Do people run like clockwork? (In large open spaces)
January 23, 2012 3:30 AM   Subscribe

Is it true that people flow through convention halls, shopping malls and similar areas in a clockwise direction, more often than not?

Our assigned business adviser told us that this is indeed the case, and furthermore that all meaningful purchasing decisions are made between twelve and three o'clock. The latter claim seems believable, but I haven't been able to find any evidence for the former online.

I'm also slightly unclear on what exactly it actually means - that visitors walk in, and imagine themselves at 12, facing 6? Or that they enter and imagine themselves at clock-centre, facing twelve? In which case they would turn… right?

I'd love other any related information, and any other positioning tips. We received some absolutely amazing advice here, and it helped an enormous amount - I'm super grateful!
posted by piato to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
People go to the right from their entrance and drift left as they walk, i.e. counter-clockwise, though the environment easily influences this.
posted by michaelh at 4:13 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


[Citation needed]

This all screams BS to me. I can't find a single relevant paper either.
posted by roofus at 4:48 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


You might want to read Paco Underhill's The Science of Shopping, though this article gives a good overview.
posted by peagood at 4:49 AM on January 23, 2012


I've heard michaelh's description before: people enter doors and turn right, which would be counter-clockwise. My antique-dealer inlaws use this theory when they set up their booths; they put the expensive things so that they can be seen when approaching the booth from a clockwise motion; cheap stuff goes opposite. Then, when they're antique-shopping, the in-laws deliberately walk through a flea market or antique shop counter-clockwise, to look at the less-noticed "backwards" stuff.

As a piece of evidence, which isn't necessarily proof, consider the stores you shop at. When you walk in the doors, are the checkout counters to the right or to the left of you? Most of the stores I visit have the checkout to the left of the "in" doors, which would make them at the end of a counterclockwise walk through the store. Now, correlation-causation, it could be that the store layout is deliberately causing counter-clockwise motion, rather than being designed because of an immovable desire for shoppers to walk counterclockwise.

I just totally noticed that piato is located in the UK according to the MeFi profile.....I wonder if there's a connection between clockwise-counterclockwise due to the side of the road that they drive on, comparable to how you circumnavigate a roundabout, which would mean in the UK clockwise would be the norm.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:02 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


My first thought was the poster was in the UK.

I agree that it appears people follow the direction they would drive.
posted by neversummer at 6:09 AM on January 23, 2012


Paco Underhill's theory is that most people go counter-clockwise because they are oriented towards their right hand. This article mentions that "neurophysiological research suggests a different explanation for this turning preference–the hormone dopamine, which is responsible for locomotion in space. The higher the dopamine concentration on the left side of the brain, the more consumers’
attention (and consequently their locomotion) is focused on the right side"
and includes citations for this idea as well as the notion that people follow walls to enhance their sense of safety.

The article I linked, however, is about fostering people's ability to develop cognitive maps of stores. It concludes that people navigating clockwise stores build better mental maps because their attention is focused inward (rightward) to the central area and so they thus develop a better sense of where to find a wider array of goods.
posted by carmicha at 6:18 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


AzraelBrown: "Most of the stores I visit have the checkout to the left of the "in" doors, which would make them at the end of a counterclockwise walk through the store. Now, correlation-causation, it could be that the store layout is deliberately causing counter-clockwise motion, rather than being designed because of an immovable desire for shoppers to walk counterclockwise."

Yeah, I don't think this is evidence so much as pure coincidence. Several of the stores I shop at regularly (in the U.S.) have two entrances, with the checkouts in the middle.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:34 AM on January 23, 2012


Grocery stores are nearly universally designed in the US to have the produce section on the right as you enter and the vast majority of shoppers enter and shop from the right to left in a counter clockwise direction. Even when they enter on the other side of the checkout, they will cross the registers to begin shopping on that side. I don't know about other large public spaces, but there is a tremendous amount of research on the psychology of grocery store layout.
posted by Lame_username at 8:55 AM on January 23, 2012


I agree that it appears people follow the direction they would drive.

Not necessarily. Thinking of all the supermarkets I've shopped in, going back to when I was very young, it feels as if there's been a relatively recent shift from 'enter in bottom left, checkout towards bottom right' towards newer designs that use the anti-clockwise model prominent in the US. Actual resident British MeFites can tell me if this is anomalous, but when I was last back, I went to a big Tesco that opened a few years ago, and it was arranged anti-clockwise, with the fruit & veg more or less in the middle, and I was left wondering why it felt odd; the Sainsbury and Morrisons stuck with the clockwise arrangement.

