Retail White Space

by Paul D'Alessandro on January 12, 2010

I am generally quite disgusted with the effects of the recession on the retail shopping experience.  Having just returned from a day of shopping I observed far too many retailers that have returned to the days of 24″ space between racks and wall to wall displays.  The clutter is simply overwhelming.

Why this amazes me is that at least two retailers have had dramatic influence on their competitors in recent years through the use of white space in the retail shopping environment.  Apple is an easy mark.  They literally use white space by using lighter tones and lots of white on their interior design palette.  The white space is effective in that the products jump out at the consumer and also provide the consumer a “clean palette” for tasting and consideration.  Another easy mark in the use of white space is Target.  It has become obvious as of late that even Walmart is having to react to the clean open environment of Target stores by reconfiguring their aisle spacing and density.

So even in the face of obvious trends towards the effective use of white space and how less can actually be more in the world of sales per square foot why are all these retailers turning once again to clutter and density?  Consider the numbers.  Saks in NYC generates sales of $362 per square foot a year,  Best Buy stores turn $930,  Tiffany & Co. takes in $2,666 but Apple takes in a whopping $4,032!1

I would argue that the why is simple.  Consideration of experience design is forgotten in the world of falling revenue.  More has to mean more, less cannot possibly mean more.  It is unfortunate in this declining economy that so many of the lessons learned in the past decade decay so quickly.  Remember that when the day is darkest, experience design is still a lever that you can and should pull.

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