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Johannesburg, South Africa - November 27, 2012: Store manager doing inventory inside of a DIY electrical wholesale retail shop

Top Tips For Running A Successful Department Store

One of the most important moments in the history of retail store design was when the first-ever department stores opened and changed how we interact with retail forever, with a philosophy of everything being available under one roof.

The first-ever department store is a matter for debate, as whilst Bennett’s in Derby opened as an ironmonger in 1734 and expanded to become a department store, it is difficult to date exactly when this transition took place.

The first department store we know of that traded as a department store was Harding, Howell & Co., which opened in 1796, over four decades before Bainbridge (later known as John Lewis) opened their influential department store.

Running a department store has a different philosophy now to when it did in the 19th century however, as these all-in-one storefronts have had to compete with attractive specialist stores in terms of experience, and catalogue and later online shopping in terms of range.

Here are some top tips for running a successful department store in uncertain times.

Navigation Is Key

One of the first-ever department stores, Bennett’s in Derby, structured itself like a sailing vessel, and much like sailing, the key to a successful voyage is clear landmarks, signposts and easy navigation.

Make sure you have well-positioned, clear and consistent signage that helps shoppers understand where they are going and where the products they are looking for are placed. Repetition is a key aspect of learning and if the design is familiar, customers will rely on it.

Without good navigation, customers will get frustrated and turn to other stores that provide easier access to the products they want.

Engage The Senses

The more senses you engage in a person, the more vivid the memories they will have of a particular experience, and it is crucial you design your store with that in mind.

When building a theme for a store, do not just consider the placement of merchandise and its visual accoutrements, but also the types of music that are playing, their volume, the aromas that flow through that part of the store, the taste of any samples you are offering.

By engaging as many senses as possible, you provide a concrete positive experience customers want to return to, that is impossible to find online.

Focus On Personal Experience

When designing a modern department store, there is one question that should be at the forefront of every decision; what can I offer that an online store cannot.

Physical, tactile, personal experiences have always been part of the successful department store experience, as well as customer service and expert guidance that helps them navigate the store in an enjoyable, friendly way.