Planning Your Retail Store Layout in 7 Easy Steps
This article is part of a larger series on Retail Management.
Having a deliberate retail store layout is vital for maximizing revenue for brick-and-mortar stores. By crafting an effective layout plan, retailers can strategically direct shoppers to high-priority products, drive impulse sales, manage customer flow, stay organized, and create a positive customer experience.
Continue reading to learn how to create a sales-driving retail store layout in eight easy steps, or download our store layout guide to read later:
Download Free Store Layout Guide
Step 1: Decide on a Retail Store Layout
Large or small, most retail stores use one of six basic types of retail store layouts: grid, loop, free-flow/mixed, diagonal, forced-path, and angular. The type of layout you use depends on your space, the shopping experience you are trying to create, and the products you sell.
For example, grocery stores usually use grid layouts because they are predictable and efficient to navigate. On the other hand, boutiques typically use more creative layouts that allow businesses to highlight different products.
Choose a floor plan that works for your business and helps you maximize your profits and create a positive customer experience.
Retail Floor Plan
Example Store Design
Grid Floor Plans
Used in grocery, big box, and convenience stores
Shelf-stocked goods such as books, toys, specialty foods, hardware, and homewares
Loop Floor Plans
Maximize wall space and lead shoppers along a set pathway
Apparel, accessory, toy, homeware, kitchenware, personal care, and specialty retail stores
Free-Flow/Mixed Floor Plans
Used in specialty and boutique settings
Apparel, accessory, personal care, specialty brand, and mixed-use stores like bakeries that also display packaged goods
Diagonal Floor Plans
Maximize employee visibility in retail stores with lots of product testing
Self-serve kiosks, tech and electronic stores, and beauty and cosmetics retailers
Forced-Path Floor Plans
Customers are guided through a predetermined path and exposed to every product
Furniture, home decor, and experiential retail stores and showrooms
Angular Floor Plans
Showcase curated or edited inventories in designer or specialty shops
Designers, artisans, high-end apparel and accessories retailers, and curated or limited collections
Remember, your retail store layout guides product placement, directs customer flow and defines the overall look and feel of your store, so it deserves plenty of thought. Many factors will affect your floor plan choice, including the size and shape of your sales floor, the types of products you sell, and even the customers you hope to attract. Consider these factors as we explore each floor plan option in detail.
A grid floor plan, also called a straight layout, uses a grid-like arrangement to create a series of parallel aisles and displays. They are great if you have a lot of merchandise, as they maximize every inch of available floor space, including the corners.
Grid plans are easy for customers to navigate and store owners to categorize. Plus, these layouts offer plenty of endcaps and feature wall exposure for promotional items and seasonal products.
- Commonly found in: Grocery, big box, and convenience stores, retailers requiring a lot of shelf-stocking space
- Best for: Shelf-stocked goods such as books, toys, specialty foods, hardware, and homewares
- Pros: Easy to navigate, can accommodate high foot traffic, established merchandising techniques, encourages browsing, maximize product space, fosters customer familiarity
- Cons: Unimaginative, moving things around can lead to frustrated customers, difficult to feature new products, can stimulate rushed shopping behaviors
A loop floor plan, sometimes called a racetrack layout, creates a guided shopping experience. It features a defined pathway throughout the store, exposing customers to every item on display.
This floor plan is highly customizable and provides an excellent base for combining layouts. In the loop layout, the central part of the store can utilize a grid or free-flow layout, or even a mix of the two.
Loop layouts work well for most types of small retail stores, such as apparel and accessories, toys, homewares, kitchenware, personal care, and specialty products.
- Commonly found in: Apparel and accessories stores, toy stores, homewares, kitchenware, personal care, specialty stores
- Best for: Maximizing wall space and leading shoppers along a set pathway
- Pros: Engaging shopping experience, guided shopping path, high product exposure, customizable
- Cons: Difficult to update displays, can lead to browsing rather than buying, does not maximize floor space, frustrating for customers in search of something specific
A free-flow or mixed retail store layout uses different display types throughout the store—there is no set path, allowing customers to shop freely. This layout is the favorite among specialty retailers because it enables maximum creativity, is easily changed and updated, and fosters an exploratory shopping experience.
