Retail has been around for a long time, and there are endless ways to approach how you design your retail space. However, there are also some common design strategies that all retailers should know to garner more sales.
We’ve been examining various retail design best practices to help merchants be more successful and thrive in today’s digital era. From telling your brand’s story and creating immersive shopping experiences to putting together head-turning window displays and signage essentials, when it comes to retail, the devil is in the details.
Not sure where to get started with your retail design? Here, we'll look at some of the basics for creating effective retail interiors that attract more customers to your store, get them browsing for more products, and encourage them to head toward the checkout.
As you read, keep this fact in mind: From the moment someone steps into your store to the time they decide to check out (or leave your store without making a purchase), smart retail design decisions directly impact sales. We’ll unpack how you can make decisions that positively impact sales.
Table of Contents
What is retail design?
Retail interior design is how you organize and design your retail space. Your retail design is responsible for welcoming customers and guiding them through your store.
At first glance, you may think retail design applies to how you merchandise your products. While merchandising is certainly an important component of retail interior design (as we’ll touch on below), it’s not the only one.
From your store’s entryway to its checkout display, every element can impact your customer’s path to purchase. For that reason, retail interior design applies to your entire retail space.
What are the 6 basic designs for a store layout?
Most retail brands tend to lean towards one of the following basic designs for their store layout:
Retail design tips
The following tips for retail design will help you attract customers and provide an experience conducive to shopping and making purchases.
Use color wisely
When I say “Target red,” “Home Depot orange,” or “Starbucks green,” you know exactly what I’m referring to, don’t you? Consumers connect with colors more than they consciously realize—well over 50% of those seven-second first impressions are made based on color.
While a vibrant shop can create a bright, positive shopping experience, too much color can be overwhelming and cause shoppers to exit early. Sensory overload can make it difficult for customers to concentrate on your products and focus enough to make a purchase. It’s also unlikely that shoppers will return to your store if they don’t like the aesthetics.
To avoid this, thoughtfully incorporate color into your retail design. Consider the psychology of color. For example, black, a common color for men’s clothing stores, communicates authority and classiness.
Red grabs attention and encourages impulse purchases. (Target, anyone?) On the other hand, blue is for calmness, security, and trust, which is why many banks use blue.
Lastly, when it comes to color, let your products speak for themselves. Avoid adding additional colors through decor, flooring, or signage. In the world of retail, less is almost always more.
Update product displays regularly
Product displays, otherwise known as visual merchandising, are proven to increase sales. Shoppers can examine your products “in action”—a hanging plant, staged living room, or dressed mannequin—which can help them decide to purchase.
Displays also provide interactive shopping experiences (which we’ll touch on later) and provide easy opportunities for user-generated content—aesthetically pleasing displays encourage shoppers to share photos of your store on social media.
The most common displays for retail design include window displays, checkout displays, point-of-purchase displays, and mannequins. To get new products in front of shoppers and keep your retail design aesthetically engaging, update product displays regularly.
Enter the threshold
The threshold area, also known as the “decompression zone,” is the very first space that customers step into when they enter your store. It typically consists of the first five to 15 feet worth of space, depending on the overall size of your store.
It’s also the space where your customers make the transition from the outside world and first experience what you have to offer. At this point, shoppers also make critical judgments like how cheap or expensive your store is and how synchronized your lighting, fixtures, displays, and colors are.
Since they’re in a transition mode, customers are likely to miss any product, signage, or carts you place at your store’s threshold.
Because of this, your retail design should ease shoppers into your store—not bombard them. Welcome them with a subtle display or calm welcome area. Consider staging helpful signage farther into your store or right outside the door before shoppers decide to enter.
Then, off to the right
Next time you walk into a retail store, pay attention to the first move you make—odds are, depending on how the store is laid out, you turn right. Most shoppers do.
After entering and likely turning right, the first wall customers see is often referred to as a “power wall,” a high-impact first impression vehicle for your merchandise. Give extra attention to this space in your store in terms of what you choose to display and how you display it.
You’ll want to make sure you capture your customer’s attention with the products you display or stage, whether it's your new or seasonal items, high-profit or high-demand products, or products that tell a story.
