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Store Spots - Let's Decompress

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Today in the "Store Spots" series, it's time to relax! Yes, we review the critical Decompression Zone. Get this right and customers progress into your store in the mood to buy. Get it wrong and watch the rapid U-Turns as people flow straight back out the door.


Imagine you're walking into a shop you've not visited before. Just after you enter, you pause. Maybe you pop your car keys and phone in your handbag or pocket. You quickly scan the store to get your bearings before moving in further. This area is the Decompression or Landing Zone. In small stores, it could be a square metre only. Larger stores with wider entries may extend several metres. Remember entering a store like this? This is where you take the proverbial deep breath as you adjust yourself to your new surroundings. If the zone is done right, you're ready to shop.


To quote Dennis Denuto, the solicitor in a personal favourite movie - "it's the vibe of the thing" (The Castle). Put yourself in the customer's shoes and walk into your store. Where do you pause? What do you do? Similarly, observe real customers walking in. The zone will quickly become clear. The main things affecting the size of the zone will be - 

  1. Store Size
  2. Entry Width
  3. Density of Door Traffic

Note that the first two parameters are fixed. Traffic can be variable, so there's a possibility you have size differences at different times, days or seasons. 


It's almost a case of what not to do (and we will answer that in a moment). The primary purpose of this zone is to allow a customer to make the shift from passerby to buyer. You need to give them space to allow this transformation. Some things that can help are:

  1. Flooring - provide a contrast to the outside. A different floor colour, even a large entry mat, will achieve this
  2. Lighting - again, create a contrast in shade or brightness, so the customer feels they have crossed a threshold
  3. Information - provide easy, unobstructed access to something such as a brochure stand with a store guide, or your current promotion. 

It's even possible to extend your decompression zone outside your door. Restaurants do this well, putting a menu stand just outside the door, encouraging people to stop there before entering. We even have Welcome Mats at homes - the act of brushing your shoes at the door is a mental cue for entering a home. 


It's tempting to get product in front of a customer quickly. The front third of a store is the most productive area for buying decisions to be made. Don't jump the gun on this! Leave the decompression zone alone.

  1. Don't engage customers here - we all have experience of salespeople grabbing us at the door (Bali holiday, anyone?) Remember that feeling - is that how you want your customers to feel? Give them some breathing space and let them adjust first.
  2. Don't over-merchandise - why put all your best sellers right at the doorway, just for people to wander right past as they're preparing to look. Anything put in this zone runs the risk of being missed completely. Be careful here! 
  3. Don't create traffic jams - if a customer has paused inside the doorway, they will likely get annoyed if bumped by other people in the area. Leave room enough based on the zone parameters.


Maybe... but beware! Being agile retailers, we wish to adjust and try different things - so test things out. If you have an amazing offer or attraction, it could be worth trying. Sometimes "in your face" works - some businesses more than others. 

Use of flexible display systems will assist you in testing different layouts and adjusting displays for traffic variations. Small platforms on castors, modular displays that can be increased or reduced quickly and off-shelf mobile units are your friends here.


  • Identify your store's decompression zone by observing customer behaviour at the entrance - put yourself in their position
  • Create a zone that allows the customer to make a comfortable adjustment to your store
  • Give the customer breathing space, don't start selling them here
  • Merchandise carefully - less is usually more
  • Make adjustments for changes in the zone, based on time or season

Author profile

Steve Nelson believes in incredible retail spaces that sustain communities. Steve is a Retail Display specialist, who has worked with iconic retailers across the globe. As leader of Euroswift Retail Creations in Australia, his focus is delivering solutions and techniques that help retailers develop dexterity at the shop floor, to predict the needs of their local community and react rapidly. Connect with Steve on LinkedIn

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