Free-flow plans create open sightlines throughout the store, making your wall space highly visible and poised for display features. The open sightlines also make it easy to funnel customers toward specific merchandise zones using eye-catching accent colors and product groupings.
The open look of a free-flow layout is ideal for all types of boutiques and upscale stores. It also works well for stores with smaller inventories since it highlights product groupings.
- Commonly found in: Gift shops, specialty stores, boutiques, retailers with limited inventory
- Best for: Creating customizable displays and promoting shopper exploration
- Pros: Uses different displays for different products, promotes exploration and product discovery, open sightlines, good for wall displays, works well in irregular spaces, easy to update
- Cons: Easily cluttered, can be difficult to navigate, customers won’t see the same things, encourages loitering, can be difficult to maintain
Diagonal floor plans are a variation of the grid layout, using aisles placed at angles to increase customer sightlines and expose new merchandise. They feel more open than grid layouts, which improves visibility and promotes more browsing.
A diagonal store design is ideal in electronic or technology stores, beauty and cosmetics retailers, specialty food stores, and any shop that encourages shoppers to test or sample products.
It lets customers move easily between aisles while providing store employees with good angles to view shoppers. Like free-flow store plans, diagonal layouts create open sightlines throughout the store, and this visibility is excellent for pointing customers toward a central sampling or demonstration area.
- Commonly found in: Self-serve kiosks, tech and electronic stores, and beauty and cosmetic retailers
- Best for: Maximizing employee visibility in retail stores with lots of product testing or self-service options
- Pros: Easy to navigate, high visibility for both employees and customers, maximizes display space, easy to implement theft protection measures
- Cons: Prone to narrow aisles, less room for creativity, difficult to change
Forced-path or guided floor plans are store layouts with one pathway that guides customers throughout the store, ultimately dropping them off at the checkout area.
These layouts are often found in large spaces, like warehouses, and operate similarly to a guided tour or museum. IKEA is a great example of a forced path floor plan. The Swedish retailer uses arrows on its pathways to guide customers through all of its expansive showrooms and avoid traffic issues along the way.
Forced-path floor plans are ideal for retailers that want to create a specific, memorable shopping experience and are a good choice for showcasing many different product departments or design displays in large spaces. These floor plans do, however, require a lot of effort to keep shoppers interested throughout their journey. Demonstrations, different types of displays, and signage are all great tools that retailers can use to keep the forced path engaging.
- Commonly found in: Warehouses, large showrooms, experimental stores
- Best for: Guiding customers through a predetermined path and exposing them to every product
- Pros: Ample opportunity promoting impulse buys, immersive experience, lots of control over customer experience, promotes exposure to every product
- Cons: Can be frustrating when shopping for a specific item, risk of boring customers, difficult to design, can cause traffic jams if not well-regulated
Angular floor plans use many smaller displays in the center of the store to create a dynamic shopping experience that highlights a smaller number of products. Table displays automatically draw customer attention, which makes this layout highly engaging and promotes interaction with all the products on the floor.
However, angular plans typically have limited display space. As a result, you mostly find angular plans in showrooms, high-end boutiques, and designer stores with highly edited or curated collections.
Stores with angular floor plans need substantial inventory storage space for restocking items and holding additional sizes.
- Commonly found in: Stores with small or curated merchandise that also have large inventory storage spaces
- Best for: Showcasing a small number of products that you want customers to engage with
- Pros: Perception of higher value, draws attention to merchandise, promotes engagement, easily updated and changed
- Cons: Limited display space, difficult to manage traffic flows, not suited for a high volume of customers
Tip: Displays with softer or rounded lines create better traffic flow than squared fixtures in open spaces.