For some great visuals and ideas for your power wall display, check out Pinterest.
Pave a path for your shoppers
Use furniture, displays, racks, and other tools to pave a clear path for your customers to journey through your store. The exact path will vary greatly depending on your store’s size, store layout, and planogram.
However, you know that most customers will naturally turn right. Your job is to make sure that, as they do, they continue through your store to browse more of your products.
A well-thought-out shopping path not only increases the chances of customers making a purchase but also strategically controls the ebb and flow of foot traffic in your store. This can help you preemptively manage busy shopping periods, measure shopper engagement, and better monitor your store.
Most stores use a counterclockwise path to guide customers to the rear of the store and then back to the front. Some retail designs cover the path with a different texture from the general flooring, paying homage to the old saying “where the eyes go, the feet will follow.” (If you’re picturing the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz, you’re not alone.)
You ultimately want to use your shopping path to lead your customers somewhere. So consider putting an eye-catching and attention-grabbing display at the end of your aisles.
But, slow them down
With all the time and effort you’ve put into properly merchandising and cross-merchandising your products, the last thing you want is for incoming customers to hurry past them. This ultimately limits the number of products they’ll purchase.
One way retailers combat this is by creating breaks that force them to pause, sometimes referred to as “speed bumps.” From signage to special/seasonal displays, these can be anything that gives customers a visual break.
Most retailers deploy what’s referred to as “merchandise outposts,” which are special display fixtures featuring products near the end of or in between aisles. These displays encourage impulse purchases while complementing nearby products on display.
However, for those who don’t have “aisles,” per se, it’s still important to think about grouping products in a way that makes sense from a shopper’s perspective. Remember to keep “higher-demand” products displayed at eye level while placing lower-grossing products at the bottom or above eye level.
Lastly, it’s recommended that you change up these speed bumps weekly or regularly enough to create a continued sense of novelty for repeat visitors. Consider using interactive or visual merchandising displays as speed bumps—I touch on these below.
Keep shoppers comfortable
You may already be aware of something known as the “butt-brush effect,” coined by consumer behavior expert Paco Underhill. He discovered that most customers, especially women, will avoid browsing in an aisle where they could potentially brush another customer’s backside or have their backside brushed. This holds true even if the customer is very interested in a given product.
An easy way to avoid this problem is to ensure that your aisles and displays allow customers more than enough personal space when browsing your products.
You can also make your store comfortable by incorporating a waiting area with comfy seats and benches to encourage customers to spend more time in your store. This is especially helpful for shoppers accompanied by someone who isn’t interested in making a purchase, such as a partner or a child. However, keep your seating area facing your merchandise so your products are still top of mind for waiting.
Lastly, check ’em out (not literally)
The best place for your checkout counter and point of sale in your retail design is a question you can ask yourself for days. However, a good rule of thumb is that your checkout should be located at a natural stopping point in the shopping experience that you’ve intentionally designed.
If customers naturally turn right when they enter, and you guide them to circle around your store, the front left is probably the ideal location for your checkout counter.
However, this decision also depends on the size and layout of the store itself, which means you'll have to use your best judgment on the most natural point to have that checkout counter.
Keep in mind that if you’re a one-person show or don’t have staff wandering the store, it’s important to be able to monitor everything from your checkout counter (from a loss-prevention perspective). Some other tips to keep in mind when designing your checkout counter are:
- Have a counter that’s big enough for shoppers to place their bags and/or personal belongings.
- Take advantage of the wall behind the counter to create interesting and engaging displays, and avoid having your checkout counter facing away from the majority of your store.
- Encourage impulse purchases by stocking items customers crave or commonly need close by.
- Be polite in person by asking questions like, “Were you able to find everything you were looking for?” and in signage regarding your exchange or refund policies.
7 interior design trends in retail
The above retail design tips are tried and true. However, they’re not the only best practices. The below retail interior design trends are some up-and-coming ways to better engage your shoppers through your store design.
Interactive retail experiences
Interactive retail experiences (like these) keep shoppers in your store longer. Visual merchandising—like a staged seating area—is one simple example of providing interactive shopping experiences, but most interactive retail uses digital technology to engage with your customers.