Conventions, antique sales, etc.? In my experience, enter at left, circulate clockwise (a 'p') in the UK, and the other way round (a 'q') in the US.
posted by holgate at 9:04 AM on January 23, 2012


Several of the stores I shop at regularly (in the U.S.) have two entrances, with the checkouts in the middle.

But as Lame_username points out, there's one set of entrances that feel like coming in through a side door -- the 'I just need beer' doors on the left.
posted by holgate at 9:07 AM on January 23, 2012


Grocery stores are nearly universally designed in the US to have the produce section on the right as you enter and the vast majority of shoppers enter and shop from the right to left in a counter clockwise direction.

I've got to call shenanigans on that one. Of the several stores I regularly shop, this is not true for any of them. And thinking of stores I used to shop in other places, and stores I used to work in, still not the case. (In fact, all my examples that don't have produce somewhere in the middle have it on the left.) Definitely not "nearly universal", maybe not even common.
posted by attercoppe at 9:35 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's vaguely related to the right-of-way rule. In an uncrowded situation, people will generally move in any direction they want, but in crowded walking situations I think people are more likely to walk towards the right-of-way. Whether they realize it or not, it makes traffic flow easier. Buildings usually put entrance doors on the right, and exit doors on the left, to reinforce better flow of traffic.

Most people don't notice it because they are so used to it. But you definitely notice it when, for example, some grocery store uses motion-activated doors and happens to have the entrance door on the left side, not the right. Next thing you know, you unwittingly try to walk through the door on the right (the exit door) but it doesn't sense you so it doesn't open, and then you stand there for a few seconds feeling a little stupid for not reading the signs.

For countries where the right-of-way is to the right (like the US), pedestrians are more likely to start moving to the right at an intersection. So, if you enter a giant warehouse that is filled with tons of people, your first inclination is to move right, thus you circle around the edge of the warehouse in a counter-clockwise direction.

In Japan, the right-of-way is to the left. So when I spent a couple of months there, I immediately noticed that entrance doors were on the left, pedestrians moved to the left, and cars drove on the left. In a large crowded space, such as a convention, people almost always started to move to the left. But just like in the US, if the space wasn't crowded, people just kind of moved in any random direction.
posted by nikkorizz at 12:03 PM on January 23, 2012


Definitely not "nearly universal", maybe not even common.

It may not be a universal, but it is a fact that design choices such as these are of intense interest and have been studied somewhat rigorously.

From the Association for Consumer Research:
Anti-Clockwise or Clockwise? The Impact of Store Layout on the Process of Orientation in a Discount Store [pdf]

And regardless of the clockwise issue, there are other ways stores use design to influence consumer psychology. Much has been made recently of the "racetrack" design and its role in the success of Kohl's, which has been growing while competitors with vastly longer experience and consumer brand recognition have been sinking.

I do think that the conclusions stated by the adviser in the post are overstated. These are, at best, rules of thumb and should be described thus.
posted by dhartung at 1:16 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


@dhartung: Yes, there has been a lot of study on this, and application of those studies. Most if not all large stores make use of different principles derived from that field. I was referring specifically to Lame_username's claim as to the layout of all US stores, not disagreeing that some guiding principle is used. That said, I was countering an unsupported assertation with limited anecdata, which is maybe not so helpful in answering the original question, but I felt it would help the Asker not get the wrong answer.
More anecdata, but in my experience managing both car and foot traffic on a weekly basis at a large and popular church, as well as helping facilitate large conferences, people pretty much go where they want to go, regardless of traffic flow and barriers/impediments/directives. (This is in Northern California.)
posted by attercoppe at 6:35 PM on January 23, 2012


I've lived in IL, OH, MI, TX, PA, and CT in the US, and can confirm that grocery stores have no noticeable bias R-L or L-R. Regions, however, may: if the Big Chain in your market sets up R-L, it may behoove you to make goods easier to find by following suit, to make your customers more at ease in your store (fostering "one's as good as another" mentality).

It is also important to remember that your assigned business adviser can only profit by (1) recommending changes and (2) developing credibility as an expert. The latter can be done by sheer force-of-charisma a/o assertion of authority, to some extent. Ergo, he/she is advising that you change something fundamental (in this case, traffic flow assumption, but it had to be something), based on his/her expertise on a subject you were unlikely to be well-informed on.

I'm not saying the adviser is gulling you; I'm just saying that they can't make a living by saying, "Looks pretty good to me! Keep doing what you're doing..."
posted by IAmBroom at 8:49 AM on January 24, 2012


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