Business owners like you work hard to make products and services easy to find and understand.

Even with the rise of internet retail and online shopping, between 40 percent and 70 percent of customers make their final purchasing decisions in a store with a physical retail location. When you set up your retail space, there are some tips and tricks to make your brick-and-mortar space more inviting to potential customers, so you can convert them into fans of your brand. This is called retail store design.

The way your storefront looks from the outside, as well as from within, can define for new customers whether you’re a luxury shop, a place to find anything under the sun, a fun novelty store, or a storefront for a very specific designer. The design of your retail space can create a sense of brand personality, which can then be reflected in print and online marketing, including your website, catalogue, or social media. These tips range from store layout to colors to the mysterious ingredient: ambiance, which is easier to create than you may think!

Where Should You Start When Designing a Retail Space?

Deciding on a floor plan starts with blueprints. The amount of square feet you have, the size of the products you’re selling, the number of employees you have or need, and the location of existing structures in the space all influence where you put displays, the checkout counter, information booths, signage, and furniture. Many retail stores put racks and shelves in a basic loop pattern, so customers are guided in a circle around the store to the checkout; however, there are many other kinds of layouts you can use with psychologically similar flows of traffic.

There are seven principles of retail store design to keep in mind as you go.

  1. Make your merchandise eye-catching.
  2. Encourage the customer to take their time.
  3. Mark out the path the customer should take without being obvious or obstructive.
  4. Encourage the customer’s natural tendency to turn right after entering (at least in North America).
  5. Make bold choices that reflect your brand and keep you apart from your competition.
  6. Aerate the layout. This may include decluttering some areas, adding seating, or placing a few plants or lighting instruments in certain areas to create a feeling of expansion.
  7. Always think of your space as an opportunity for creative solutions.

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After you take care of the basic structural issues, like where support beams, pipes, and wires need to be placed, you can begin arranging your actual product displays. While you create displays, consider how products work together – for example, a small soap display can complement a display for shower curtains – and also consider how many items you need or want to put out. Do you want your customers to be able to examine numerous choices so they can find exactly what they’re looking for? Does your space work better with a minimalist approach? The decision for abundance versus minimalism can influence where you place these product displays.


The main component of display creation, though, should be consideration of your customers’ foot traffic – their natural flow around the store and how you can influence their thinking and emotions as they move through your displays.

Traffic Flow Enhances the Retail Experience

From a practical perspective, your customers need to be able to move around the store, find what they need easily, see other items they may be interested in buying, and get information to answer their questions – either from written information about the products or from a friendly employee. They need to be able to find the cash register and not get bored waiting in line.

These needs are easy to manage and accommodate, but what makes the shopping experience pleasant? The answer to this question will vary based on who your target demographic is, but there are several foundational elements that are true of any retail experience.

There are some of the ways you can enhance your customers’ shopping experience regardless of what you sell.

