Retail store design is how retailers set up product displays, decorations, and merchandise throughout their store as a means to enhance their brand, drive sales, and foster a great customer experience.
Store design is powerful, and, if implemented well, can help grow your business. Done poorly, on the other hand, it can be a real detriment and drive people away. A survey from facilities management software provider ServiceChannel found that 64% of consumers had left a store because of disorganization and physical appearance.
This article will look at tips and tricks that will help you master the art of store design, avoid the pitfalls that drive people away, and maximize your space.
1. Choose the Best Store Layout for Your Business
Before you delve into your store’s aesthetics, you have to lay your groundwork and select a store layout that will serve your business. Store layout refers to a strategic arrangement of permanent fixtures within a store designed to create a positive shopping experience and promote purchases.
You must define the needs and goals of your store layout at the onset of your design process so that you can implement something that makes sense for your business. For example, a grocery store might implement a layout designed to hold and organize as much product as possible and facilitate an easy shopping experience. Meanwhile, a boutique might want to display fewer, curated items and create a more explorational shopping experience.
Choosing the right store layout is determined by the type of merchandise you sell, the amount of square footage you have, and how you want traffic to move through your space. Done with the right considerations, a store layout can drive your sales and create an enjoyable experience for your customers.
For more on planning your store layout and how you can use it to drive your business forward, check out our step-by-step guide.
2. Maximize Customer Flow
Customer flow is the number of people who enter your store and the way they move through your space. It is essential to understand your customer flow, so pay attention to these things when determining what your flow looks like and how you should manage it:
- Busiest times of day: Knowing the maximum number of people who tend to visit your store will help you to allocate travel space and understand where and how flow is impacted at peak times. You can use a manual people counter or a door sensor (such as Dor) to accurately count every person who enters your shop.
- Most trafficked zones of your store: Know where people tend to congregate so you can make space for people to shop comfortably.
- Purchase data: Monitor purchase data to help understand where people are and are not shopping, so you can make better design decisions. An integrated POS system like Lightspeed will automatically track your sales data and generate other valuable reports.
- Customer behavior: Observe how people shop. Browsing, efficient shopping, and stopping for essentials all require different designs to make your customers’ experience great. You also want to ensure that you have enough space for shopping vehicles, like carts or electric scooters.
Once you understand customer flow in your space, you can use these design elements to direct this flow in the way you want it to move:
The decompression zone is the entrance area of your store where customers enter, adjust from the outside world, and orient themselves in your space. You should leave this area of your store relatively untouched by merchandise so that you give your customers space to make their adjustment and take an overhead look at your store. At most, you can put one or two of your key display items in this zone as a way to lure people in and lead with some of your best products.
Additionally, this will be a natural pausing spot in your store for customers both coming and going. Be sure not to crowd this area and to allow adequate space for people to congregate without feeling cramped or hurried inside.
Breaks or speed bumps are design features that cause people to slow down or stop on their shopping paths. They are a great way to draw attention to either underperforming products or key merchandise.
For example, a boutique owner might notice that hats are not selling, so they could place a mirror in the hat section of their store so that people would be more inclined to stop in that area for try-ons and browsing. Or, they might place a jewelry display on a table to stop people and get them looking at their best-selling necklaces.
Speed bumps can look anything like anything from an interactive display to a display table to armchairs—they just have to slow people down and get them looking around and engaging with your store.
3. Reinforce Your Brand With Theme
Design your store to evoke a theme that is in line with your brand image so that your design reinforces your brand. You want to be sure that your brand, or the emotions and ideas associated with your business, is reflected in your design. A disconnect between design and brand will confuse customers, make them unsure about what they can expect from you, and ultimately deter their loyalty and spending.
Additionally, when your brand and store design are in line, you can strengthen customers’ ability to identify and connect to your brand and business. This alignment will drive your sales and improve customer experience and perception.
Consider Missouri’s Bass Pro Shops, for example. This outdoor and hunting retailer has designed its store with an extensive outdoor theme. Its over-the-top design perfectly aligns with its brand image and has helped raise the shop’s bottom line and make it the state’s No. 1 tourist attraction.
4. Create Exterior Appeal
The design of the outside of your store—everything from your exterior to your window displays—is the first impression you make on customers and how you attract people into your store. The goal of your store’s exterior design is to entice people who walk by and drive them into your store to make a purchase.
