10 Retail Design Tips to Help You Boost Sales

We all know that humans are highly visual. Eighty percent of the sensory information the brain receives comes from our eyes, which means if you want to gain and keep people’s attention, you need to show them something visually attractive and stimulating.

This is where retail design comes in. If you’re a running a brick-and-mortar store, it’s important that you take some time to thoughtfully arrange merchandise to maximize conversions.

That’s exactly what we’ll be talking about today. This article outlines 10 retail design insights that you can use to draw people in and entice them to buy.

1. Create an immersive experience

Great retail design isn’t just about a well-curated display or attractive visual merchandising; it’s about the experience that you create using the various components of your store. 

When cooking up retail design ideas, make it a point to think about the big picture. What’s the overall experience that you’d like shoppers to have? What feelings do you want to evoke? The answers to these questions will help you craft retail designs that make a strong impression on your customers.

 Have a look at what Aesop is doing. The skin, body, and haircare brand strives to incorporate “intelligent and sustainable design” in all of its workings, and this extends to Aesop’s brick and mortar stores. 

And while all of its stores incorporate the clean and modern look that Aesop is known for, it also adds a local flavor to each shop, so that every location reflects the neighborhood that it’s in. 

When constructing its store in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake district, for example, Aesop came up with a retail design that reflected the spirit of the neighborhood — which is known for cultivating independent art. 

According to it its website:

Black basalt, Douglas Fir and gypsum panelling are key materials here, evincing a simple, natural palette in a sleek contemporary setting of distinctly eclectic references—the prehistoric geology of the Los Angeles Basin, twentieth-century lunar exploration, and ancient architecture from Stonehenge to Mesoamerica.

Strive to incorporate that same level of thought and detail into your retail designs. Think about what your brand stands for and find ways to make it come to life in your location. Like Aesop, you could also inject some local flavors to ensure that people feel right at home. 

2. Set your layout based on the flow of traffic in-store

You want people to see your best and most enticing products or displays first, so you’ll need to know where they go or turn to when they enter your shop. Do they tend to move to the left or right? Where do their eyes go? These are just some of the questions you should ask when merchandising your store.

Fortunately, research offers some insights into retail traffic patterns. Studies have shown that that the flow of traffic in-store may actually be influenced by vehicular patterns on the road. In the book Inside the Mind of the Shopper by Herb Sorensen, he notes:

The pattern of movement in the supermarket is counterclockwise in the United States, but PathTracker studies in the UK, Australia, and Japan show a much greater tendency for shoppers to move in a clockwise pattern there… traffic patterns in the store may also be affected by vehicle traffic patterns outside. In these small studies, we noted that in countries with right-hand driving, where traffic circles move in a clockwise pattern, shoppers in stores may be more comfortable moving the same direction.

With this information in mind, it may behoove you to lead customers to the right if you’re in the United States or in a country that enforces right-hand traffic. But if you’re in the UK or Australia, it may be best to arrange your store to support people moving in a clockwise direction.

That said, while research certainly offers some insights into in-store traffic, you shouldn’t base all your merchandising decisions on external studies alone. Be sure to make your own observations to figure out the traffic patterns of your own customers.

Use foot traffic tools to analyze how customers move about in your store, or just be more observant and pay attention to where shoppers go and the things they look at when they come in.

3. Don’t put merchandise in the decompression zone

Avoid putting too many products or signs near your entrance (aka: the “decompression zone”). Shoppers in this part of the store likely still adjusting to the new environment, so they tend to miss any items or fixtures in this area.

As Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, told Entrepreneur, “By the time the person is starting to engage with the physical environment, some of the stuff you’ve put by the door is blown past.”

According to him, it’s best to display just a small number of items in this area, and make sure that the flooring and lighting contrasts the outside environment. And if you have shopping carts or baskets in the store, consider placing them at the end of the decompression zone.

4. Add breaks or speed bumps.

Having the same fixtures or aisles in your store could result in shoppers skipping over your merchandise.

Brian Dyches, chief experience officer at Ikonic Tonic told Entrepreneur that upon studying shopping patterns, they found that “up to 20 percent of the store’s merchandise is skipped over” because of long uninterrupted aisles. To address this, Dyches recommends that retailers create visual breaks in the middle of long aisles. These breaks can come in the form of signs or displays.

We can see a lot of supermarkets putting this tactic into action. Since these types of stores have a lot of aisles, supermarkets often place large, attention-grabbing displays at end of their aisles invigorate their store layouts.

Melissa Gonzalez, brand activation & pop-up architect at The Lionesque Group echoes this advice and says that setting up “speed bumps” in-store is a good way to keep shoppers intrigued. These bumps can be “well merchandised outfits, deeper information about key product offerings, an interactive element such as touch screens or augmented reality like Perch Interactive.

Sephora does this really well. Many of its stores are punctuated with speedbumps to stop people in their tracks. In the example below, you’ll see an interactive display attached to a shelf, that encourages guests to take a hair quiz. In addition to creating an interactive experience, the touchscreen display also acts like a speedbump slows down guests as they browse the shelf. This helps ensure that they don’t skip over the products in the display.

Try to do something similar in your own retail design efforts. Add speed bumps or elements that would give shoppers a break from monotonous displays and aisles. Doing so encourages your customers to slow down their pace so they can view more of your products.

