Store Layout Design: 9 Tips for Arranging Your Retail Shop

Planning the layout of your store is both an art and a science — it requires creativity, psychological insights, and testing.

In this post, we’ll explore common tactics that you can implement when planning the arrangement of your store. Go through them below and see if you can apply any of these pointers to your store’s layout and merchandising.

1. Use the right floor plan

Your floor plan plays a critical role in managing store flow and traffic. The choice of which one is right for you will depend on a number of factors including the size of your store, the products that you sell, and more importantly, your target market.

What are your customers like? Are they shopping in a hurry or can they take their time? Do they prefer self-service features or will your associates guide them throughout the store? Do want to find exactly what they need efficiently, or are they open to discovering items along the way?

These are just some of the questions you have to ask when deciding on your floor plan.

While there are plenty of store arrangements that you can adopt, here are the most common ones in retail:

Straight floor plan

This floor plan involves positioning shelves or racks in straight lines to create an organized flow of traffic. It’s one of the most economical store layouts and is mostly used in large retail spaces, supermarkets, and in stores that primarily use shelving to showcase their merchandise.

Racetrack or loop plan

This layout encourage customers to “loop” your store. You position your fixtures and merchandise in such a way that you create a path to guide that guides shoppers around your shop.

Angular floor plan

This store layout consists of curves and angles to give off a sophisticated vibe. According to the Houston Chronicle, the angular floor plan is usually adopted by high-end retailers and it “reduces the amount of display area you have but focuses instead on fewer, more popular lines.”

Geometric floor plan

The geometric floor plan utilizes racks and fixtures to create a unique store feel and design. Go with this layout if you’re showcasing trendy products.

Free flow plan

A free flow layout affords you the most creativity. You’re not limited to floor patterns or shelves that have to be placed at certain angles. And unlike the other layouts, you’re not prodding people to use a path around your store; instead, shoppers are encourage to browse and go in any direction.  

2. Be aware of where you “lead” shoppers

There’s quite a bit of debate about whether or not retailers should lead customers in a clockwise or counter-clockwise fashion inside their stores.

On one hand, some claim that since most people are right-handed, they instinctively turn to the right and explore the store in a counter-clockwise direction.

However, other studies indicate that shopper direction has more to do with their vehicle traffic patterns. Consumers in the UK and Australia for instance, drive on the left side of the road so they have a tendency to explore stores in a clockwise manner while consumers from right-hand driving countries like the US usually turn right when they enter a shop.

So which shopping direction theory should you believe? It looks like there is stronger evidence supporting the theory about driving behavior. As Herb Sorensen, author of Inside the Mind of the Shopper noted:

The pattern of movement in the supermarket is counterclockwise in the United States, but PathTracker studies in the UK, Australia, and Japan show a much greater tendency for shoppers to move in a clockwise pattern there… traffic patterns in the store may also be affected by vehicle traffic patterns outside. In these small studies, we noted that in countries with right-hand driving, where traffic circles move in a clockwise pattern, shoppers in stores may be more comfortable moving in the same direction.

Our recommendation? Test out the theory for yourself. If you find that your customers do indeed follow the country’s vehicle patterns, then you’ll know where to place new arrivals and other inviting elements.

3. Ensure that your product quantities are appropriate

The question of how much merchandise to have on display is an important one — and the answer is not clear-cut.

On the one hand, having more products on the sales floor has proven to increase sales. When Dollar General increased their shelf heights to 78 inches, sales per square foot increased from $165 to $201.

Meanwhile, when Walmart reduced their inventory, sales steadily declined, so the company remodeled their stores to add stock back.

What’s interesting, though, is while Walmart’s sales declined during that time period, customer satisfaction increased. In other words, customers were happier, but they weren’t buying as much. William S. Simon, then Walmart’s chief executive for the US division said that customers “loved the experience” of having less stock on the sales floor, but at the same time they also bought less.

Having too much product on the sales can lead to a decline in brand perception, especially if you’re trying to position yourself as a boutique or high-end retailer.

As Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy told the New York Times, “the more a store is packed, the more people think of it as value — just as when you walk into a store and there are fewer things on the floor, you tend to think they’re expensive.”

The bottom line? The amount of stock to display in your store will depend on the size of your shop, the image you want to project, and the type of experience you want to create.

If you’re a discount retailer who wants to make the most out of your store space, then packing your shop with merchandise could be a good strategy for you. But if you’re a high-end boutique, then it’s best to keep your selection curated and just put a few select items up for display.

4. Have enough space between products and fixtures

It’s ok to have shelves that are packed with merchandise (if that’s what you’re going for) as long as you still give your customers their personal space.

You want to avoid the butt-brush effect, which according to Underhill, is a phenomenon where shoppers would abandon a display or product they were looking at when they were bumped once or twice from behind.

Underhill wrote:

While reviewing the tape to study how shoppers negotiated the doorway during busy times, we began to notice something weird about the tie rack. Shoppers would approach it, stop and shop until they were bumped once or twice by people heading into or out of the store. After a few such jostles, most of the shoppers would move out of the way, abandoning their search for neckwear. We watched this over and over until it seemed clear that shoppers — women especially, though it was also true of men to a lesser extent — don’t like being brushed or touched from behind. They’ll even move away from merchandise they’re interested in to avoid it.

5. Freshen up your displays regularly

The rules around how often to change up your displays will vary depending on who you’re talking to and the type of store you run.

That said, most experts recommend changing some part of your store around once a week. You could, for example, change the outfits of your mannequins or feature a different upsell every week.

And for obvious reason, you want to switch up your merchandising whenever new products come in.

