How Spaces Make Us Spend

Building Shape

I have a question for the experts about architecture and businesses. I’ve been thinking lately about how big box stores are all laid out the same way, and how certain types of businesses have distinctive buildings with specific architectural features. What can the experts tell me about how commercial spaces draw us in and make us spend money?

When it comes to making us spend, architecture is the secret weapon of a great many businesses. While we’re not always conscious of it, the shape that we’re in has a powerful effect on us. It can encourage us to linger or move on, and it can get us to move in circles--or toward a certain point in the room. Businesses know this, and they use it to their advantage.

Take casinos, for instance. While the rise of online casinos--even in places like New Jersey, where brick and mortar competitors abound--has proven that gambling has an innate appeal even without any architectural help, it is also clear that the architecture of casinos works to keep gamblers spending. The conventional wisdom has changed over the years, as “maze-like” casinos (which made it harder for gamblers to quickly leave) are being supplanted by “barn-like” casinos (which use high ceilings and open spaces to create a sense of luxury that tempts gamblers to stay--no matter how easily they might leave).

The same logic applies to big box stores and grocery stores. The design of massive stores is very important, and experts working for the big chains make sure that they get everything right. They want to keep traffic jams to a minimum and make it easy for customers to circulate throughout the store, of course--but they also want to make sure that customers make the rounds as they shop, rather than simply darting in and out to get what they want (this is why experts recommend that you shop with a list--and stick to it--in order to counteract the store’s attempts to keep you browsing).

Layouts with aisles give a natural prominence to the ends of the shelves. So-called “end-cap displays” can boost sales for grocery stores and other types of stores, and marketers--as well as designers--know this.

The architecture of businesses isn’t all about tricks and strategies, of course. New York architects at Fontan Architecture design and renovate commercial spaces like restaurants, and point out that architecture is one way in which a business can give its customers what they want. The space of a restaurant is a huge part of its appeal--after the food itself, nothing defines eating out more than where “out” is--and architecture, along with decor, is vital to getting this feeling right.

Commercial spaces know how to make us spend, but they also know how to please customers. It’s wise to keep popular techniques in mind and remember tricks for counteracting them (such as shopping with a list, and sticking to it); but, ultimately, commercial architecture is part of what makes us prefer some businesses over others.

“Good design is good business.” -- Thomas J. Watson, Jr.

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