Be bold with your exterior design, and give people a taste of what they can expect from your business. Be sure you have clear and legible signage, and consider advertising sales on your windows or even setting up a sale table or rack outside your storefront.
You will also want to design your window displays to engage passersby. Use bright colors, innovative design, and smart product placement to create something effective and beautiful. You can check out our window display guide for more tips on designing your store window displays.
5. Grab Shoppers’ Attention With Digital Signage
Digital signs use LCD, LED, and Projection to display digital images, video, streaming media, and information. Because digital signage is still a new merchandising technique, it is a great tool to engage customers. You can also consider incorporating interactive elements with digital signage, such as motion activation or touch-screen monitors.
Place your digital signage out front of your store or in your window displays to draw people in, or you can position it toward the back of your store to entice people to journey throughout your entire space.
6. Utilize Effective Displays
Displays are an excellent tool for showcasing products. When done properly, displays can save space and keep your store organized. For example, you can use displays to utilize vertical space, consolidate products into smaller spaces, create end caps, or fill tables and counter spaces. You can even use temporary POP (point-of-purchase) displays.
However, be sure that you are not using displays that are too large and clutter your store. Too many large displays in one area can be visually overwhelming and distract from the products instead of highlighting them. I would recommend keeping it to one display per zone of your store to avoid cluttering issues.
7. Use Adequate and Smart Lighting
Light can make or break a retail store. It provides visibility, draws attention to certain products or areas, and is a significant part of creating the ambiance in your space. Be sure that your space is well lit and you are using different types of retail lighting where needed. Using adequate and smart lighting will make the rest of your store design visible to customers and set the backdrop for everything else in your store.
We have a great step-by-step guide to setting up your retail lighting, if you are ready to start lighting your store to its potential.
8. Avoid Displaying Too Much Product
Clutter, or having too much product and decor, is the worst enemy of store design. It interferes with shoppers’ ability to visually and physically move through your space and find the things they are looking for. It also distracts them from their shopping goals.
Determine the right amount of product for your space and business type. For example, higher-end stores should display fewer products and leave more unused floor space, as this will increase the value that customers place on merchandise, and they will be willing to spend more. On the other hand, big-box or bargain stores should utilize every inch of space they have, as this will reinforce the perception that shoppers are getting a deal and will help sell more products.
9. Make Your Space Appear Larger
Make your store appear larger to give the illusion of extra space and improve customer experience. Some of the best ways to do this are to:
- Paint an accent wall
- Use light colors for walls and furniture
- Incorporate a few and small fixtures and furniture items
- Use mirrors
- Utilize glass elements
- Place decor pieces high up to save floor space and elevate the room
10. Use Your Product as Decor
One of the best ways to maximize the amount of merchandise on your floor without creating clutter or spending a boatload on decor is to use your products as decor. For example, at my boutique, we color-coordinated clothing on our racks, placed our candles on shelves in appealing patterns, and used hooks to hang hats on our walls and create wall displays.
This strategy allowed us to fit more product on the floor, appeal to customers through a visually exciting arrangement, and limit the need for decorative pieces. The biggest thing we had to play with was balancing access to the product decor with aesthetics. Pay attention to how high you are placing your products, and if people are inclined to shop your displays or if they are hesitant to disturb them.
Consider what items in your store could be used as decor, and play with different arrangements to see if they promote shopability and design interest. You can also look to Pinterest for inspiration on product-based decor ideas.
11. Create Focal Points
Focal points are decorative centerpieces in your store that tend to be placed in key sightlines, such as at entrances, in critical areas, or within window displays. They work to anchor your space visually and provide visual direction to customers. Focal points can look like a cluster of mannequins or a POP display, but they are necessary to create a visually exciting store and engage customers.
Think of your focal points as stepping stones for your store. Shoppers will instinctively gravitate toward them due to their visual appeal, so these points of interest will naturally guide people through your space. Place your focal points at all the areas that you want customers to travel to, and be sure that they reflect the products and services in their designated spots.
Additionally, consider using these techniques to ensure that your focal points pack enough punch to really be central points in your store design:
- Use bright colors: Using colors that are different from or brighter than the rest of your store’s palette will help draw the eye.
- Utilize height: People’s eyes automatically gravitate toward high points, so use height to create a visual draw.
- Be creative: Focal points do not necessarily have to be shoppable, so get creative with how you make your displays.
- Utilize dramatic lighting: Spotlights, uplighting, and contrast lighting will help create more visual appeal and draw the eye.
