Store Floor Plans 101: How to Create a Winning Retail Layout for Your Shop

A well-designed and properly executed store plan can encourage product discovery, create a wonderful experience, and ultimately generate more sales. That’s why if you haven’t reviewed or refreshed your retail layout or floor plan in a while, you should seriously consider doing so, particularly as we approach the new year.

Follow the pointers and best practices below to ensure that your store’s floor plan showcases your products in the best possible light:

1. Use the right type of retail floor plan for your store

First things first. What exactly are kinds of floor plans you can have? To help answer that, here’s a rundown of some of the common ones in retail:

Straight floor plan

The straight floor plan positions your shelves or racks in straight lines, creating aisles that shoppers on which can move.

This type of floor plan favors function over beauty. It’s used to hold products on shelves and make them easy to find, as opposed to encouraging “discovery” or showcasing the latest trends.

The straight floor plan is also one of the most economical store layouts and is mostly used in supermarkets and in stores that primarily use shelving to showcase their merchandise.

Racetrack or loop plan

When using a racetrack or loop plan, you position your fixtures and merchandise in such a way that they create a path to guide shoppers around your shop.

The racetrack or loop floor plan is a good option if you have a small store and/or you want to encourage shoppers to take a particular path when browsing your shop.

For example, if you want to “lead” customers around your space, vs having them move in various directions, then you can use a racetrack store layout to encourage that behavior.

Angular floor plan

This floor plan uses curves and angles to give off a sophisticated vibe. According to the Houston Chronicle, the angular floor plan is usually adopted by high-end retailers and it “reduces the amount of display area you have but focuses instead on fewer, more popular lines.” This layout is ideal if you sell a lot of unique and attractive merchandise.

As such, the angular floor plan for drawing attention to individual products. If your store sells a few, curated pieces, then this floor plan could be the best way to go.

Geometric floor plan

The geometric floor plan utilizes racks and fixtures to showcase products, which makes it popular among retailers that sell apparel and accessories.

Go with this layout if you need to use racks, shelves, and other fixtures to showcase your merchandise. This is quite popular with apparel and accessories retailers.

Free flow plan

Don’t want to limit yourself to a specific floor plan? A free flow layout affords you the most creativity. You’re not restricted to floor patterns or shelves that have to be placed at certain angles.

And unlike the other layouts, you’re not prodding people to use a path around your store; instead, shoppers are encouraged to browse and go in any direction.

Now that you have an idea of the best type of floor plan for your business, let’s move on to tips that can help you make the most out of your store’s layout.

2. Plan your layout based on how shoppers move and behave

Fact: people have a natural tendency to turn either left or right when entering a retail store. Studies suggest that the predisposition on which direction to turn depends on the country’s vehicle driving patterns.

This means that shoppers who drive on the left side of the road (i.e., Japan, the UK, Australia, etc.) would typically turn left when entering a store, while consumers in the countries that drive on the right side of the (such as the US) have a stronger tendency to turn right and move in a counter-clockwise direction.

For this reason, it’s important that you consider which direction your shoppers turn when they walk into your shop, so you can design your store accordingly. For instance, if you know that your customers have a tendency to turn right, then you’ll want to display your best products or new arrivals on the front-right part of your store.

Take a look around your existing layout and ask yourself: is it optimized for your customers’ natural tendencies? Do they see your freshest and most noteworthy merchandise when they walk in? If not, then it’s time to make a change.

3. Map your store

Mapping out your store — i.e., literally creating a map — enables you to see what your store would look like on paper, so you can have a better idea of how traffic would flow and where products should go. Not to mention, it’s a lot easier to make changes and move stuff around when your ideas are still on paper, versus physically executing them in-store.

And fortunately for you, it’s a lot easier these days to map out your store. Floor plan tools such as SmartDraw and Smartsheet are just a few examples of solutions that give you floor plan creation tools at affordable prices. (SmartDraw’s prices start at $5.95 per month, while Smartsheet has prices as low as $14 per month.)

