As the nation’s biggest retailers get into the beauty game, you need to step up your own by learning how your clients shop. Some of the industry’s top experts in consumer behavior teach you how to design retail environments that encourage the purchase.

A Window into the Consumer Mind

You’re not Sephora, and you
don’t want to look as if you
are. But you have to admit:
Mass retailers know a little something
about selling product. Perhaps you
could strike a palatable balance if
you could retain your emphasis on
service while still taking a few cues
from the people whose very displays
seem able to reach out and flip open
consumers’ wallets.

“Your clients are the same people
who walk into Crate and Barrel,” says
Eurisko President Leon Alexander,
who also holds a Ph.D. in behavioral
psychology. “Your environment
should be designed around the
consumer’s needs and maximizing
the dopamine in the brain to get that
consumer into buying mode.”

Observations like those have
grown a new interdisciplinary field,
environmental psychology, which
studies the ways that our surroundings
influence us. Data gathered by
environmental psychologists give
retailers the insight to think like a

John Moroney came into the
beauty industry when professional
product lines were just beginning
to consider how to help salons
showcase products to their best
advantage. “Merchandising was a
fledgling science,” recalls Moroney,
now vice-president of salon business
development for P&G Salon
Professional. “Should you put products
at eye level? How should you
arrange them? Since that time, we’ve
learned that it’s less important to
arrange the products a certain way
than it is to understand who the
shopper is and what she’s looking
for. Retailing is not about products;
it’s about shoppers.”

Indeed, while stylists may refer
to their guests and management may
attempt to anticipate the behavior of
consumers, Moroney says the big retailers
delineate further to prepare their
space for shoppers. “As a consumer,
a woman might be open to a product
she reads about it in a magazine,” he
explains. “If that product is hard to
acquire, the same woman as a shopper
will probably not be as open to
it. If you want your client to think
like a shopper, make sure your retail
space is set up to enable that.”

Typically, salons with high product
sales train and even script their
stylists to become partners in retailing.
But there is a silent partner
working for you as well, and that’s
the visual display. It’s not a bad fallback
position to have retail sell itself,
notes Jonathan Loew, co-owner of
Design Display Group in Carstadt,
New Jersey. “Salons should think
about how to tell the product’s story
without necessarily relying on the
professional recommendation,” he

Owners talk a lot about providing an
experience for clients, and today’s progressive
approach to retailing dovetails with
that goal. “Pioneers in merchandising are
not designing the space around service,”
Alexander says. “They’re designing it around
an experience. Allied to great service, this
experience inspires consumers to buy happily,
return to the salon frequently and recommend
their stylist to friends.”

Panoramic View

If you have an open floor plan, you’re already
ahead in the visual merchandising
race, even if your square footage is limited.
“You should expose the consumer to the
greatest amount of merchandising for the
longest period of time,” says Alexander.
When the consumer walks in, she should
be able to view multiple displays at staggered
heights. For example, in the forefront
she might catch a “try-me” counter,
she can see beyond that to a freestanding
gondola, behind that she spies a back wall
unit and, above it, a graphic sign that identifies the products.

Freestanding units create a slalom effect by
giving the consumer an indirect journey to the
desk. The height vision should allow the consumer
to see above the freestanding merchandise
to wall-merchandised units. An accent color
at the back of the retail will contribute in driving
people to the back of the retail store.
(Christie & Co. Salon Spa in New York City)

The ultimate goal of this panoramic
view is to lure the shopper to the back of
the store and ensure that she passes purchasing
opportunities along her path. That’s
why grocery stores stock milk and bread in
the back, continues Alexander, who urges
owners to likewise save the back of the
salon for your most essential, or perhaps
most popular, retail items.

Color psychology becomes important,
Alexander adds, with the spectrum of red
through purple/lavender stimulating the
brain to want to spend and buy. He recommends
choosing a tone within that palette
as an accent color to pop at the back of the
salon while keeping your walls neutral and
avoiding large areas of bright whites or
grays, which can cause fatigue or anxiety.
Lighting, too, plays a role. An illuminated
wall unit will capture the consumer’s eye
and focus her on the product.

Environmental psychology further has
uncovered cultural differences in the way
people move through a store. For example,
a simple habit like driving on the left or
right side of the road will determine which
way you tend to turn when you enter a
shopping milieu. While Americans look
along their right side, that’s not true everywhere.
According to Eurisko research
(, this fact alone has
led U.S. airport space designers to locate
food outlets on the left and gift shops on
the right, predicting that people will cross
the aisle to eat but may not go as far out
of their way to purchase a gift item. Color,
too, is subject to cultural influences. While
U.S. brides wear white to symbolize purity,
in China and other Asian countries it’s the
funerals that are dressed in white, the color
of mourning.

As shoppers scan your retail selection,
you’ll probably want to draw their attention
to a certain product you’re featuring in
order to, as John Moroney phrases it, “create
a need in the mind of your target client.”
You can use shelf-talkers, large “check me
out” posters, visuals that repeat familiar
national advertising, spot lighting or even
just surrounding negative space. The idea,
says Moroney, is to make it disruptive so
that it calls attention to itself.

