Mom-and-pop shop owners may not realize the impact that a retail store’s layout can have on sales. But studies show that a less-than-ideal arrangement of product displays, check-out and service counters, or aisles influences consumer behavior in subtle but powerful ways. For example, when a customer avoids a crowded aisle or feels intimated by a clerk standing behind a tall counter, you may lose a sale.
Here are six tips for creating an optimal retail store layout.
1. Don’t place merchandise in the “decompression zone.” When U.S. consumers enter a store, they tend to turn to the right. Position merchandise with this in mind. A psychological shift also occurs when inside a store, so patrons typically don’t notice merchandizing displays within 15 feet of the entrance, say retail strategists Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender of Kizer & Bender. They also recommend using “speed bumps” (attention-grabbing in-store displays).
2. Choose a store layout that fits your business. The grid layout used by most grocery stores steers customers up and down rows of aisles. A loop layout has a central grouping of displays, with a circular or square pathway around it. A free-flowing layout gives merchants opportunities to spur impulse buying, as shoppers can move the most freely through the store.
3. Minimize counters. Bob Phibbs, owner of the Retail Doctor, says store counters often separate the store owner or sales clerk from customers, at least psychologically. This doesn’t benefit merchants, because it creates an “us vs. them” mentality and sends the wrong signals. Phibbs suggests that owners ask unoccupied staff to wander the sales floor, posing as shoppers. This gives customers a sense of a bustling shop, which puts them at ease, he says. If a counter is essential for completing paperwork, he suggests sizing it down to no larger than a desk.
4. Beware the “butt-brush effect.” Paco Underhill, a consumer behavior expert, coined this term when he discovered that the typical customer will avoid perusing merchandise if it brings another customer’s backside into close proximity. That’s true even when the shopper is very interested in an item. Avoid this problem by ensuring aisles and floor space allow patrons adequate personal space.
5. Maintain good visibility. Reduce your inventory losses by keeping shelves low enough to enable good visibility. Take care to ensure that temporary store displays do not inadvertently provide cover for shoplifters.
6. Create a sensational entrance. Even stunning in-store layouts fail to woo shoppers if the storefront has little curb appeal. Invest in an eye-catching entrance, strategically placing signage to entice shoppers inside. Make sure that at least a few products are visible to people who pass by the shop’s windows.