Also, don’t feel confined to one retail floor plan or another. You can always opt for a floor plan that combines two or more layout types within the same space.
Tip: Put it on Paper!
Before you start arranging physical items and fixtures in your store, map out your layout on grid paper, a blueprint, or using a software program like SmartSheet. This is an essential space planning step to avoid crunching elements too close together or disrupting traffic flow.
Step 2: Consider Traffic Flow & Customer Behavior
Customer flow is one of the biggest things your store layout will impact. Your store layout should work with the natural ways shoppers flow through your space to avoid creating discomfort and evoke a positive customer experience. A layout that works with your customers’ natural shopping habits will help you create a layout that is both comfortable and natural and drives your sales.
The main customer behaviors you should understand and accommodate in your floor plan include:
Decompression Upon Entry
When customers enter your store, they need space to acclimate and get a lay of the land. To accommodate this and ensure your customers are not overwhelmed at entry, you should create a decompression zone in the first five to 15 feet of your entrance. Decompression is vital to any store layout as it allows customers to enter your business with a clear head, ready to shop.
The space at the entrance of your store where your customer makes a mental shift from the outside world to your store environment. Upon entry, they take stock of your store, develop an opinion of your brand, and even make subconscious judgments about the pieces and prices they expect to find.
Avoid overwhelming customers and allow sightlines throughout your space by sparsely decorating your decompression zone. Some merchants will feature small displays with their bestselling products to reel people in, but you should keep your displays at one to two pieces to avoid clutter.
The Right Turn
Most shoppers in the US will automatically turn right when they enter a store. To avoid disrupting shoppers’ natural movement, you should:
- Highlight the right-hand side of your store: The right side of your store, especially the area just beyond the decompression zone, is best for promotional displays since this is where customers will look and shop first.
- Direct traffic counterclockwise: As customers will naturally drift to the right upon entry, you should arrange your store so that traffic flows based on this right-to-left pattern.
- Place checkouts at the end of the path: Checkouts and registers should be located to the left of the entrance so you can maximize the right side of your store for product exposure. The leftward placement will also make the counter fall along the natural exit path.
Customers are also more likely to stay on the floor they entered on rather than traveling up or down to other levels. Keep your best products on your main level to maximize exposure.
Customers do not like to feel cramped when shopping, so you should allow for ample space for movement. Aisles must be wide enough to invite customers to browse, not bump into other shoppers, and—most importantly—pick up and carry items for purchase.
Spacious pathways are a key aspect of good store planning. I recommend aisle widths of 3.5 feet or more to ensure that strollers and wheelchairs can fit comfortably and customers can browse on both sides without feeling cramped. You should also consider whether your customers will be using a cart or shopping baskets, so you can make extra space for traffic to pass both ways. Wide aisles also prevent the dreaded butt brush effect.
Butt Brush Effect:
When customers on opposite sides of an aisle brush up against one another with their backs turned due to a lack of aisle space. If customers see narrow aisles, they will often avoid them to dodge this uncomfortable encounter.
If your aisles aren’t wide enough, you could also be subject to complaints or lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires you to have aisles that are a minimum of 3 feet wide. If someone reports you as noncompliant, you could be fined if you don’t widen your aisles and remove obstructions. Don’t worry, we will look at more ADA rules and how you can stay compliant in Step 8.
To test your store’s pathways, I suggest rolling a large baby stroller or shopping cart through your store. If you can easily navigate all traffic pathways, your customers should enjoy a comfortable browsing experience.
Step 3: Position Your Checkout
A cash wrap, also known as a cash well or checkout counter, is the area that houses your point-of-sale (POS) system or cash register and where customers pay for their merchandise.
In general, the front left of a retail store is a good location for the checkout counter. Shoppers naturally drift to the right when they enter a store, loop around, and then leave on the left side. A checkout counter at the front left of your store puts the last step of the shopping experience on your customers’ natural exit path. Plus, this placement doesn’t distract people from shopping or take up prime product display space.