If you’ve browsed a sports store recently, you may have seen interactive experiences that allow you to sample bikes, golf clubs, and other equipment. Other retailers like Bloomingdale’s have adopted the interactive retail trend, using iPad technology to provide smart dressing room experiences.
Some retailers provide touchscreens to enable customers to look up product information, discover complementary products, or build custom color packages (in the case of PPG, as you can see below).
Due to the pandemic, our Neighborhood Showroom platform, which allowed prospective customers to schedule an in-person visit at one of our over 1,000 volunteering customers’ [Hosts’] homes, introduced a virtual visit functionality. For our outdoor furniture products, it’s important for a customer to text, email, video chat, or talk to an Outer customer local to their weather region so they know the product works in rain, snow, constant UV exposure, and other outdoor conditions. Our virtual visits result in a 30%+ conversion rate.
Modernized mobile checkout
While checkout counters were a mainstay in retail stores for decades, mobile POS systems and card readers are helping merchants modernize their checkout experience and take payments anywhere in store.
Checkout is the last chance you have to leave a positive impression on customers—and their experience can influence whether or not they choose to shop at your store again. In fact, 88% of consumers say a bad checkout experience negatively impacts their perception of a brand, with nearly 4 out of 5 saying it would make them less likely to shop from that store in the future.
Retailers have found plenty of innovative ways to make the checkout experience faster and more efficient. Whether a shopper chooses to buy online and pick up their purchase in-store (BOPIS), use Apple Pay or a digital gift card they bought online, the checkout experience should feel simple and straightforward.
If you're on the fence about moving away from your tried-and-true checkout counter, consider how moving away from that traditional layout would impact your customer experience. What are the pros and cons?
Conversely, if you’re ready to start exploring accessible ways to modernize your checkout experience, weigh how any changes you make could impact how shoppers flow through your retail space and adjust your store interior to accommodate any new services or technologies you add.
💡 PRO TIP: 70% of shoppers say their checkout experience is one of the most important factors shaping their perception of a store. With the Shopify POS app and a mobile card reader, you can banish long lineups at your checkout counter and serve customers, look up products, and take payments anywhere in your store from your tablet or smartphone.
Content creation studios
Content creation studios are when retailers design their stores to double as spaces where shoppers and influencers can stage and capture content for social media.
This benefits both parties: influencers get to use gorgeous, pre-designed studio space for free, and retailers gain exposure for their products and storefront.
Interested in incorporating a content creation studio into your retail design? Turn your store into a destination by sprinkling fun, interactive displays among your products. Make it nearly impossible for shoppers to not capture beautiful user-generated content.
Find opportunities to give your customers authentic moments to share their experience in your store. These can be fun mirrors for selfies with friends, cool installations, like our Ear Chair in Boston, or experiences that they want to share with the world.
Don’t forget to train your staff to engage and inspire your shoppers (a more fun way to sell, if you ask me).
Elements of the local community
When shopping brick-and-mortar, one of my favorite displays to browse is locally curated selections. Whether I’m shopping in my hometown or on vacation, I appreciate it when merchants gather items that are special to or provided by the local community.
Consider incorporating elements of your community in your retail design. Not only does this help showcase unique, potentially high-grossing items, it also helps your shoppers feel connected to the community—whether they’re from there or not.
At the heart of every design decision we make for our stores, is our customers and creating the best possible experience. Whether that's enjoying our bar or receiving a bootshine (regardless of what brand of boots you're wearing), we want everyone to experience true Texas hospitality. Rooted in Western culture, our spaces are a mix of custom fixtures and antique pieces - giving each space a really unique feel and subtle nod to each specific demographic. Incorporating custom fabricated hide wall art pieces, authentic western and americana objects - every space is warm, inviting, and a truly unique experience.
A minimalistic approach to merchandising
When it comes to retail, less is often more. I discussed above how too much color can dissuade your customers from making a purchase. The same can be said for merchandising and displays.
Just one or two impactful displays can engage your customers better, even if you aren’t merchandising every one of your products (another reason why you should routinely cycle through displays).
