Updated on 4/12/2021
Think about one of your favorite shopping excursions. Mine was in Chicago where we roamed the streets of Wicker Park and Bucktown. Many of the boutiques were intimate and inviting. We wandered all day in the rain and loved it. It was a shopper’s delight and I spent more money than I should have. Interestingly, the physical layout of your store determines how long shoppers linger and how much they subsequently purchase. Knowing the correct way to direct them through the aisles means higher sales at the register. Here are the pros and cons of 4 different forms of store layout.
Many boutiques or small independent shops under 5,000 square feet use what’s called the “Free Form” layout. A free-form layout provides an intimate, relaxing environment. However, it can also be an expensive use of floor space.
ADVANTAGES • Allows for browsing • Increased impulse purchases • Visual appeal • Flexibility
DISADVANTAGES • Can be more costly to implement • Waste of floor space • Possibility of confusion • Difficulty cleaning
Because there isn’t a well-defined traffic pattern with the Free Form layout, customers are not naturally drawn through the store. Your salespeople and their selling skills are what makes this layout work.
The “Grid” layout is often used in grocery stores where merchandise is displayed on shelves on both sides of the aisles. If you’re dealing with over 6,000 square feet this is an inexpensive option. I have seen it used in retail shops such as Tuesday Morning and many Goodwill stores. An advantage is more merchandise can be placed on the sales floor, but it isn’t very visually appealing.
ADVANTAGES • Low cost fixtures • Customer familiarity • Large merchandise exposure • Ease of cleaning
DISADVANTAGES • Limits browsing • Decor is uninteresting • Encourages rushed shopping behavior
This is a classic design where the “butt-brush” effect (a term developed by Paco Underhill, a consumer behavior specialist. Shoppers, particularly women, will avoid merchandise in an aisle where they feel their backsides brushed or touched) can be a problem. Generally, 4′ wide aisles are recommended. Read “Do you have “Resaler Tunnel Vision?” for more information on the width of aisles.
Kohl’s is a great example of a store that uses the “Loop or racetrack” layout. It offers a clearly defined main aisle that loops around the store with fixtures in the middle running parallel to the side walls.
ADVANTAGES • Maximum merchandise exposure • Increased impulse purchases • Ease of shopping • Encourages exploration
DISADVANTAGES • Often requires more walking • Defining departments can be costly • Customers can become overwhelmed
In order for customers to keep moving, define different departments with a change in color, surface, signage or lighting.
The “Spine” layout is a variation of the first three. It’s based on a single main aisle running from the front of the store to the back. This design is often used by specialty stores between 2,000 and 10,000 square feet in size. To facilitate movement from one location to the next, change the flooring in different departments.
ADVANTAGES • Effective use of space • Encourages browsing • Good view of entire sales floor
DISADVANTAGES • Variety of fixtures can be costly • Getting shoppers off the main aisle requires creativity • Difficulty cleaning
Unfortunately, if not planned appropriately, shoppers feel “trapped” once they’re in the back of a shop using the Spine layout. In order for shoppers to feel comfortable, put larger spaces between fixtures.
Creating a comfortable atmosphere where shoppers want to linger is a challenge. If at all possible, your store layout should lead shoppers to the right once they’ve entered. Studies show people naturally look to the left upon entering, but move to the right. Shoppers prefer to walk counterclockwise too. Use a wider aisle to the right and you’ll encourage them to move in that direction. Whichever layout you ultimately choose, convey your store’s image in the design, type of fixtures, wall and floor colors, lighting and signage. To make shoppers feel relaxed and interested in opening their wallets, pull your store layout design together in one seamless package.
If you enjoyed reading this, read How to improve store design with 6 quick and easy changes.
Click here for a printable version of “Has your shop avoided the butt-brush effect?”