Learn about the four layouts all stores use to maximize impact, driven by amazing insights into customer behaviour.
Ever lost track of time while shopping? Browsing around a store, looking at products for longer than you anticipated, considering items you didn’t come to buy?
As retailers, that’s exactly what we want to happen — and why there’s an entire area of research and development focused on driving sales through optimally designed spaces that promote foot traffic, impulse purchases, and all that other good stuff.
If you’re looking at redesigning your retail store or opening a new brick-and-mortar location, you might be wondering what layout will work best for your space. Thanks to some fascinating insights into consumer behaviour, the retail industry has standardized the best store space-planning practices into four popular layout designs you can use to get started.
So what does science reveal about the vast majority of retail customers?
Individual retailers go for different designs, colours, and moods, but there’s astounding consistency from one store layout to the next. Why? Because there are universal truths to store planning that appeal to the vast majority of shoppers. Studies have revealed that nearly 70% of consumer decision-making happens in-store. When the right interior environment is absolutely crucial to a store’s success, retailers go with proven strategies that work.
If you aren’t surprised yet, consider this staggering statistic — 90% of people turn right when they walk into a store, and they should continue moving to the right in a counter-clockwise direction around a space. Turns out that in North America, we shop the way we drive — most of us will turn right when we enter a store, so retailers pay a lot of attention to this traffic flow and merchandising the key area known as the power wall.
Merchandising your store and choosing its layout are connected processes. Layouts encompass the design of retail floor space, and merchandising is the organization and display of products within the store’s layout. Both must be designed to entice shoppers to purchase. Go to your local mall and visit 20 stores, and you’ll notice patterns amongst them. Some of these practices will work in your store as well.
Learn the four store layouts that all stores use, and which retailers they’re best suited for.
We’ve learned that while interior designs vary from one store to the next, they’re all built up from foundational store layouts that create consistency in the overall retail experience. While all layouts are designed to suit the size and shape of the sales floor, their common goal is to move customers around the space with intent to purchase, and expose them to as much product as possible. Here are the four store layouts used across the retail industry to promote foot traffic and maximize sales:
1. The Grid Layout
This familiar layout is most recognizable in supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies. Long aisles are packed with shelves that maximize product display. Impulse purchase items can be found near the front of the store, staple items are in the back, and ends of aisles are used as merchandising focal points to highlight specific products.
- Retailers with a wide range of merchandise and many different SKUs
- Those with limited design budget using off-the-shelf store fixtures
- Retailers seeking a standard shopping experience familiar to customers, with predictable traffic flow
Not recommended for:
- Businesses looking to stand out with experiential spaces
- Retailers that do not have obvious product categories (as customers may not know where to find what they need)
- Stores with narrow footprints, as aisles should be wide enough to prevent customers from bumping into one another
2. The Herringbone Layout
If you have a long, narrow retail space that doesn’t work for a grid layout, but you still want to optimize space for your merchandise, consider the herringbone layout.
Featuring a central ‘spine’ aisle with shorter ‘rib’ aisles, the herringbone layout optimizes space for merchandise in narrow retail footprints that aren’t suited to a grid layout. The side aisles offer plenty of opportunity for promotion areas on each side of the main floor space. This layout is also seen in large warehouse-style stores where the shopper has clear purchase intent.
- Retailers who favour the grid layout but have narrow store spaces
- Businesses suited to a warehouse-style shopping experience
Not recommended for:
- Retailers not suited to a grid layout (see above)
- Businesses with a high risk of shoplifting, due to limited visibility down the side aisles
- Those concerned about cramped spaces
3. The Loop (or Racetrack) Layout
The ultimate layout for perusing with countless creative display opportunities, the loop controls traffic flow to direct customers past every product in the store before they reach the checkout counters. This plan allows retailers to tell a linear story by guiding customers through a journey from store entry to purchase. Only certain categories are well-suited to such a controlled experience — as it can frustrate customers who require a quick in-and-out option — so consider carefully if the loop is the right choice for your brand.
- Businesses seeking to maximize product exposure
- Experiential brands who want to craft a specific journey for their customers
- Those wishing to control traffic flow towards specific promotions
Not recommended for:
- Businesses with customers who prefer to control their own experiences
- Brands that require less consideration time before purchase
- Stores with high traffic turnover
- Those who need to offer quick in-and-out service and can’t be perceived as wasting customers’ time
4. The Free-Flow Layout
Free-flow refers to traffic flow — there is little attempt to control customers’ movements around the store, allowing them to shop as they please. Simple to understand, yet complicated to execute. While free-flow rejects standardization, the layout is not totally without rules — to be successful, it should still follow many of the same insights into customer behaviour. Like with other layouts, exterior signage and displays guide shoppers through the entrance and a start path that leads to the power wall. From that point, the only limits are store walls, floor space, and your imagination.
The free-flow design is commonly used in mixed-layout plans. Large department stores often use a loop layout for their main aisle, and different configurations within, depending on the type of brand or store category of the component sections.
- Stores with small footprints
- Retailers wishing to encourage browsing and impulse purchases
- Experiential upscale and luxury brands with less merchandise
- Individualistic brands looking to break the mold from established patterns
- Those seeking to create an impact through negative space and slow down traffic flow
Not recommended for:
- Retailers with plenty of merchandise
- Businesses concerned about doing the wrong thing
- Those with a limited budget for design risk confusing customers without expert advice
Which store layout is right for your store?
As the foundation of your store design, your layout has a direct impact on your sales, so before you create your floor plan, take time to consider your brand, products, and how you want customers to move through your space.
Of course, choosing a layout is just one of the first steps, and this article only scratches the surface of the entire store planning journey. That’s why we’re here to help you build your experience from the ground-up. Our in-house design and engineering teams have guided many retailers through the process — from initial strategy and sketches to sourcing and installation.
Give us a call at 905-264-0917 or contact us.
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