If you offer customers the option to buy in-store and ship to their homes, a minimal merchandising approach may also work. In this case, your retail design can double as a showroom, encouraging customers to interact with your products without having to worry if you have every size and color available.
Multiple studies have shown that natural lighting positively impacts buyer behavior in retail stores. Natural lighting not only accentuates the color of your store, improves buyer disposition, and creates a more comfortable shopping environment without the heat of artificial lighting, it can also increase the productivity and happiness of your retail staff. (And, hey, natural lighting can help save on your electricity bill!)
Explore how natural lighting plays a role in your retail design. If your store has windows, consider removing any displays or racks that block the light. Place your checkout near the front of your store so that customers feel the natural light as they move toward checkout. As always, have a backup plan for overcast weather and nighttime shopping.
Smaller physical spaces
Decision paralysis is real, especially for retail shoppers. Most actually appreciate a smaller inventory from which to shop, which means providing a smaller physical space may be a better fit for your retail design.
However, to do this successfully, you must have a handle on your inventory management system. Smaller physical spaces require a larger backstock and more frequent item replenishment as shoppers swipe up your items. Confirm your team can manage more frequent restocking.
Alternatively, you can also offer “endless aisles,” where shoppers can buy in-store but have items shipped directly to their homes. This option lets you provide more purchase opportunities without having to physically display everything.
3 examples of creative retail interiors
Below, I’ve gathered three of my favorite examples of retail interior design—two of which I’ve browsed as a customer.
The Sill, which started as an online plant delivery company, recently opened physical store locations—one of which is right down the street from where I live in Chicago. While I wouldn’t call myself a horticulturist, I enjoy visiting The Sill because, well, the store is designed to make me feel like I can keep a plant alive. (I’m sure it did that on purpose.)
While I can’t speak for the NYC locations, the Chicago branch is bright and airy and everything I’d want my plant-filled apartment to be. The Sill is designed to guide plant beginners and experts alike around its greenhouse-esque aisles.
The additional shelves, signage, and decor only add to the experience. Whether or not you purchase a plant, The Sill’s retail design guarantees you at least leave with a photo.
Outdoor Voices is a popular athletic wear retailer and Shopify customer (and one of my favorite places to shop for workout clothes). OV is a brilliant example of a few notable tactics I discussed in this article: creating exciting displays for UGC, leaving plenty of space to browse, calling out the local community, and using color to engage customers and guide them through your store.
The dressing-room-slash-gym-lockers in the above photo doubles as a space for content creation and gives an intriguing yet subtle nod to the motif and the OV Chicago store: vintage high school gym class. Moreover, the furniture rolls out of the way for when Outdoor Voices hosts events and classes at the store.
The image above features a standout piece of decor from OV’s Chicago shop: a vintage water fountain painted Chicago Bulls orange. The best part? It works, and it’s used by real customers and people who join exercise classes held at the stores.
Wildling, another Shopify customer, is a shoe brand based in Germany. The company—which started as an ecommerce business—decided to launch showrooms to bring in more new business and better communicate the physical benefit of its shoes.
Wildling opted for a minimalistic approach to its retail interior design, placing the spotlight on its shoes and leaving ample space for browsing and trying on products. This is important, as the brand lets customers try on shoes and order them directly to their homes.
You can also see the brand leverages checkout displays that engage customers at the point of sale and encourage them to buy more.
Moving forward with your store layout and retail design
Your retail design is a never-ending process. With constantly changing design trends, you can always be switching up, tweaking, adding, or taking away to create a resonating customer journey and experience. But at the end of the day, that’s exactly what you want to focus on: the customer journey.
Take a walk through your retail store to see where your retail design guides you. Ask your staff, friends, or family to do the same and give you honest feedback. Don’t forget to observe your customers and see what they’re drawn to, what they avoid, and how they follow your intended path. See how they engage with your new designs, product displays, power wall, and signage.
Ultimately, these practices will help you create a retail design that’s a win-win for both you and your customers.
Retail design FAQ
What is retail design?
What is the main goal in retail design?
What are the main elements of store design?
- Floor plans and layouts
- Signage and graphic design
- Furniture and fixtures