And if you’re looking for inspiration, a quick search on Pinterest will give numerous results. Here are few noteworthy ones that we’ve found:

Here’s a Diesel floor plan which maps out where shelves and fixtures would go and how they should be positioned:

And here’s another floor plan example, this time for kids’ store. In addition to showing the positioning of the racks and fixtures, it also gives us a clear idea of which products would go where.

4. Keep your decompression zone clear

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: don’t put your key merchandise in your decompression zone.

In case you don’t already know, your decompression zone is the first few feet of your store, right after your entrance. This the area of the store where people coming from outside would “decompress” and adjust to their new surroundings. Because of this, shoppers are typically distracted when they’re in this zone and will likely overlook any products you place here.

Retail experts Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender recommend that you keep this space open and uncluttered. “Floor signs, baskets, class schedules, etc. belong just beyond your Decompression Zone where shoppers are more likely to see them.”

5. Put a healthy amount of space between merchandise and fixtures

It’s important that you put ample space between the different elements of your store (i.e., products, shelves, and other fixtures) so that people can move around with ease.

From a design perspective, having a good amount of space in your store makes it look more attractive. Plus, since space equals luxury in retail, putting ample space between the elements of your shop increases the perceived value of your products.

Now, if you’re catering to budget consumers then you can certainly get away with having relatively crowded shelves.

Just make your store too crowded. You want to have enough space in your store so that customers can pass by without bumping into each other. Otherwise, you could subject them to the dreaded “butt-brush effect,” an occurrence where shoppers would abandon a display or product after being bumped once or twice from behind.

Paco Underhill, author of the book “Why We Buy,” described an experiment that shows the butt-brush effect in action. 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.

6. Create speed bumps

As the term clearly states, speed bumps curtail the speed of shoppers as they move around your store. They encourage people to slow down and check out products on and around these bumps.

Speed bumps can come in the form of tabletop displays that contain unique products. During the holiday season, for example, Target set up speed bump displays throughout the store which showcased popular gift items. These displays did a great job in slowing down shoppers as they navigated between departments.

Speed bumps can also be displays or setups that encourage people to use their hands. Aerie, for example, once installed a bouquet making station in its store at the Cerritos mall.

Whatever type of speed bump you create, keep the following best practices in mind:

  • Use great lighting. A speed bump is meant to slow down customers, but it won’t do a good job of that if it’s displayed under dull or unflattering light. Accent lighting is recommended.
  • Accordingto retail enthusiast Karen WW, it’s best to use display stands with lockable wheels. According to her, this will “make it easier for you to move things around frequently without a lot of effort.”
  • She also echoes Nicole Reyhle and Jason Prescott’s advice in Retail 101 where they recommend having “about 5 speeds bumps for every 500 square feet of retail space.”

7. Go beyond your merchandise… think about the experience!

When designing your store, you go beyond simply thinking about where and how products should be displayed; be sure make room for experiences.

You could, for example, dedicate a space for product testing. Skincare retailer Aesop, does this extremely well in their stores. Most (if not all) of Aesop’s locations have special areas where people can test their different products.

Meanwhile, the Gymboree store at the Del Amo Fashion Center created a coloring station for kids, to keep the little ones busy while parents pick out clothes or pay for their orders.

Other shops have spaces specifically for community events or face to face interactions. Windfall Natural, a health, beauty, and wellness retailer in the UK for instance, recently moved to a flexible retail location in London.

According to @retailfocus, Windfall Natural’s new store paves the way for “an extended product range, more storytelling, and regular events.”

Check out the table that they’ve set up towards the front of the store, and notice the sign that inviting people to talk to their staff if they need advice.

What about you? Does your store encourage experiences or is it all about the products? If it’s the latter, then consider adopting a more experiential strategy — here’s how!

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

Have you optimized your retail store’s floor plan yet?

As the year draws to a close, now is a great time to think about how you’re going to transform your business in 2019. Part of doing that could be revamping your floor plan to promote product discovery and wonderful experiences.

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+.