“You can enter any room, and if the
lighting is low, the music soft and the walls
neutral you’ll begin de-stressing without
anybody touching you,” says Alexander.
“That’s the power of environmental psychology.
In retailing, environmental psychology
works if the furniture is spaced
out correctly, lighting is focused on the
product, graphic signs are highlighting the
merchandise, an accent color is place properly
and the smell in the air is congruent
with the product. That combination creates
a buying environment.”

Extend Their Stay

The longer you can hold the shopper’s
interest at the product shelves, the higher
the retail ticket is likely to be, agree the
experts. “People today are time-poor, not
cash-poor,” says Alexander. If you can
captivate them for a block of time, they’re
likely to spend.

P&G makes it policy to measure this
dynamic. “Through cool technology and
using people from our focus groups, we
are able to track where their eyes go and
where they linger on every display and ad
we create,” says Moroney. “If their eyes
don’t rest where we intend on the graphic,
we redevelop it.”

One way salons have been successful in
holding clients’ attention is by providing a
sensory experience. Kiosks with “try-me”
samples involve all the senses in the purchase
decision as clients see, feel, smell,
touch and, in some cases, apply the product.
This can develop a powerful connection
between shopper and product.

Tasteful, festive holiday bags make simple
decorations that have the added impact
of reminding clients the salon is the
perfect place for last-minute shopping.

Don’t Even Go There

Sometimes following your gut instinct leads
you off path, caution the experts. They list
some frequent missteps:

  1. Product displays are placed too close to
    the entrance. “It’s not until the customer
    is about six feet into the store that she’s
    adjusted to the differences between the
    outside and inside,” says Leon Alexander.
    “Her nerve endings are picking up all the
    stimuli—a new temperature, different lighting.”
    Give her that six-foot space to adapt
    and transition before you hit her with your
    Promotion of the Month.
  2. Too much product is at the styling station.
    “We’re moving away from having a
    ton of product at the styling station,” notes
    John Moroney. “The client should be looking
    at only those products that fulfi ll her needs
    and do not compete with each other.”
  3. Seating is placed by the window.
    “Owners pay thousands of dollars for
    a billboard to advertise their brand, when
    you already have one—your window,” says
    Alexander. “When passersby see only the
    backs of your clients’ heads as they sit on
    comfy couches, you’re losing an opportunity.
    Besides, you don’t really want people sitting
    down; you want them shopping.”
  4. Retail is grouped by category rather than
    by product line. Should you line up all of
    your mousses together? “Sephora tried merchandising
    by category, and it didn’t work,”
    says Moroney. “Aim to have a brand portfolio
    that offers a unique benefi t with products
    that do not cannibalize each other. Then all
    of your brands have a chance to win.”
  5. Income is lost by neglecting the impulse
    buyer. “I defy anyone to exit Walmart
    with only the intended products,” says Alexander.
    “Yet no one’s advising you at Walmart;
    you’re serving yourself.” To address the impulse
    buyer, Moroney recommends keeping
    your point-of-purchase displays supersimple.
    “If your client is overwhelmed,” he
    warns, “she’ll just walk out empty-handed.”
  6. A campaign is not thought through
    completely. “Let’s say you’re designing
    a Nioxin display,” says Moroney. “Don’t put
    up a sign on your shelf that shouts, ‘Thinning
    Hair!’ Who wants to be seen walking
    up to that product?” A more sensitive—and
    effective—message could be an instruction
    to “Ask your stylist about Nioxin’s solutions
    to thinning hair.”

Today, this interactive approach is going
high-tech. Loew suggests that salons might
set up a touch screen asking the client to
input a series of responses about her hair
type, and then the screen will recommend
products for at-home maintenance. A lower-tech
but still interactive panel could have
knobs to dial up or down within scaled
categories like oiliness/dryness, fine/thick,
virgin/color-treated and amount of daily
time spent on grooming.

Even simple electronic signage will keep
shoppers’ attention an extra few seconds,
Loew adds. “Battery-operated, low-voltage,
four-inch by seven-inch LED screens can
effectively tell a product’s story and keep
the consumer longer than a glamour shot
will,” he says.

Bullseye: Your Shopper

You know your clientele better than anyone.
Or do you? The information that emerges
from focus groups or from analyzing your
base of frequent, high-ticket clients may
surprise you. Moroney says you cannot
successfully retain people until you fully
understand who they are and what triggers
their buying habits.

“Let’s say you have a keep-it-simple
kind of client,” Moroney says. “This is
not a trend-motivated, experimental client
who wants to get involved with a variety
of styling options. For this client, make
sure her needs are met for a shampoo,
conditioner and maybe the one styling
product she likes.”

A line like Sebastian goes for the opposite
consumer, Moroney continues. “When
we relaunched the brand nearly three years
ago,” he says, “we very clearly targeted one
specific shopper: the beauty junkie. She’s
not a value shopper, but someone who wants
to be on the leading edge of trend. We’ve
learned that this person is attracted by the
packaging but hooked by the performance,
and the beauty junkie always wants to talk
about styling products.”