- Break up monotony: If there is an area of your store that lacks diversity, use a focal point to create a more interesting look and draw customers in.
12. Create Picture-Worthy Elements
It’s no secret that social media is a powerful tool for growing your business, and you can use store design to promote social media engagement by creating decorative elements that can be used for photo ops. Picture-worthy store features will encourage social shares or organic promotions done by real people sharing with their personal audience.
Did you know?
About a third of U.S. Instagram and Twitter users follow their favorite brands on social media platforms.
Features like a plant wall, a fun light display, large mirrors, an accent wall, lit signage, or items that people can use for props are great ways to get shoppers snapping photos and sharing your business on social media.
When placing your photo area, you want to put your photo design feature toward the back of your store to force people to walk through your entire space to arrive at the picture spot. You also want to be sure that you allow for plenty of photographing space. If you do not have room inside of your storefront, consider putting your photo op feature outside.
Take the Paul Smith store in Los Angeles for example. You have likely heard of or seen pictures of the art gallery’s famous Pink Wall. The wall has driven millions of visitors to the Paul Smith store; it has become a staple photo destination for tourists and influencers alike.
13. Make Space for Your Tasks
Different businesses host different activities inside their walls, and you have to be sure that you accommodate those activities. For example, a clothing store should create fitting rooms, an art gallery should have benches for people to sit on and observe the art, and grocery stores should create enough room for shopping carts to travel easily.
When implementing your retail store design, be sure to ask yourself what tasks will happen here as part of shopping or store maintenance. Then, how can you make sure your space is ready for those tasks?
14. Play Music
When designing your retail store, it is important to consider what music you are going to play, its volume, its effect on customers, and how it speaks to your brand. Music plays a significant role in setting the tone in your store, so you want to be sure that it evokes the atmosphere you want to create and appeals to your target audience.
Target audience: The demographic group that shops at your store, or a group you think your brand and products would appeal to.
For example, my boutique was in a higher-end neighborhood and appealed to moms and older women, so we played acoustic-style pop at a low volume. Conversely, a store like Abercrombie & Fitch appeals to teenagers, so the trendy brand plays loud pop music that energizes customers and appeals to its younger audience.
15. Add QR Codes
Put QR codes on products or shelf tags so customers can access product information, launch chats, play videos, or seamlessly transition an in-store shopper to an online ecommerce platform.
QR codes can also be used to reveal discount codes, sign up for newsletters or product notifications, to share contact information or social media platforms, or to show store or product locations.
Additionally, you can use QR codes to engage with your customers and promote purchases. For example, consider placing them on your store windows to catch the attention of people passing by or around items with lots of user information that can be pulled up on the web.
Examples of Effective Retail Store Design in Different Industries
As we discussed before, different types of businesses will have different needs and wants for their retail store designs. Here, we will look at how three different storefronts use store design to facilitate their goals.
1. The Last Bookstore
Described as part bookstore and part art gallery, The Last Bookstore uses store design to create a whimsical and old-timey book shop in downtown Los Angeles. Using strong thematic elements, it promotes a sentimental and homey appeal, setting it apart from competitors.
The Last Bookstore also creates photo-worthy features, making this one of the most shared bookstores in the world. Additionally, it uses product as its primary decor element to avoid cluttering its small space.
The Last Bookstore reinforces its brand as whimsical and cozy through its store design and helps drive tourists and locals through its doors.
2. Erewhon Market
Also a California-based brand, Erewhon Market is a luxury, organic grocery store. It has managed to create a spot for itself in the competitive grocery market by using sleek and elegant design elements (like warm contrast lighting and minimal and modern design), keeping its product selection light, and using its exceptional produce as decor. Its design appeals to its target market (luxury grocery shoppers) and draws them to its store.
3. Pilot and Powell
Pilot and Powell is a luxury clothing brand in New Orleans. The storefront uses bright and airy design so that clothing is the star of its space. There are only a few focal points that help guide customers through the space and promote exploration. It also carves out a tasking space for people to view their friends as they try on clothes.
Keeping things minimal, chic, and girly has allowed the boutique to harness its brand and draw customers into the shop.
Creating a beautiful, on-brand, and engaging retail store design is a key part of starting your retail business. You want to be sure that it fosters a positive customer experience, drives sales, and reinforces your brand. Following the tips outlined above will set you on the right track in creating a store design that is effective and visually appealing so that your business can thrive.