Also take into account the amount (and nature) of traffic that you’re getting in your store or shopping center. Do you get a lot of the same shoppers walking by? Are you on a busy street corner that’s on the way to people’s work locations? If so, then you’ll need to change up your displays more frequently in order to grab people’s attention on a consistent basis.

The last thing you want is for customers to get too accustomed to your store that it doesn’t even register when they pass by.

6. Find ways to appeal to multiple senses

While the majority of a location’s design is made up of visual components, other factors—including scent, touch, sound, and taste—can also make an impact on a store’s look and feel. If you wish to create a truly immersive in-store experience, design your store to appeal to as many shopper senses as possible.

Here are a few ideas on what you can do:

Sound

Pick your playlist wisely. Determine the atmosphere that you want to create and pick songs that enhance (and not overpower) the ambiance. Volume and beat can influence behavior, depending on who you’re selling to. For instance, while loud music may work well for retailers that target younger shoppers, the same thing can’t be said for merchants catering to adults.

Scent

Bakeries and cafes may have a slight edge here, as they can use the smell of their products to draw customers in. But you can still cater to people’s sense of smell even if you aren’t in the food industry.

Reuters cites a few great examples of scent marketing in action. Some upscale merchants for instance, “scent their baby goods department with the soothing smell of baby powder” while “Cruise lines and hotels use signature aromas in their rooms and on the brochures mailed to guests after they go home, in hopes the scent will bring back memories of a pleasant vacation and spur repeat bookings.”

Other retailers craft a scent made out of their best products. Brandi Halls, Lush’s director of brand communications for North America, told Racked that that strong scent in their stores are a mixture of their top products.

“When I walk in, I can definitely smell the Avobath bath bomb, the Karma soap, and the Vanillary perfume. These are some of our cult products,” she added.

The right scents to incorporate in your store will of course depend on your audience and business, so do your research and figure out which ones will encourage shoppers to linger and buy.

Touch

Having a “hands-on” vibe can enhance shopper experience. One way of doing this is to take out sample products from their boxes to encourage customers to test or play with them.

Apple pioneered this approach in the electronics retail space when they launched stores that had their products out in the open instead of being inside big brown boxes (which was the norm at the time).

Consumers loved it, and soon other retailers in the computer and electronics space followed suit.

Taste

If you sell food in your store, see if you can have taste testing stations. Again, this encourages a more hands-on shopping experience and makes it less intimidating for people.

Check out what Brandless did when in their LA pop-up store. To give people a taste of their coffee and tea, they set up a station where people can sample the products.

By the way, even if you’re not selling edible products, you can still appeal to shoppers’ sense of taste by offering nibbles and drinks that they can enjoy while shopping.

Cosmetics store Birchbox, for example, occasionally serves champagne in-store. Here’s a shot from their SoHo location in January:

7. Don’t forget to cross-merchandise

Grouping your merchandise into neat categories or departments is a great strategy, but see if you can find room to cross-merchandise different items. Identify products in your store that would go well together and put them in a single display.

View your merchandise from a customer’s perspective. For example, if you were a shopper looking at a particular dress, is there anything in the store that would go well with it?

Have a look at this display from Gymboree, which cross-merchandises a range of shirts and sweaters with a matching purse.

Here’s another cool example from Target. The top shelf showcases different brands of sunblock for kids, while the shelf directly below it has swim diapers on display. Target knows that customers shopping for swim diapers will likely need sunblock (and vice versa) so they cleverly put the products together.

8. Make sure your employees are on point

Don’t forget that your staff also plays a role in your store’s design and layout. How they are positioned in your shop can make or break your store’s appeal. Having your employees move around on the sales floor instead of staying behind the counter is a good way to make the place more inviting.

As the Retail Doctor Bob Phibbs said on his blog, “Get your employees out from behind the counter and keep them active, especially if you have windows.”

Consumers looking into your shop will be more enticed to walk in if they see people moving about. That’s why Bob recommends that merchants instruct employees to “act as if they were customers” if a store is empty in order to make it more enticing.

9. Track and measure your efforts

Last not but not least, always ask whether or not you’re making the right floor plan, design, or arrangement decisions. This is critical to making sure that you’re implementing the best strategies possible.

You and your staff should be very observant with how people behave in your store. Pay attention to where they go, where they linger, and what they do while they’re inside. Also ask questions on what they think of your shop and what you can do to improve.

Let’s say you’re implementing a major layout or merchandising change in your store. You want to benchmark metrics like sales, traffic, and dwell time before you make the updates, and then measure the results once the changes are implemented.

Also, consider making use of foot traffic analytics solutions such as people counters, beacons, heat sensors, and more. These tools can give you deeper analytics and insights on shopper habits and behavior, so you can make data-driven decisions.

Finally, you need to ensure that your layouts and displays are being executed correctly, so conduct store audits whenever you make changes to your store. Consider using a tool such as Compliantia to evaluate your stores.

Further Reading


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out Vend’s guide to increasing sales. This handy resource offers 10 proven tactics for boosting retail sales and improving your bottom line.

Specifically, you will:

  • Discover how to turn savvy shoppers into loyal customers
  • Learn how to add real and perceived value to each sale
  • Discover the most effective ways to set yourself apart from your competitors

    Learn More

Bottom line

Your store layout and merchandising directly affects your store traffic, dwell time, and sales, among other things. That’s why it’s critical that you invest the time and resources in making sure that the look and feel of your stores are on point. Also remember when it comes to layouts, displays, and merchandising, your work is never finished. So keep finding trends and ideas, and always look for ways to step up your game.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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