.

Be sure to do your research on your target market. Where are they from? How old are they? Get the answers to these questions and run tests before making any big color-centric decisions.




The shapes of your products, packaging, shelves, and other store elements can make or break consumers’ purchase decisions.


People prefer rounded corners over sharp edges

Got a lot of sharp edges in your store? You may want to rethink your design, because it looks like curved or rounded edges have a bigger appeal on consumers.

In his book, The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind, author A. K. Pradeep said that in their studies across categories and retailers, they “found display devices with rounded edges to have greater levels of neurological effectiveness, and shelf dividers known as ‘blades’ with rounded edges to outperform regular linear dividers.”

In another study for a food manufacturer, they found that rounded aisle designs outperformed others, and rolling out the design in test markets resulted in a 15% increase in sales.


Packages that fit better, perform better

And it’s not just about how something looks. The feel of a product can also have an effect on customer attention and engagement. In their other studies, Pradeep said they found “packages that facilitated a comfortable fit in the hand presented the greatest stimulation and trumped those that did not.”

Pick up some of the items in your store. How do they feel? Do they fit comfortably in your hand? If not, they could be bringing about negative perceptions with customers.


Shape affects volume perception

Want to convey high product volume? Don’t rely on package labels alone. Studies have shown that consumers don’t pay as much attention to labels, as they do to package size and shape.

In a Berkeley study, it was found that elongated containers are perceived to contain higher volume compared to less elongated ones.


Putting these insights into action

Psychological studies and statistics are great and all, but they will only take you so far. How colors and shapes affect your customers will ultimately depend on the nature of your business and your target audience.

Always test before fully implementing these insights. For instance, if you’re planning to reinvent the color scheme of your brand, first run an online ad campaign featuring different creatives then track the number of clicks for each one. That should give you an idea of which design resonates most with your audience.

Looking to improve the look of your packaging, shelves, or other store components? Test out new designs in just  one store or one department before rolling them out completely.

Or better yet, gather intel directly from your customers. Conduct surveys, focus groups, or start discussion on your social media pages to get input.

Finally, always remember that while looking good may entice people to walk through your doors, the quality of your products and customer service are what keeps them coming back, so be sure to deliver.

Image credit:  Alan Cleaver,  hyku on Flickr

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About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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