While the front left placement is best for most businesses, for some stores it makes sense to place your cash wrap at the rear of the store. This is great for larger retailers that have many in-store associates at a time as it frees up product space in the front of your store. However, placement in the back is not practical for small retailers with limited staff since this positioning can leave the front of the store unattended.
You can learn more about cash wraps, the different types, and how to set one up for your business with our cash wraps guide.
You also want to be sure you give enough space for your cash wrap. For smaller stores that don’t use carts, use a checkout counter large enough to hold products as customers continue shopping. Empty hands pick up more products, which leads to more sales. Also, make sure checkout counters are large enough to handle the checkout process efficiently and allow space for customers to put down a handbag.
Step 4: Use Smart Product Placement to Maximize Exposure
Once you have sketched out your floor plan, it is time to begin product mapping. When placing your products, do so in a way that promotes customer engagement, creates a positive experience, and drives your sales.
The process of determining where your products will go in your store.
There are several things that you should consider when mapping where your products should go.
- Identify top sellers or key products: You should know the products that are customer favorites or your brand’s signature pieces so you can display them prominently and use them to create interest in other products.
- Carve out a section for displaying sale merchandise: You want to be sure you have a designated area for sale merchandise. I recommend placing your sale section toward the back of the store and keeping it relatively small to draw people through your space and avoid taking attention from full-priced displays.
- Create a space for seasonal and limited availability products: You want to highlight new, limited, or seasonal items, so be sure you have a good space for these products that will draw the eye and promote engagement.
Click through the dropdown for principles to guide you through creating your product map as effectively as possible.
Implement Zone Design & Merchandising Strategies
In zone design, you categorize products into “zones,” such as kitchen and cooking, home decor, or skirts and pants. The quantities of products determine the size of each zone.
Zoning design makes it easy for shoppers to find what they are looking for, which will lead to more transactions and greater sales. Not only that, but your customers will also have a better experience shopping in your store.
Place Bestsellers in Primary Zones
Primary Zones are located in the back of the store and are where you display bestselling or essential products. For example, you will often find bread, milk, and cheese in the back of grocery stores. This arrangement will force customers to walk through your entire store, get exposed to new products, and even motivate impulse purchases.
Another popular way that retailers use bestsellers is by cross merchandising them with other items. This strategy works similarly to primary zoning in that the bestseller will reel customers in and then they will be exposed to new products in the same area.
The practice of displaying items from different product categories together to incentivize customers to make multiple item purchases. Cross merchandising provides value to customers by reminding them of a need, sparking an idea, or saving them time from having to search the rest of the store.
Utilize Cross Merchandise Strategies to Increase Units Per Transaction
You should also use cross merchandising to make shopping easier for customers and to promote multiple item purchases.
For example, say you cross merchandise pasta and red sauce in the same aisle. Placing these items together makes it easy for customers to find everything they need for a pasta dinner and will help you sell through your items faster.
As you are laying out your store, consider what products work well together and how you can feature them together in a cross merchandising strategy. Zone your products so that customers can find things easily and complementary items are together, even if that means placing categorically different items in the same area.
Add Low-cost Impulse Products at Your Checkout
Place impulse items like small toys, candy bars, lip gloss, or other small, low-cost items near your register. When customers approach the register to pay and leave, you don’t want them to stop shopping. Placing low-cost impulse buy items near registers, as shown in the image below, encourages shoppers to add an item or two as they check out, which will drive your sales.
Tip: Items closer to the front of the store or around the register are more likely to get stolen because they are easier to get out the door, so place your most expensive items toward the back of the store and utilize mirrors and cameras to maintain visibility.
Use Power Walls to Peak Interest
A power wall is a wall in a high-traffic or key area of your store that you merchandise with items that attract attention and promote engagement. Typically, you place it on the right of your store, just beyond the entrance, so that it is one of the first things customers see when they enter your store and can draw people into your space.
