A Retailer’s Guide to Making a Positive First Impression

Researchers know an astonishing amount about what makes people tick – particularly when it comes to first impressions and positive associations. As a retail store owner, the more you know about first impressions, the better your results will be.

Why First Impressions Matter in Retail

Did you know that people form a first impression within one-tenth of a second? That means most of your shoppers are forming a first impression as soon as they start the walk up to your storefront. By the time they walk through the doors and take in the surroundings, they’ve already decided how they feel about your store. This can be good or bad.

If you set the wrong first impression, it will take a ton of work to reverse course and change a shopper’s mind. (Most won’t return.) If you set a positive first impression, it gives you lots of leeway and margin for error. 

A customer who has a positive first impression is more likely to stay in your store longer, put more items in their cart, become a repeat customer, and recommend your store to their friends. 

How to Make a Positive First Impression

First impressions are typically quite shallow. If you can appeal to your customers’ senses, you’ll almost always win them over. In light of this, here are a few helpful tactics:


  • Nail the Curb Appeal

Think about first impressions in terms of the progression through which customers enter into your store. Before they ever cross the threshold, they see your outside storefront. Perfecting the curb appeal ensures you set a positive tone from the point of initial engagement. Here are some suggestions:


  • Signage. Your sign should be visible, bold, and clean. At night, it needs to be well lit (even when you’re closed). 


  • Windows and doors. Seemingly small details like the glass you use for storefront doors and windows has an impact on the look and feel of your store. Check out some of the storefronts Orange Mirror and Glass has worked on to get a feel for the difference the right glass can make.


  • Landscaping. Most businesses will benefit from a storefront that has clean and fresh landscaping. Make sure you keep all grass mowed, flower beds planted and weeded, and hard surfaces pressure washed. 

There’s more to it than this, but you get the idea. Think about every little detail and you’ll control the experience from the start.


  • Optimize for Smell

“When you see something, your brain processes it, you think and then you react. With our sense of smell there’s no thinking, no cognitive reasoning, so you’re reacting right away and there’s an immediate emotional response,” aroma expert Farah Abassi writes. “The first impression is the biggest impact scent will have on someone entering a property and you have a split second to make that first impression.”

Smell is one of the most powerful senses a human has. And regardless of whether it’s intentional or not, your store has a smell. 

The moment you walk into a Target store, a sense of familiarity washes over you. Why is this? Well, it’s at least partially due to the smell. Target has a very specific smell that’s been engineered to give people a warm feeling. 

What does your store smell like? By controlling the aroma, you control the way people feel. Think carefully about this aspect!


  • Incorporate Eye-Catching Displays

Use the front of your store to display your most engaging products. They don’t necessarily have to be your highest-margin products – just the ones that get people excited. In doing so, you create a salient touchpoint that encourages shoppers to continue further into the store. 


  • Hire Smiling Faces

At the end of the day, people connect with people. If you want to set a positive tone from the very start, hire people with lots of personality and train them to always smile and greet customers. They don’t have to be pushy – just present!

Iterate to Great

Every retailer is different. A local mom and pop general store is going to require a unique approach when compared to a national building supply store. The key is to understand your audience, appeal to their sense, and focus on wowing them every step of the way. 

You might not get everything perfect right away – and that’s okay. The hope is that you’re improving over time. Start small and iterate to great!

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