  • The decompression zone:This is the entryway of your storefront, typically about the first 5 to 15 feet of retail space. Essentially, your customer crosses the threshold from the outside world into your store, and that transition should be smooth and engaging. New customers will make snap judgments about a potential retail experience in your store based on this area, so creating visually appealing displays, welcome signs, and lighting in this area can make them feel happy about choosing your store.
  • The right side: In North America, 90 percent of customers turn to the right when they enter a retail store. For many retailers, the right-hand wall is called the “power wall” because it is the first flat surface customers encounter. This can serve as a high-impact area for your products, so it is important to create an appealing display of your merchandise and services here.
  • Creating a path: Once a customer is in your store, whether they’re simply browsing or looking for a specific item, you have the power to guide their journey. You can guide them through specific sections of your store based on popularity, price point, or association with each other.Over time, pay attention to which areas have products that are more popular because you may change the path based on what your customers are most interested in. However, you also do not want to appear to force them in a specific direction. Instead, use racks or shelves of items, furniture, and information stands to guide them without appearing too pushy. Typically, this path moves counterclockwise in North America, based on customers turning to the right immediately after entering a store. You can make this path more appealing by changing the color and texture of the floor, and you can guide the customer’s eyes to specific areas with bright colors, arrangements of certain items, or prominent but attractive information displays.
  • Slowing the customer’s pace: While you want your customers to follow a specific path around your store, you typically want them to do so slowly. This way, they can browse your items, encouraging them to purchase more.Even if they do not pick up additional products, the aesthetics of different display areas can lighten their mood. Sometimes, retailers create visual or physical breaks, sometimes called “speed bumps,” which give the customer’s eye and mind something else to do while they are on the hunt for other products. A good way to create an appealing speed bump is to create a display of impulse purchase items near a section it complements – for example, a display of handbags near the shoe section. Even if your retail space is small, you can still divide products into complementary sections and create displays of items that guide foot traffic in a certain pattern.
  • Enough room: Customers do not like feeling cramped or crowded. It is important to make sure your aisles and display areas are big enough for several people to move around each other without accidentally touching. You may include a strategic bench or two or a seating area if you have enough space.
  • Ringing them up: It is important for your checkout counter to be in a strategic spot – a natural stopping point for the customer and a location that is easy to see if they decide to stop shopping earlier than your outlined path. If the average customer in the United States turns to the right, and you create a circular path around your store, you may assume that the best place for the checkout counter would be to the left of the door; however, this is not necessarily true, as it can depend on how much space you have, how you have to divide up your store, and even where certain support structures like beams are located. For some retail spaces, having the counter in the middle of the store or at the back, across from the entrance, makes the most sense.You can also put displays of low-cost products near the cash register, for customers to pass as they approach the line. This doesn’t have to be displays right next to the cash register, although many businesses place small “impulse purchase” items as close to the register as possible. Even peppering the end of the path with several small, colorful displays can lead to additional purchases.
  • Walking through it: Once you’ve created a space you think works, test it out! Walk through it yourself, starting by turning to the right. Ask friends and family to come in and try it, offering feedback about their movements through the space, how they feel in certain areas, and if everything feels convenient and pleasing.

Mental and Emotional Customer Experiences to Keep in Mind

Once you have the zones and displays in your store defined and you have tested the walking path, there are still some notes to remember to keep your customers happy.

  • Keep everything spotless. One survey found that one-third of shoppers avoided a business because it appeared dirty from the outside.
  • Create a sense of opening or expansiveness. For example, some stores cut windows or holes in walls separating rooms so the space feels larger.
  • Get help from a professional lighting designer to make your interior space pleasant while highlighting your products.
  • The fashion designer Coco Chanel famously advised fashionistas to look in the mirror before leaving and remove one item from their outfit. This applies to your retail displays to help visually declutter them.
  • Paint an accent wall if you have a small retail space or get help coordinating a pleasing color palette along with textures like textiles or wood grain.
  • Use something other than traditional shelves or racks to display items. For example, if oak barrels are potentially on brand for you, use these to create a visual texture for your display.
  • Digital features, like brand information scrollable on a tablet or an interactive digital display, can enhance your customers’ emotional tie to your brand since they have directly interacted with it in some way.
  • Incorporate other senses in addition to visual appeal. Textures, scents, and sounds are the best ways to do this, and sound is one of the least expensive yet most impactful.

Environment and Ambiance Are Crucial Final Touches

Although color and light have an influence on mood, this can change by demographic and even by time of day or time of year. Brighter, whiter lights may be more impactful during winter months while darker colors can feel better for your customers during the seasonal transition from summer to fall. One customer may love the color yellow while another hates it even though they are both still in your target demographic.

Scent is another tricky ambiance-creator. Many people have allergies or sensitivities to perfumes or certain plants, so you may accidentally trigger hay fever, watery eyes, or an itchy nose in someone who struggles with these issues. If the scent is too strong, your customers may feel overpowered. Even a neutral scent can be displeasing to someone. Investing in aromatherapy to enhance your store can bring up intense emotional attachments for many customers, but you may still accidentally cause problems with this sensory experience.

Music is one of the least expensive but most emotionally enhancing ways to encourage your customers to feel good, relaxed, and energized. The human brain is uniquely attuned to music. Creating a playlist that can help customers relax into a slower pace, put them in a happy meditative state, or even perk up their physical energy – depending, of course, on how music will reflect your brand – can bring new people in, emotionally tie customers to your brand, and make them want to come back for your store’s full shopping experience.

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