Retail Space Planning Amidst COVID-19: 7 Tips to Do It Right

COVID-19 has altered the ways that people browse and buy, particularly in the realm of physical retail. Because of this, your store needs to adapt to the new behaviors and habits of your shoppers.

As a brick and mortar store, retail space planning should be one of the top things on your to-do list. You need to map out a layout and design a retail experience that’s both safe and delightful at the same time. 

It’s a tall order, but with the right strategies and tactics, it can certainly be done. 

Check out the retail space planning tips and examples in this post to learn about how you can optimize your shop for success. 

1. Start with the right data

Before you go around rearranging your store, take a step back and gather the data necessary for you to make the right retail space planning decisions. Be sure to look into the following:

The number of people that you can have in your store at a given time. Check your state or city’s guidelines on store occupancy to determine the number of people who can be in your store at the same time. If you’re required to operate at just 50% capacity, for example, then you’ll need to plan out your space accordingly. 

Your store’s foot traffic data. How many people do you typically have in your shop? When are your peak days and hours? Which areas of your store attract the most people? If, for example, you know that people spend the most time at the center of your store, then you can position your products and fixtures to accommodate more guests. 

The number of employees you have during each shift. Part of retail space planning means considering how many staff members to have in your store. With social distancing measures, you may need to reduce the number of people to have during each shift or assign team members to different parts of the store so they’re not too close to one another. 

Your top products and categories. Be aware of your top-performing products — including customer favorites and your most profitable items — then use that info to determine merchandise placement, stock orders, and more. 

Pingeonhole, an Australian home and gift store which runs 7 stores across the country, is a great example of a retailer putting data to good use. The Pigeonhole team uses Vend’s reporting features to know what stock to keep on hand and forecast demand. Having Vend at their side allowed them to hold 40% less stock and improve cash flow. 

“Vend’s really made our lives easier. We’re able to do a rolling stock take each week now, and then we do monthly top-ups with our suppliers.” 

Since switching to Vend, Pigeonhole’s store managers have more ownership and make more strategic decisions . “Store managers now have all the data they need at their fingertips, without having to know how to use Excel,” says Pigeonhole founder Johann Kim. 

“They can make micro adjustments very easily in terms of what they need to get into the store and what they need to move around. It takes a lot of pressure from the Perth HQ team, who don’t have the full picture.” 

“Vend has a really powerful filtering system for reporting. We can compare product against product, category against sub category… there are so many different ways we can filter right down and get insights,” says Sam, Pigeonhole’s manager at the Emporium store. “It really makes our in-store management so much easier.”

Vend Tip

Learn how you can put Vend’s reporting and retail analytics features to good use. From allowing you to build your own reports to enabling you to access your store’s data from anywhere, Vend takes the guesswork out of retail so you can make business decisions with confidence.

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2. Know the buying journey of your customers

You and your team should be familiar with the buying journey of your shoppers and what that looks like in your store. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What are the products that your customers buy the most?
  • What’s the first thing they do when they enter your shop?
  • Do people tend to look around or would they prefer to get “in and out” quickly?

The answers to these questions will help you determine how to merchandise your store and what layout to use. 

For best results, come up with a diagram or model that maps out the customer journey so you can effectively plan and execute your ideas. 

“The best advice I can give in retail space planning is to create a detailed schematic of the store’s buying process that will serve as a basis before conducting retail space planning,” says Jeremy Owens, CMO of Seriously Smoked.

“When businesses have an established buying process schematic, they can use it as a basis for the retail layout and design so that the plan perfectly complements the conceptualized buying process. If businesses fail to do these vital steps before planning the retail space, it could potentially destroy the efficiency of the finished output, particularly if certain elements do not coincide with others.” 

3. Make room for social distancing, hygiene areas, and health/safety equipment

Remember that you’re not just designing a space for your products; you also need to incorporate health and safety into your retail space planning efforts. This includes making room for social distancing, sanitation areas, as well as equipment like plexiglass. 

When Loggerhead Marinelife Center redesigned its retail store, the team kept health and safety top of mind. 

“In light of the recent pandemic, it’s become extremely important to make a customer feel safe and healthy when shopping. To do so, it’s vital to keep a store clean and reinforce social distancing with the layout of the store,” explains Kate Fratalia, Director of Retail at Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

“Additionally, we’ve added plexiglass over the registers to help create a physical barrier between our retail members and shoppers.” 

Kate continues, “during this unique time, retailers should ensure social distancing in their stores are achieved by de-cluttering their space and adding in signage that reinforces health and safety policies.”

