Thinking Like a Retail Shop: How to Make Your Website a Customer Magnet

Have you ever walked into a retail shop and found yourself lingering, enjoying the atmosphere, buying great merchandise, and then running to tell all your friends about it? I certainly have.

Shops that have lovely décor, beautifully enticing product displays, customer service with a smile, and perks like free coffee and wi-fi, tend to draw me in! Even if their merchandise isn’t calling my name, I still leave with a very positive impression and will recommend that my friends go check them out too.

And then I think: As online business owners, we should totally take advantage of this type of atmosphere on our websites!

Think about it: Having a great atmosphere on your site means that your new visitors will want to explore, learn more about your business, spend more time browsing, and thus will be more likely to become your customer. And then they’ll want to refer their friends to you as well!

It’s All About the Customer Experience

Your website is like a virtual shop, with most (if not all) of the same touch points as a physical one. So if you want it to be a customer magnet, it helps to think of it in the same terms as your favorite storefront:

  • Entryway: Where a shop owner might greet customers at the door, your homepage should also lay out a friendly welcome mat. This could be a video introduction from you, an invitation to download your free e-book, or an enticing special offer – something to generate excitement and give them that “warm and fuzzy” feeling.
  • Featured displays: Beyond the door, retail shops place beautifully crafted product displays to draw shoppers’ attention. Don’t go overboard with this (you’ll risk cluttering up your site), but do add some features like your top-selling package, your newly published book, or your most popular free goodies, to strategic locations for your customers to see (and do split-testing to determine which locations get the most clicks!).
  • Cleanliness: Clutter is a big turnoff in physical and virtual shops alike, so make a point to do some “website housecleaning” every so often. Get rid of old information, useless widgets, and so on – anything that doesn’t serve its’ purpose or could distract your visitors from seeing (and doing) the things you want them to.
  • Ease of use: You know how frustrating it is when an item in the store turns out to be in a totally different aisle or department than where you expected it to be? Prevent your customers from experiencing that same frustration, by organizing your website in a way that makes sense for them. Poll your site visitors to find out what difficulties or frustrations they may be experiencing – then fix those problem areas!
  • Extra touches: The best boutique I’ve been in had a lot of these unnecessary-but-very-effective touches. They gave free coffee and cookies to customers at the door, had a lovely, inviting interior, AND had great merchandise (clothing and accessories) – creating an environment where their customers felt special and appreciated, and wanted to hang out and browse more. On your website, extras could be free sample downloads, your blog content, special freebies sent only to your e-mail subscribers, or even a free gift with a purchase. Think of small gestures that they’ll love, but that are relatively inexpensive for you to provide.

Now that we’ve covered the major touch points, let’s get down to business…

Your Goal: To make your website a customer magnet where people want to linger, explore, read, subscribe, and buy (and tell all their friends to do the same!).

Your Assignment: Look at your website as if it were a physical shop, applying the points above to create an excellent customer experience.

For Extra Credit: Take a little road trip to observe the retail customer experience in action. The shops in Fredericksburg, and Boerne, Texas inspired me to write this, but I have a feeling there are equally awesome examples in a shopping district, mall, or tourist town near you!

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Barbara AustinAs Chief Design Officer of Sweet Dreamz Design, Barbara Austin works with small business entrepreneurs to capture the heart and soul of their brand, using a sweet combination of integrity, creativity, and thoughtfulness to reach their target audience through great design. You’ll find a treasure trove of free business and marketing advice in her weekly newsletter The Diamond Mine.  


  1. Excellent points, Barbara. All these details contribute to the website’s vibe. I like your comparison! When I walk into a store with blaring music or pushy sales people, I want to leave.


  2. Catherine Just says:

    Great post Barbara, I’m off to take a good look at my website!

  3. I’m sharing this with our chamber members — great tips, and so important to remember WHY we do things we do: to give the customer a great experience! I call this terrific customer connection.

    By the way, the link in the title of the email notice about of this post had an error in it.

  4. I’m so glad you’re putting the tips to good use! It’s amazing how much we can learn by observation. Like when one shop has zero customers, but the shop next door is full of them, it makes you wonder “What is this place doing differently that is making it so much more attractive?”.

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