5 Retail Design Fundamentals You Must Get Right

Posted on September 4, 2019 by Carm McCormick

5 Retail Design Fundamentals You Must Get Right

Posted on September 4, 2019 by Carm McCormick

We all know that the big things are made up of many small things. And when it comes to increasing sales and giving amazing shopping experiences you have to get the small things (retail design fundamentals) right.

When someone walks through your door, whether it’s for the first time or the hundredth time, everything you’ve done to get them to that point has led to that moment: your advertising, word of mouth, how the store looks, feels and shows, and of course, past shopping experiences.  And now that they’re within your store, your retail design fundamentals is put to the test: will they buy?

Designing a retail space that inspires people, has the right mix of product and experience, and represents your brand expression is the formula for converting shoppers into customers. 

Of course, there’s a lot at risk for a growing retail business when planning a new location, including loss of time and focus, brand credibility, and the money invested if any major mistake is made to the retail design basics. If you get the retail design fundamentals wrong, the whole location fails to hit targets.

So, learn the retail design fundamentals and the areas that CBSF can help with to take your new store to the next-level.

1. Define Your Retail Space.

Create a unique experience that draws people in.

Start by defining your retail floor space, prioritizing the image of your brand. Your brand hook brings people through the doors, and your success in reflecting that image in the actual space helps determine the actions shoppers will take once they come in to see what it’s all about.

  • Be About the Connection: Think about your product, and focus on your real target market. Align your space design for presenting the products in your store with your understanding of your market’s needs and preferences.
  • Merge Style and Function: Create a style that is consistent with the functioning of your retail business, and that ties together with it so well that a special shopping experience is produced.

Picture the stores you most enjoy shopping in. What is it about the atmosphere, the spaces, and the experience that appeals to you? Think about how you can best generate the kind of feeling you want your customers to have while they’re in your store, to give them an experience that will make your store one of their favorite places to shop.

2. Organize Your Store.

What really works best for shoppers navigating a retail space?

A store that is smartly designed and professionally organized makes sense to people. It makes them feel comfortable and secure in knowing that they can get what they want efficiently, without having to waste any of their valuable time on unnecessary searching for products or help.

  • Simplify Searches: Create an easy path for shoppers to follow throughout the retail space. Group products in logical ways, with categories, clearly indicated. Display popular products at eye-level, and place lower sellers above or below. Make the way to find assistance clear and easy.
  • Facilitate Transition: Depending on your store size and configuration, the five to fifteen feet radius of the entry door is usually the “decompression zone,” where shoppers transition from the outside to beginning to experiencing your retail space. Here, they assess how low or high your prices are likely to be and judge the design appeal of the store. They scan the color scheme, fixtures, lighting, product displays, etc.

Of course, in-store shopping does not provide the customer’s experience of online shopping, but a well-curated product offering and an organized floorplan give the opportunity for browsing and discovery.

3. Plan the Flow of Customers’ Shopping Journey in Your Store.

Provide a well-planned sequence for the customer experience.

Use displays, fixtures, furniture, and other functional retail design elements to set a clear path for customers to move through your store and have maximum opportunity to view all your products. This design strategy increases opportunities for selling and helps control the flow of shopping traffic.

  • The Hard Right Turn: As you probably know, upon entering a retail store, most customers in our market look left, then right, and ultimately turn right to work through space in a counter-clockwise path. So, the first merchandise they encounter is against your so-called “power wall, along the right side of your retail space.”
  • Enhanced Journey: Throughout your retail store, you can use various design tools to make it easier for customers to understand the best shopping route. For example, position racks strategically, apply contrasting flooring materials on walking paths using tile or hardwood flooring (or in a pinch floor decals are a great solution), or place fixtures and furniture to delineate product category areas. Use attention-getting display at aisle ends.

This first-impression display area (also called the decompression zone) needs to generate interest in going further into your store. Whatever merchandise, product stories, or branding displays you place there will make your first impression – so be sure to tie it into your relevant season, highlight a new or signature product, or your latest campaign. For the remainder of the shopping journey, there are myriad design tactics you can employ to help guide shoppers from one point to the next.

4. Use Visual Communications Tools.

Help customers slow down and more fully engage in their shopping experience.

Shoppers’ attention is typically divided between multiple products at once. So, focus on providing prominently-displayed, succinct information that they can absorb quickly. Make shopping more enjoyable by communicating with customers through clear, highly relevant visual information. Use branding features, signage, and other graphic and text information that keeps with your visual branding design.

  • Clear Destination: Since shoppers tend to turn right upon entering a retail store, a location near the front left is likely to be the naturally best place for the checkout counter, depending on your layout and store size. (Also, if staff are not circulating throughout the space, consider positioning that helps promote loss prevention.)
  • Abundant Fun: Optimize the sales appeal of your check out area. Design an area for engaging displays behind the checkout counter. Create fixtures for stocking items around the checkout counter that customers may want to add to their purchases at the last minute. Create a counter space roomy enough for customers to put items they’re purchasing, plus consider your shoppers’ needs for accessibility or personal belongings.

Providing quickly digestible information, an easy-to-locate, and engaging checkout experience with bonus purchasing opportunities helps shoppers feel confident and comfortable with the space, enabling them to slow down and enjoy their shopping experience more.

5. Help Customers Engage

Create easy, comfortable ways for customers to get involved.

Offering a great in-store experience that features available helpful retail staff offers customers something that they just can’t get shopping online. Only a real store provides the luxury and practicality of having knowledgeable one-on-one assistance along with the actual opportunity to examine and try products before buying.

  • Breaks in the Action: To enable customers to make the most of their experience, give them the benefit of some visual breaks that help them refocus at various points along their shopping journey. Customer inattentiveness results in reduced purchasing. Creating visual breaks, a.k.a. “speed bumps,” like seasonal displays, marquis for specials, or simple signage helps with focus.
  • Unexpected Extras: One effective purchasing option is the “merchandise outpost.” Outposts are fixtures featuring special product displays, new products, sale items, seasonal goods, etc. Positioned between isles, or near isle ends, these serve to offer customers more abundant shopping experience, complement adjacent products, and encourage additional purchasing.

After Focusing On The Retail Design Fundamentals, Ensure Few Other Aspects Before You Plan Your Next Store

Make a delightful customer journey the entire focus of your retail space design. Design a retail interior that enables a customer experience that resonates with people in this way, and they’ll be back and tell all their friends.

Visualize yourself walking through the retail space you’ve designed. Guide staff, family, and friends through the virtual walk-through of your planned space too. Tour a few retail stores with designs that inspire you. Take a friend along. Collect genuine feedback as you accompany people through virtual and real retail spaces.

Observe what catches people’s attention, what they pass without much notice, what they seem to avoid. Consider all of your shoppers’ needs, including designing to meet accessibility requirements and providing an exceptional experience for all.  Factor this research into your intended design. Stay flexible, get the retail design and building help you need for a professional outcome, and you’ll create a retail store that will become a favorite in your local market.


We help entrepreneurs design retail spaces for the ultimate customer experience. Our exceptionally talented retail space design, retail fixtures design, engineering, and construction management specialists can help you develop a retail space that will enhance your brand and build a loyal customer base by focusing on retail design fundamentals. For more information, call CBSF at (800) 535-2279, to discuss the details of your vision for your new store.