Designing the employee experience

For all the benefits that technology brings, customers still value human interaction.

In physical stores, a memorable service experience depends on an engaged and empowered team. Your own people spend a lot more time in store than your customers do, and they do it every working day. By designing an environment that’s easy, efficient and fun for your staff to work in, we create a better customer experience.

From our experience in store design, positive environments and positive team members synergise. Not only does a well-designed environment enhance the morale of existing team, it attracts potential new team members of a positive mindset.

Even the uniform is important. In a recent project for BP Australia we re-designed the staff uniform as part of an overall transformation of their convenience retail environments. By introducing a new, casual, hospitality-based uniform, we transformed sales assistants into hosts and gave them the confidence to interact positively with customers.

The key effect was a much more credible café experience and coffee sales increased dramatically. In a world where initial research into new purchases takes place online, store staff find themselves in the position of fielding deeper and more detailed questions from customers. Instead of selling to customers they are there to help them make purchase decisions. This takes time and we need to somehow create that time.

This means removing functional, routine tasks like direction giving and ringing up sales. For the former, it means creating an environment that is intuitive for both staff and customers to use. For example, customers tend to use signage as a last resort for navigation. Their main navigational aids are colour, contrast and merchandise (you don’t need a sign in a supermarket to say ‘Fruit’), and their attention is concentrated at eye level. We have to lay out stores and categories in a way that makes sense to customers.

Clear and simple pathways and long but controlled sight lines are important. Getting your customer quickly to the category area they are looking for in store takes away their initial anxiety. This puts them in relaxed browsing mode, which makes it easier for staff to open conversations. Designing purposeful spaces for these moments to happen is essential.

Technology does help, especially mobile technology. On a very simple level, store categories should align with website categories. If someone has been shopping online how much easier is it to find something when they are in the store if it’s laid out in the same way? Mobile POS technology should be replacing the conventional queues at POS counters and enabling your team to work one on one with customers. Click and collect and self-service kiosks increase efficiency for routing shopping while freeing up staff for more meaningful interactions.

Curating the right store environments creates new roles for your staff: they become consultants, event organisers, hosts and facilitators. Their customer facing roles become more aligned with hospitality than retail- and that’s what customers expect.

A recent example of this it the Supercheap Auto Experience Centre which features all of the above; smart team uniforms, customer help desks, and a calendar of educational and entertaining events for customers. The entire centre of the store is devoted to an area where staff can interact with customers through one-to-many presentations and one-to-one consultation. The store is really designed around creating a better environment for the team to help customers in their purchase decisions. Self-selection kiosks and self-serve click and collect help to take away routine tasks. Not only has customer dwell time increased dramatically, it’s where the entire SCA team wants to work!

The takeout? The better the experience will be for your staff, the better it will be for your customers!

Author, Gary McCartney is the owner of McCartney Design. We specialise in the design of retail and hospitality environments. Find out more at



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