Blog: Could greener stores improve the customer experience by Terri Wills

Could greener stores improve the customer experience and lead to increased profit?

By Terri Wills. Posted February 5, 2016

Imagine if the supermarket you shopped in made you feel healthier or happier?

If the assistants packing your groceries were more productive because the space they worked in had particularly good air quality and daylight?

And what if this healthy environment made you stay longer or spend more in those stores?

These are just some of the questions a major new report from the World Green Building Council’s Better Places for People campaign is seeking to answer.

The report, led by a team of property experts from the UK, with the support of several Green Building Councils around the world, finds that retailers can improve the shopping experience and potentially increase profits by providing stores that are greener and healthier for their customers and staff.

At a time when businesses face increased competition to attract customers into physical environments, could greener stores be about to change retailers’ fortunes?

It’s early days, but evidence already suggests that greener, healthier stores are becoming more attractive to consumers and more profitable for retailers.

But what exactly do we mean by ‘green retail environments’?

Our report suggests there are ten factors to consider: lighting, indoor air quality, thermal comfort, acoustics, interior layout, look & feel, active/inclusive design, biophilia, amenities and community space. Natural lighting and biophilia (views of nature, including indoor greenery or views to the outside) seem to be particularly important.

The report also suggests a “framework” process for retailers to begin to answer these questions for themselves. The framework includes measuring the ten environmental factors listed above, surveying customers and employees on their perceptions of the physical space, and looking at economic data comparing high and poor performing stores.

Retailers are already sitting on a gold mine of data on how consumers behave, such as the amount of time they spend in stores, their loyalty to those stores, and even how far they travel to them. Where things get really interesting is linking that behaviour to the physical environments of the stores themselves.

Although retailers are at the start of the journey in understanding and measuring how their stores affect their staff and customers, we are beginning to see signs of change.

Lifestyle centres – connected sets of uncovered stores with pedestrianised walkways and greater views of nature – are becoming increasingly popular and performing better than conventional malls from an economic perspective. The days of the so called “grey box retailers” – stores which do not embrace features that enhance health and wellbeing – are well and truly numbered, leading the New Yorker to ask “Are Malls Over?”

A Walmart concept store in which only half of the store was daylit found that sales per square foot in the daylit areas were significantly higher. And consumers are likely to buy more merchandise in stores with natural surroundings according to some research.

Retailers have been quick to capitalise on the growth of the health and “wellness” industry, recognising the global trend for healthier products such as fitness tracking devices or organic food.

The thinking on how the design of their own stores can contribute to this agenda has been slower, but is fast catching up. Ultimately, it could hold the key to unlocking a more profitable – and sustainable – future for retailers.

Terri Wills is the CEO of the World Green Building Council