5. Create a focal point in all your displays

While it’s tempting to try to bring attention to anything and everything in your store, tried-and-tested design principles tell us that having just one focal point (preferably at eye level) is far more effective in drawing people in.

So whether you’re arranging your latest window display or setting up a new fixture in the middle of your store, be sure to design it with one focal point in mind. Pick one thing that you want to highlight, position it at eye level, then strategically position other items and lights to bring attention to it.

In doing so, your displays will have greater chances of catching the attention of shoppers. And once you have them hooked, they’ll naturally check out the other products around the focal point.

Check out this display at Elevator, an accessories and jewellry store in Toronto. You can see they put the focal point principle to good use by choosing to highlight just one item and laying out the rest beneath it.

6. Don’t overstuff the space  

Have enough open space in your store so people can really appreciate your products, and move around without bumping into merchandise or other shoppers. Doing so will benefit you in two ways:

It’ll prevent the “butt-brush effect”

In his book Why We Buy, Paco Underhill talks about the butt-brush effect, a phenomenon wherein shoppers would abandon a display or product they were looking at when they were bumped once or twice from behind.

He wrote:

While reviewing the tape to study how shoppers negotiated the doorway during busy times, we began to notice something weird about the tie rack. Shoppers would approach it, stop and shop until they were bumped once or twice by people heading into or out of the store. After a few such jostles, most of the shoppers would move out of the way, abandoning their search for neckwear. We watched this over and over until it seemed clear that shoppers — women especially, though it was also true of men to a lesser extent — don’t like being brushed or touched from behind. They’ll even move away from merchandise they’re interested in to avoid it.

If you have spaces in your store that subject shoppers to the butt-brush effect, you could be losing customers and sales. Take a look around and free up any tight spots that could be making people uncomfortable.

It keeps your store light and airy

In addition to letting people have their personal space, having a roomy store allows customers to better appreciate your merchandise. It makes them feel like a store is thoughtfully curated.

As Niko Downie, owner of Elevator said, “we make everything feel very well curated. Rather than just packing merchandise in and shoving as much as we can into one shelf, we try to make every single part of the store look very well-thought out, very clean, very neat, and not too overcrowded. And that really compliments the way we merchandise and showcase our products because it keep things light and airy. We could throw in really beautiful and stylized pieces like our lighting, but it doesn’t overwhelm the space.”

7. Use signs wisely

Attractive, well-positioned signs will not only catch people’s attention, but they can also add value to your displays and the shopping experience overall. In addition to setting up eye-catching signs to entice people to check out your new arrivals or promotions, find ways to use signage to inform and educate.

Take for example, Sports Authority. The sporting goods retailer has signage beside some of its merchandise to highlight the best uses for its products. These signs not only compliment their fixtures and designs, they also help people make the right purchase decisions.

8. Update your displays regularly

Design and appearance aren’t the only factors that contribute to success of your retail displays. How often you update them also matters. Displays get stale pretty quickly in retail, so change them up regularly.

Retail expert Bob Phibbs recommends that you change them monthly. “Holidays and seasons only last so long, and promotional goods have a short shelf life. Feature new arrivals first,” he adds.

9. Make them photogenic

It’s no secret that consumers love their mobile devices and social media. We live in an age when documenting experiences is the norm, and shoppers are often happy to share their retail experiences — if you give them the opportunity to do so. 

To that end, see to it that your retail design initiatives do their part in encouraging your customers to snap photos and share them on social. 

The first step to doing this is to craft photogenic displays. You should make sure that your store looks great in person AND in photos. You can do this by taking pictures of your shop and seeing how it looks through the lens of the camera. 

You could even take things a step further by actively encouraging people to take photos. Have a look at this example from the financial pop-up Stacks House. While the location was largely dedicated to Instagram experiences, Stacks House also had a retail space that’s curated and designed in such a way, that it looks great in photos. 

The space encourages guests to snap photos by having witty lines such as “You look like a billion dollars” displayed on its walls.

10. Use your checkout counter to display impulse buy items

Did you know that 27% of shoppers make an additional purchase at the checkout counter? Moreover, the space beside your POS system takes up about only 1% of your store space, but could account for 7% of annual sales.

Clearly, if you aren’t leveraging your checkout space, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. So encourage those impulse purchases by setting up displays on your checkout counter.

They don’t have to big or fancy; as we mentioned in our previous post, the best impulse buys are easy to grasp–both physically and mentally. They should be simple and inexpensive enough that you won’t have to do any explaining to the shopper.

Have a look at what Bath & Body Works is doing. To encourage customers to purchase their bath foam, they’ve displayed the items on the checkout counter and even threw in a limited-time offer to sweeten the deal. 

Further Reading


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out Vend’s guide to increasing sales. This handy resource offers 10 proven tactics for boosting retail sales and improving your bottom line.

Specifically, you will:

  • Discover how to turn savvy shoppers into loyal customers
  • Learn how to add real and perceived value to each sale
  • Discover the most effective ways to set yourself apart from your competitors

    Learn More

Retail design is more important than ever!

Retail design has always been an essential component of any store strategy, but these days, it’s more important than ever before. The retail landscape is a lot more competitive and the best strategy to win is to create experiences that set you apart from other shops. Having a strong retail design strategy helps you accomplish that and more. 

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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