Easy Tiger
Environment plays a large role in determining how customers will behave.

Even the most flavorful and high-quality products will fight an arduous uphill battle when showcased in an inferior environment. Whether subconsciously or consciously, human beings will make decisions based on their moods, and the environment does affect a person’s mood. When you open your business with the intent of selling as much product as possible, you need to do everything possible to ensure your shoppers are in the best mood the can possibly be in. Creating a blissful environment for customers to shop in is the best place to start.

Behavior and sales

“Environment plays a big role in determining how you behave,” says Kevin Ervin Kelley of the Architecture Firm, Shook Kelley, “What that means is how where you walk and where you are, what happens to the mind, what happens to the body, your senses, your feelings, your moods when you’re in space.”  The firm has been in business for 22 years and studied the effects of environment on retail business for a large portion of that time. Shook Kelley specializes in working with retailers to create an environment that creates more sales.

Shook Kelley has a proven track record of working with retail establishments and increasing sales without changing the level of service or the product. Specifically, a redesign of a retail food business saw sales roughly double at one branch compared to another branch in the same area after the redesign. “Environment affects behavior and behavior increases sales,” Kelley says. “When you’re in an environment you like, you behave in a great way.” 

The ideal environment and situation puts customers into a joyful state of mind. If customers want to get in and get out of your shop as quick as possible then sales will not increase based on the environment. It’s not about manipulation, it’s difficult to manipulate human beings, Kelley says. “What we’re really trying to do is understand the types of behavior that they [customers] enjoy.”

The senses

The style of a retail bakery will appeal to some shoppers, but not others. This is based more in the individual personality of each shopper and less on how you want shoppers to feel and behave on the whole. “I often see people get fixated on style, and style isn’t really important, behavior is what’s important,” Kelley says.

All of the human senses work to give an individual the overall sense of the surrounding environment and form a person’s perceptions. “If you want to affect humans, affect their senses and you can change their minds,” Kelley says. “What is the perception you want, and what is the sense that relates to that perception?”
Chipotle has become somewhat of a foodservice phenomenon in recent years. Its environment draws customers in. A diner’s perception of Chipotle is very positive. Kelley argues that the product at Chipotle is not that much different than the product at other fast-service chains, but Chipotle uses sensory cues that the others can’t manage, making it a more desirable and pleasing environment.

Providing the environment

Think of the shop like a movie. A good movie engages the viewer in a way that makes them dwell on every scene as the plot develops. That’s how retail bakeries need to think about the shopping environment of their customers. “When customers shop quicker, they buy less. The goal is to have them dwell, engage and experiment,” Kelley says.

Getting shoppers to engage and dwell not only makes the chances for a bigger spend more likely, but it also puts the customer in a better mood. “We enjoy being engaged as human beings. We like that. It’s a lot of fun,” Kelley says. It’s not fun to be thinking about whether or not the trash got taken out or this or that when in the midst of a shopping trip. This leads to the behavior you’d like to see from your shoppers. When the customer is having a good time by being engaged, they’re likely to open themselves up more and be more receptive to good marketing promotion.


Once a retailer figures out the behavior it wishes from its customers, it can begin to set the atmosphere needed to encourage customers in that direction. The best to do that comes in the form of what Kelley calls priming.  A key thing to remember about priming is that once a customer feels as if they’re being manipulated, they will disengage immediately. Aside from this exception, priming works.

Priming sets up and engages the customer into the shops story through a combination of context, cues and triggers. Done responsibly and effectively, priming puts customers into a good mood and gets their mind off of any negative thoughts that might hinder the kind of behavior that keeps them from spending more time in the shop. Priming puts customers into a mode in which they will dwell more.


When it comes to retail design, the context of the product tops the list of important considerations, Kelley says. “That is, how do you surround the product?” Context includes not only the actual packaging of the product, but everything included in the presentation. Kelley uses the example of a martini served in a coffee mug. Although the coffee mug has nothing to do with the quality of the drink, it’s the wrong context for the product.


Cues relay information to customers that aides a person’s memory. Whether sensory or otherwise, cues give customers the information needed to relate to the product via some past, personal memory.


Once the context and cues have done their jobs, a trigger starts the moving process within the memory. The trigger gets that memory going, Kelley says. The trigger engages the customer to dwell, think about the memories of childhood, romance, adventure, etc.

Putting it together

For the retail bakery owner, figuring out a way to create an atmosphere that encourages shoppers to dwell and shop longer is the first step to increasing sales. An atmosphere that engages shoppers in the bakery’s story will make regular shoppers come back and spend more time in the bakery more often.

Each shop will need to use a variety of different contexts, cues and triggers for the formula that will work the best. Take some time to think about what your bakery’s story needs to be to keep your customers in the store longer and inevitably buy more. The time and energy you spend on this will be worth it in the long run.