J'Amy Owens, president of the Retail Group Inc., a Seattle-based strategic retailconsulting firm she cofounded 12 years ago, believes that the essence of retailing is little more than elementary psychology. It ultimately amounts to putting people in the right mood to part with their dollars. Here are some of her guiding principles to employ when it comes to getting shoppers to buy:

The Duck Test
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. The same goes for a store. Owens says a shopper should be able to determine the following about a store in three seconds: its name, its line of trade, its claim to fame, its price position, and its personality. All that information must be conveyed quickly because "people are generally unwilling to buy things from retailers. The people who need what you are selling will find you." Therefore, everyone else must be enticed -- in very short order -- to enter your store. And the glut of pitches out there only ups the ante. "Without a good duck, you don't have a chance of being seen or heard through all the nattering that is retailing," says Owens.

The Law of Laziness
A good store must pass the duck test for another fundamental reason, says Owens: People are lazy. Even once they are in the store, they are desperately in need of "visual carrots" to pull them forward. A cardinal sin in retailing is to have a long aisle uninterrupted by visual carrots -- items of curiosity that are displayed in a different manner than other merchandise is. Once visual carrots are strategically placed, the retailer can then go to work. He can move the customer into a "strike zone" or "hot spot," a place where the shopper is more relaxed, comfortable, or intrigued. That is a good locale for higher-ticket, higher-margin items, which can be "bundled" with other popular merchandise in what are called "critical adjacencies."

The Need for Safety
Many shoppers feel intimidated by retail stores and can be reluctant to enter. The remedy to that is to create warm and familiar elements that welcome or even envelop the shopper. Music is the simplest. "It gives us a bubble or cocoon," says Owens. "In a dead-quiet store you feel like you have to whisper. Your enthusiasm drops; your courage is modified." Owens says retailers often don't use music, even though it can lift sales by as much as 20%.

Contact Points
Most retailers "haven't figured out that things in their stores need to be linked so they're harmonious," Owens says. That requires an awareness of what she calls brand "contact points," which can include such things as color, scent, the age and style sense of the staff, and the inventory and the way it's organized. Often such elements are diffuse, incoherent, confusing, and even disquieting to the shopper. Complementary contact points are soothing and reassuring. "We organize all the elements to dance together," says Owens. "We snuggle everything up close together so that what's communicated is a strong single image of what the store's about."