How can you bring more customers into your bookstore? Think about a hummingbird zeroing in on a red flower. Nature employs color to catch the attention of creatures of every stripe. Just as a colorful plant is more likely to be pollinated, a colorful bookstore is more likely to sell books.

For millions of years, color has served as a map for living creatures. We evolved to see color thanks to sunlight, and we don’t just see the basic palette of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, but a whopping 10 million colors spanning the rainbow. Color tells us when to stop and when to go, what to reach for in the supermarket, and which subway line to take. It triggers more than 80% of our neocortical activity (language, movement, problem solving, and more). And happily, color is one of the least expensive ways to make profound changes in your bookstore. Below are some of our favorite ways to use it.

Structure, Fixtures, and Furniture

In nature, a bright pink flower calls out to a butterfly. Likewise, what you want to sell should stand out, and everything else should be camouflaged. Ceilings, floors, bookshelves, and furniture are the green leaves to your colorful flowers (i.e., your books!). This isn’t to say that your fixtures need to be natural wood. As long as your background color is consistent throughout the store, your customers’ eyes will perceive it as the backdrop. Black bookshelves with black floors and black furniture make a dramatic backdrop for books. Even a color as bright as red on fixtures, furniture, and walls will work if it’s consistent. If you have wood, keep the hue (color), intensity (brightness), and value (darkness or lightness) of your walls, floors, and ceiling the same as your wood color.

Paint is the easiest, cheapest way to alter your interiors. If your wood floors compete with your shelves, you can paint the floors a color that matches the shelves or one that is a different hue but is similar in value and intensity to the shelves. If your furniture is in many different colors and styles, spray paint all the different pieces the same color to unify them.


The male bowerbird puts on a great display. Sometimes he chooses a monochromatic scheme to decorate his bower (all blues, for example), sometimes a multicolored one. A flashy display is an excellent way to catch customers’ attention.

A group of randomly colored books do not make a visual statement. A customer will have to read each title to figure out the theme. Color, however, provides an instant clue.

A monochromatic window display, with the thematic color used in the backdrop, will grab the attention of passersby any time of year. For Valentine’s Day, the theme is love, so the color will be red or pink.

If you like multicolor displays or need to make visual order out of unrelated colors, arrange your books spectrally—i.e., from red to violet, in the order of the colors of the rainbow. There is a merchandising method to this madness. Make sure the backdrop of a spectral display is neutral (black, white, or beige) so that it doesn’t compete with the foreground.

Displays that highlight two or three colors also work. Choose books with related subjects, and jackets with colors that work well together. Use multiple copies of each book; repetition makes more of an impact.


Just as honey guides (the darker colors inside flowers) show bees where nectar is, you can point readers to different categories using color. Choose a different background color for each category sign (but use one color for the text on all the signs) for maximum impact. Use contrasting colors for adjacent sections so that they stand out.

If you never really thought about your logo, you may want to come up with a new color scheme for it, and then use that scheme everywhere. You can become the sunflower of the bookstore industry, immediately identifiable by your color.

Don’t be a shrinking violet—just look to the mistress of color, Mother Nature. She has the solution to every problem.