Michael Hamelburger, CEO of The Bottom Line Group, echoes this advice and adds that retailers should “ensure all hygienic practices from foot bath to hand sanitation are observed.”

“Highlight spaces where customers can access these sanitary tools by hanging stylish signs so they can immediately spot where to go,” he adds.

4. Consider vertical shelves to maximize space

If you have a small store and want to give people enough space, you’ll need to be more creative with your product place and position. And sometimes doing this starts with the right equipment and shelves. 

One thing to consider? Vertical shelves. 

AsJohn Linden the Lead Designer at MirrorCoop says, “a great arrangement idea is to shelf your items vertically. This way, you can shelf your products at different levels and it is a great way to maximize space. It gives a minimalist outlook and it is quite inviting.”

To make an impact, John recommends creating a “power wall.”

“Try designing a power wall where you make an inventory of the best selling products in each period. A power wall should be designed and set up in a way that it immediately catches the eyes of an incomer.”

Image provided by Rose Displays.

5. Spruce up the outside of your shop

Retail space planning isn’t just about the inside of your store. Be sure to factor in the experience of pedestrians and customers who are waiting to come into the shop. 

“Since there’ll be limited number of people who can get inside the store to observe social distancing rules, let customers waiting outside look into your products by displaying large posters of your goods, or having your windows decorated creatively similar to Barneys holiday window displays,” advises. Michael.

Speaking of your windows, make sure they tell a compelling story.

“Create a great design for your display window. You could go for a minimalist story or look that is very inviting to a passerby. You can tell a miniature story right on your display window that gets passersby to open your door and have a look,” says John.

Check out this June 2020 window from the Salvation Army store in Banbury, which weaves in elements of Pride Month (rainbows) while projecting summer vibes at the same time. 

You can also spruce up the outside of your store by displaying important messages and showing customers that you’re looking out for their health and safety. Check out this outdoor signage at the Trader Joe’s store in Cerritos, which contains important reminders that can help people shop safely and efficiently. 

TJ’s made the signage as colorful and engaging as possible, and it certainly helped Trader Joe’s stand out from most stores which use bland signage. 

6. Don’t forget about checkout

The checkout process, whether it happens behind the counter or on the sales floor using an iPad, is a critical part of the shopping experience. That’s why you need to factor it in when planning your retail space. 

Each retail store is different, so there isn’t a one-size-fits all best practice for your checkout process. But regardless of what your store looks like, you need to beef up the health and safety component of your checkout process.

In some stores, this could mean introducing self-checkout. In others, it’s a matter of spacing out cashiers and installing plexiglass. Whatever the case, make sure the checkout experience is efficient. 

“Identifying a more efficient checkout experience can not only increase safety for customers and employees alike but also enhance the customer experience if done well while reducing the cost to serve customers,” says Carlos Castelán, Managing Director of The Navio Group.

“Furthermore, creating clear signage to guide people if there’s a change in protocol is important when communicate to customers.”

Have a look at this example from Sprouts, which uses floor decals to direct traffic flow at the checkout area. 

7. Optimize your space for BOPIS and curbside pickup

Contactless shopping, particularly in the form of curbside pickup has grown exponentially because of the pandemic. 

If you’re not offering these services in your store, it’s high time to do so. 

Already implementing BOPIS and curbside? Be sure to factor them into your retail space planning. 

According to Carlos, you should “consider the rise of e-commerce and continued growth of BOPIS: As you consider space planning, are there ways to improve logistical efficiencies that account for rapidly increasing e-commerce orders and new fulfillment practices?”

He adds that retailers “may want to consider the impact of expanding backrooms when picking and packing products or building out dedicated space for customers to pick-up their orders.”

The bottom line, he says is that “space planning should now consider both store layout as well as the fulfillment of online orders.”

Vend Tip

If you’re using Vend with Shopify, BigCommerce, or WooCommerce, you can now enable click and collect for single outlet stores by allowing staff to complete orders that have been picked up in-person. Plus, you can instantly mark an ecommerce order as complete from your Sales History, giving your staff a quick way to confirm a shipment has been sent.

Learn More

Take your retail space planning initiatives to the next level

Planning out your store’s layout and managing your space isn’t just about pretty displays. You need to fully understand the shopping journey of your customers and gather the necessary market and business data to figure out the best initiatives. 

Follow the tips in this post and use them to successfully plan out your retail store in the coming months. 

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+.