Power walls can be anywhere throughout your store—just be sure that they are in a high-traffic area to get maximum visibility. Use them to showcase important departments and new and seasonal items, create vignettes, tell product stories, and feature high-demand, high-profit products.
However, you should remember that your power wall will need to change frequently, so plan for that. Outfit your power walls with hooks, shelving, or other fixtures that you can easily change to showcase various product groupings.
Step 5: Optimize Products With Fixtures & Displays
Once you have an idea of your general store design and product mapping plan, it’s time to consider your store fixtures and displays.
- Fixtures: Permanent—fixed—parts of your store such as lighting, counters, fixed shelving units, wall mounted racks, and dressing rooms
- Displays: Pieces that hold product and tend to be mobile, versatile, and customizable—modular units, tables, slatwall, and free standing clothing racks
When it comes to outfitting your store with fixtures and displays, start by investing in quality fixtures, then add flexible displays that can be repurposed, and finally seek out affordable temporary displays from your product suppliers.
Choose versatile fixtures and displays that can display a range of products. Your business’s merchandise is constantly changing, and you want to be sure you don’t have to constantly buy new fixtures and displays to show them off.
Click through the drop-down menu for tips around fixtures and displays.
Invest in Fixtures That Define Your Brand
Your store’s walls, floors, fixtures, and displays should create a coordinated backdrop that defines your brand but lets your products pop. The ultimate purpose of fixtures and display units is to put your products front and center. At the same time, however, the overall look, styling, and finish of your fixtures and displays are your biggest branding opportunity.
Choose cohesive fixtures and display pieces that speak to your branding and coordinate with your product collections but don’t overpower them, like the successful looks below.
Use Displays That Enhance Your Unique Products
In addition to choosing displays and fixtures that enhance your brand, you should also select ones that enhance your products. Different products are better suited for different kinds of display strategies. For example, a clothing store will likely want to have hanging space, whereas a pottery store will likely want to stick with shelving and tables.
Use adjustable display options such as slatwall, gridwall, apparel racks, shelves, and tables so you can use them for many different products.
Additionally, your fixtures and displays must be able to handle products’ weights and sizes. Harder and heavier items should have sturdy and tough shelves, whereas lighter products can use floating shelves or furniture pieces.
Save Money on Specialty Displays
Many manufacturers offer retailers low-cost or free specialty display fixtures designed to highlight their branded lines, like the one pictured below. These make great speed bumps or outpost display units for those on a tight budget. Your product line reps can tell you if they’re available, plus provide merchandising and display advice.
While you’ll likely want to splurge on your permanent fixtures and displays, you can opt for these free or low-cost displays for seasonal, temporary, and new products and point-of-purchase (POP) impulse displays.
Use Displays & Fixtures to Create Speed Bumps & Control Customer Flow
While your store layout should accommodate shoppers’ natural behaviors, you can also use your layout to control customer flow and create certain behaviors. Speed bumps are a great way to slow your shoppers down, get them to engage with your products, and drive your sales.
Displays or fixtures designed to make your customers pause, so they engage with your products and slow down their shopping.
They help draw attention to surrounding products and create more customer interest. For example, at clothing stores, a cluster of mannequins by a table display will make customers more inclined to stop and look at the mannequins and subsequently explore the offerings on the table. Or a paper store might place a table of cards in the middle of the store, where shoppers will stop and look at all the options.
Speed bumps can look like anything from table displays to focal points to temporary POP displays. The thing that makes a design feature a speed bump is whether it causes people to slow down and engage.
Your speed bumps should go in areas where there are not a lot of other displays; thus, there is low engagement. They are not typically fixed and can move when you better understand your customer flow and where those low engagement points are in your space. Play with different positioning and use an integrated POS system to track the effectiveness of your speedbumps.
Step 6: Add Comfort Zones & Customer Amenities
In addition to controlling customer flow, creating effective displays, and driving your sales, your retail floor plan is about welcoming your customers in, making them feel at home, and providing an experience that makes them want to return.
