Natural Foods Merchandiser

Color your store wisely to attract shoppers

Legend has it Alfred Hitchcock, master of dinner parties as well as film, served guests an expertly prepared steak meal. No one was able to clear his plate. A few got sick. The culprit? Blue lightbulbs in Hitchcock's dining room fixtures. Hitchcock experimented with the lighting because he was curious about whether color would affect his guests. It did. And it affects your customers, too.

"Color can be the reason people buy a particular product," says John Bredenfoerder, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based Color Marketing Group, a nonprofit that helps businesses translate colors into cash. "It's the first thing they notice on the shelf and the last thing they consider before checking out." Selecting the color of those shelves?and the rest of the store?is an important decision, he says. "Color is powerful."

Feeling colorful

Nervous talk-show guests are parked in green rooms to chill out before their turn in the spotlight. Green, like all colors, creates an emotional response. "Every color gives a different message," Bredenfoerder says. Each color can also give opposing messages, so it's difficult to generalize. "I could go through the color wheel and give positive and negative stories for each, depending on the context," he says. "For example, white could be clean and expansive, or stark and ghostly."

Blue is thought to suppress appetites. "Blue-plate specials" were cheaper, smaller portions served on blue plates with the hope that the plate helped the diner feel more full with less food. "Blue is not a natural color in foods," says color consultant Amy Wax, author of Can't Fail Color Schemes (Creative Homeowner, 2007). On the other hand, reds and oranges are thought to stimulate appetite. That's why there are so many red restaurants, she says.

Culture and a person's individual history can shape how someone feels about a certain color, but there are also scientific explanations. "Green is the most comforting color," says Wax, who creates color schemes for retail and private interiors through her Montclair, N.J.-based Your Color Source Studios, "because it's the color that enters most directly into the brain. Rods, cones and nerves in the eye-brain pathway work to interpret each color. Green requires the least amount of effort, so it's the easiest, most soothing color."

A perfect shade for shopping

So should you avoid using blue in your store for fear of squashing shoppers' appetites? Not necessarily, say the experts. "Remember, blue can also create tranquility," Wax says. "The most important thing is that your customers feel comfortable in the space?comfortable enough to spend a lot of time there."

Though there's no single palette that will seduce your customers into lifetime loyalty and triple-digit purchases, the right color combo can make your store stand out. "You need to look at the story you want your store to tell, something uniquely relevant to your store and not the competition," Bredenfoerder says.

"It also depends on your target market," Wax says. "Teenagers respond well to a palette with lime green and purple, but that's probably not the segment you're aiming for."

Color me trendy

The New York-based Color Association of the United States shapes the shades of consumer culture with its color forecasts. The organization's director, Margaret Walch, divulges that two up-and-coming trends would work extremely well in a natural products store. The first, "rock/crystal" includes "colors you'd find in the earth: buff, greys, whites," she explains. These colors would be most appealing on walls and fixtures, as background colors, she says. The second palette, "vegetable garden," includes plant colors with names like "heirloom tomato." "Vegetable garden" also features a color called "crate"?as in wooden?which, Walch says, would help set off bright produce.

"Internationally, the sustainability trend is huge and it's not going away," Bredenfoerder says, "and green is the color of the movement. This is definitely something that would be relevant to your shoppers." Fortunately, it's easy being green without being boring. There are more kinds of green than any other color in the spectrum, he says, and each shade can tell a different story. For example, a deep forest green suggests stability and security, while a lighter shade of apple green can suggest freshness and newness.

Avoid color chaos

Don't be afraid of color, but do be careful. "There's a tendency to have too much," Walch explains. "And the more color, the more distraction." "Be very careful not to compete with your products; your products are your stars," Bredenfoerder says. "Keep in mind the whole experience," not just the color of your shelves or ceilings.

Walch suggests using a lot of white to set off product colors. "I can't emphasize the importance of creating a sense of cleanliness and order in a retail environment," she says. "You want clean, vivid colors and clear signage."

Red might be a good color for those signs, Wax says. "It's the color that triggers the strongest emotional response. Think stop signs and fire engines. Use it when you want to grab someone's attention." Also try using signs with more vivid colors the closer you get to a light source, where color gets washed out. And as for the color of those lights? Maybe stay away from blue.

Color connotations

Colors affect individuals in different ways, according to the context in which they're experienced and the culture of the viewer. For Americans, here are some common color associations, according to color consultant Amy Wax.

RED Power, energy, strength

ORANGE Enthusiasm, fun, warmth

YELLOW Optimism, sunshine

GREEN Comfort, soothing, relaxation

BLUE Loyalty, honesty, tranquility

PURPLE Luxury and wealth

BROWN Earth, stability, security

BLACK Strength, power, prestige

WHITE Freshness and purity

Shara Rutberg is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 2/p. 20

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