If your best clients are constantly asking
about what’s new, build your retail visuals
around products that have just been added
to a line. If your clients love bargains, make
sure to alert them to special value opportunities.
Hip clients? Choose a hip line.
Luxury-leaning? Go for a classic high-end
brand. If you have a young clientele, infuse
your visual offering with the energy
of bold colors; older people prefer more
subtle palettes. “Get those colors wrong,”
cautions Leon Alexander, “and your clients
simply won’t relate to your brand.”

P&G research crystallizes the importance
of target merchandising. “From years
of testing, we know that a woman shopping a beauty aisle spends an average of three
to five minutes there,” says Moroney. “But
she makes her purchase decision in under 10
seconds! What is she doing for the rest of
the time? She’s deselecting.” The quickest
way for her to zero in on what she wants
is to eliminate what she doesn’t want, he
explains. If she’s looking for a color-protective
conditioner for dry hair, she goes
through the product racks thinking, “Nope,
that’s not what I need,” to every item until
she finds her desired category, and then she
chooses from among the available products
almost instantly.

“The lesson here is that a salon that’s
trying to be all things to all people is making
the client work harder at deselecting
than at shopping,” says Moroney. “From
Barneys to Walgreens, most successful
retailers are laser-focused on who their
customer is.”

A Window into the Consumer Mind
Sophisticated eye-tracking technology helps
manufacturers understand where to place
branding for maximum impact—which encourages
the consumer’s eye to linger and prompts sales.
(Estoterica Salon in Forth Worth, Texas, at left.)

When you fashion your visual cues to appeal
to your key buyer, your look will attract
same-minded clients as well as “wannabes”
who aspire to become that client, according
to Moroney. In addition, by designing
your retail around your best clients, you’ll
keep them invested in your salon.

“The real goal is reselling,” says Alexander.

“If the majority of your business comes from
a regular clientele, you’re in the business of
reselling to them. They purchase a shampoo,
and the next time they come in you introduce
them to the larger size or an accompanying
styling product. Reselling to existing clients
is key to your ongoing success.”

Happier Holidays

Reality check, courtesy of retail design
consultant Peter Millard: “Macy’s and
Neiman Marcus will do a more beautiful
Christmas tree than you can ever do.”
Instead of putting up extravagant Christmas
decorations, which Millard labels “a huge
waste of money,” he suggests fulfilling your
clients’ holiday shopping needs. With that
in mind, what are the best decorations?
Colorful bags.

“Your clients want to see the chic holiday
season,” comments Millard, who frequently
consults for Redken. “Don’t be traditional.
You can do ‘holiday’ with metallics, lime
green and hot magenta instead of classic
red and green. Salons should be decorated
at each work station with beautiful gift bags
stuffed with beautiful tissue. When you
put that on 10 work stations, it looks like
Christmastime, but it’s not just a string of
lights. Display the bags in your window as
well, with low-cost ornaments or unique
holiday balls. Your wholesale florist has
tons of decorative holiday supplies. Or set
up a display with a candle as a gift-with-purchase
or even a purchase-with-purchase,
a concept pioneered by Estee Lauder. You
can charge a small fee for the candle when
purchased with a hair care product.”

Millard further prefers gift bags because
they’re religiously neutral. “Decorating for
Christmas is too specific,” he continues.
“Also, this time of year is less about whether
people celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or
Kwanza and more about its significance
as a season of generosity and giving. Help
your clients to tap into that, because the
salon is the perfect place to shop for the
people they put off until the last minute,
as well as for major people in their lives
like spouses. Because of the tight economy,
people are combining generosity with practicality.
Make the most of the fact that hair
care products are usable and practical, not
a waste of money. Put up a sign that says:
‘Let us help you with your holiday stress.
We have luxurious necessities!’ Next to it,
place a product bottle and maybe one nonbreakable
Christmas ornament.”

Serious retailing requires continuous shopping, with no breaks. All shelves should be in a line, since the eye loses focus with a break. (Christie & Co. Salon Spa in New York City)

Tell Your Story Visually

Visuals should always tell a story, says
Loew. When his firm works with MAC
Cosmetics, for example, his goal is to visually
feed the image that MAC already has
established with its customers. “As much
as you can tell in that initial visual impact
is what I call ‘the story,’” Loew adds.

For a salon, the story can be distinguishing
yourself from other salons or separating
your professional products from drugstore
and department store hair care. Peter Millard
encourages owners to use signage to very
directly make those points. He advises,
“Have a sign that says, ‘Our products heal
your hair, and they aren’t expired. We are
about beauty, not just about profits.’ You
need to spell things out for people.”

People get bored easily, so visual cues
should change quarterly, says Loew. “The
luxury product brands change every season
with new colors,” he says. “If you’re in an
area with distinct seasons, you might change
the products you highlight according to
the humidity factor. When you switch the
products, your story changes.”

A quarterly wise schedule is about right,
agrees Moroney, who cautions owners
not to swap out a display more often than
the average client visit cycle since that’s
wasted effort. Neither should you fret if
your most active guests have more than
one encounter with the same visual. “It
takes people longer than you’d think for
ideas to register in their mind,” Moroney
adds. “They might need to see it twice in
order to remember it.”