Thoughtful amenities like seating, dressing rooms, and customer service areas will make the shopping experience memorable for customers and encourage them to continue to engage with your business. Incorporate elements that provide customer comfort as you are creating your store layout.
Provide some type of seating for customers and anyone accompanying them. There were countless times in my experience when partners, friends, or relatives would spend their entire time in my shop seated in our chairs. Our seating options not only encouraged the shoppers in the group to stay longer since their party was comfortable, but it also gave everyone a positive experience.
Seating can be as simple as stools near the checkout, a lounge area near the dressing rooms, or an entry bench. In some cases, however, seating is not just comfort and is actually a part of facilitating easy shopping. For example, a shoe store should provide seating throughout its space, so customers have a spot to sit and lace up.
Consider how seating might be used in your space, whether just to provide a spot to relax or as part of shopping activities, and add chairs and other fixtures accordingly.
Tip: If you have fitting rooms, adding seating to the surrounding area is key.
Fitting rooms are an increasingly important way for brick-and-mortar stores to compete with their ecommerce rivals. They offer a private place for customers to try on clothing and get up close and personal with your merchandise.
Carve out enough space for your fitting rooms so customers don’t feel cramped and uncomfortable. You should also outfit your fitting rooms with storage, seating, ample lighting, and hanging areas so customers can change easily and have a place for their personal items. Providing these features will ensure your customers can use your fitting rooms with ease and enjoy their experience in your store.
Want to learn more about creating the best dressing rooms? Read our guide to designing the best fitting rooms.
Customer Service Areas
Your customer service area is where customers can conduct returns, ask questions, and get assistance from store associates. In smaller stores with fewer customers, your customer service area is typically your checkout counter; in larger stores with heavier traffic, there tends to be a completely separate counter where customers can get assistance without clogging up the checkout lines.
Online Order Pickup
When mapping out your layout, you should also consider adding a space for employees to pick and pack online orders and a designated area for shoppers to collect their orders.
Though the popularity of click and collect shopping skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic because of safety concerns, shoppers are still planning to use the service for the sake of convenience. Clearly mark the area with an “Online Pickup” sign and leave pickup instructions on your website to ensure customers know what to expect and that the transfer goes smoothly.
Learn more in our guide to click and collect for retailers.
Step 7: Ensure Your Store Is Accessible (ADA Compliance)
To ensure your space is accessible to all and to avoid any costly fines, you should be sure that you are following the guidelines set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are rules that retailers have to follow to ensure that spaces are navigable and comfortable for Americans facing disabilities.
The ADA has a comprehensive accessibility checklist specifically for retail establishments. It outlines all the items you need to include to be ADA compliant.
The main things that you need to account for in your retail store layout include:
- Parking and Entry: Keep parking areas clean and unobstructed and ensure that handicap spaces are available and occupied only by those with proper credentials. You should also have a wheelchair-accessible ramp or curb option that remains clear of obstructions and maintains enough space for wheelchairs to navigate.
- Navigable Store: Make sure your aisles are at least 3 feet wide and remain unobstructed. You should also keep enough space between displays, fixtures, and design elements for wheelchairs and scooters to pass. Also be wary of items on the ground and maintain a clear floor space without obstacles where people might trip.
- Restrooms, Fitting Rooms, and Elevators: Keep accessible bathrooms open during all business hours, remove items from fitting rooms that impede wheelchair access, and maintain your elevators so they are in working order during business hours.
- Customer Information: Ensure your customers know about your disability-friendly features by posting accessibility information on your website and educating staff so they can provide in-store assistance.
Planning your retail store layout is no small task, but many small retail store owners do it all themselves with great success. Take it slow, follow our steps, and remember to put the customer first. With the ideas in this guide and a little elbow grease, you’ll soon be on your way to mapping out a retail store that’s easy to navigate, welcoming to customers and, best of all, profitable.