Time To Get Physical With Your Retail Space

Posted on March 28, 2018 by Michael Benarroch

Time To Get Physical With Your Retail Space

Posted on March 28, 2018 by Michael Benarroch

With rents ballooning and demand for space skyrocketing, you need to be creative when maximizing the efficiency of your retail floor space.

You’ve heard it all before. You need to:

  • Diversify your product selection.
  • Optimize prices and promotions.
  • Improve your store’s layout.

Yes, all this will encourage people – your customers – to visit again and again, and even convince them to stay awhile. It’s all part of the movement of customers taking control of their own shopping experience.

But when it comes to optimizing the often-limited retail space available to your business, there’s no magic pill to achieving success.

With the digital age forcing consumers to change the way they research, share, and shop, retailers are up against the wall trying to discover new, exciting ways to put their businesses in clear sight of consumers.

If you own or manage small retail spaces, then this holds especially true for you, and this article will help as we take a look at a few ways to get the most out of your retail environment.


Oh, it’s so nice to see merchandise at eye level, all within reach. But with small spaces come big challenges for retailers with a lot of merchandise to display.

Things can get very cluttered, and very overstocked, very fast. So, consider going up with the right shelving options that will prominently display your merchandise.

But maximizing retail space is about getting more product on the floor. It’s about giving customers the opportunity to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

  • Don’t force customers to hunt for products.
  • For free-standing structures, stick with a max height of 84″ from the floor to make products easy to find.
  • Utilize the wall if you need to go higher.
  • Use clearly marked and legible signs to direct customers and navigate them as they shop.
  • And a word of caution: Never suspend anything from the ceiling.

If you merchandise it properly, they will come.

Yes, you need shelves. But your products need to scream from them — visual merchandising is essential to increasing sales.

Everything you do has to create a great customer experience.

  • Merchandise horizontally – customers will need to run their eyes across the top shelf to see options for a category.
  • Merchandise vertically – stick to strike zone principles and keep high-performing SKUs there, but offer options (customers will be more likely to scan to find the category in the strike zone).
  • Keep products you want to see at no higher than 72″ above the floor – don’t let customers climb the walls to get something.
  • Place empty product boxes on the top shelf as a way to show customers what is below – an effective visual tool that can save money on printing signs.

Large or small, you can do it all.

  • Focus on the strike zone to maximize retail racking (24″ high to about 60″ high) for private label, high-margin products, like a chrome toaster with a bagel option.
  • Place lower-margin products below, like a white toaster with basic functions.
  • Incorporate displays in strike zones for customer interaction.
  • Utilize the floor space for larger items and for cross merchandising – consider a digital kiosk to make online purchases for larger items that can be delivered to a customer’s home.
  • Minimize the mess, and stay clean and neat.
  • Brand signage can be positioned higher, but keep product information near the product off the face of the shelf.

So, you’ve created the illusion of height and your customers will be happy to look up to discover your merchandise. But you don’t want to make them feel confined or claustrophobic – customers don’t want to experience an anxiety attack, and you don’t want them planning their exit route before they’ve had a chance to experience your offerings.

There’s a happy medium. And yes, you can combine both tall shelves and shorter ones with a few tips:

  • Maintain a minimum aisle width of 4 feet for smaller retailers, 5 feet for larger big box stores.
  • Avoid creating a claustrophobic feeling – if you go higher than 84″ in racking, widen the aisles.
  • Avoid layering displays in aisles.

Also, make sure to personalize the shelves to match your brand with something as simple as coloured ticket strips — coloured paper inserts that slide into standard shelving or custom printed strips with key messages, and accent shelving in brand colours.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with various retail formats – a variety of shelving, displays, and decorations – to make your space look and feel airy. And know that you can still create an open space. Just like today’s typical bookstore, which has redefined the social meeting place, your retail space can use shelving to accommodate merchandise and still be inviting to shoppers.


Going vertical maximizes space. It’s a simple enough approach. But shelves alone can’t be the solution to effectively creating the illusion of space.

Let there be light.

Dining in total darkness is a thing. It is! Patrons at these types of restaurants love the idea of feasting on surprise dishes that will test and tantalize their taste buds. But when it comes to retail, nothing sells less than darkness.

Your store needs light, and you need to light it properly — it’s too important. And the less there is, the less likely shoppers are to shop.

Bad lighting could mean:

  • A part of the store is inaccessible.
  • Gives the impression that items in a dimly lit section are discounted.
  • Angry customers – they need to see the product and read labels, so save the ambiance for a romantic dinner and give them a chance to shop.
  • A bad perception of your store’s experience is created – if bulbs are out and not replaced, then perhaps you just don’t care. So, why would your customer?

Both small and large retailers must make lighting an integral part of their shopping experiences.

  • Overhead lighting needs to be exceptional and maintained properly.
  • Accent lighting at shelf level is best for ROI.

Ensure your space is lit properly, and you’ll be ensuring your customers feel welcome and willing to shop.

Colour happens.

Colour is a wonderful way to add life to a retail space, and very important to creating the illusion of space.

Here are a few key takeaways to consider:

  • Your brand colours should be prominently featured to remind customers where they are, especially for anything permanent.
  • The right colour draws attention to displays and product offerings like a sale.
  • Use off-brand colours for a limited time – 3 months is the maximum we would suggest.
  • For short-term, seasonal campaigns, consider colours that complement the season and don’t be afraid to be creative.

You’ll be happy to know that colour is a great opportunity to get customers excited about your brand. The style of your store and the strategy behind the design direction will determine what colours to use and where.

Re-jig your blueprint.

A smaller retail space is easier to optimize, right? Not so fast.

Size matters when it comes to getting more merchandise on the floor, giving your retail space a sense of variety. And your store could be filled with incredible items. But it’s not about getting more product out. There has to be a strategic approach to how it’s all displayed, regardless of your store’s size. Reconfiguring your footprint is about matching your shoppers’ expectations and behaviours, and how you want them to interact with your space.

How can you approach your retail space to optimize efficiency?

  • Inventory levels should always be maximized – empty shelves leave empty feelings with shoppers.
  • Customer shopping behaviours need to be considered.
  • Find the right balance between open space and product display.
  • Reduce the possibilities of errors with a plan to promote movement – reducing traffic flow and making it easier to navigate aisles.
  • Plan to have complementary product categories in close proximity to each other and add cross-merchandising opportunities (batteries can be in the electrical department, but also use be sold on a smaller display near flashlights).
  • If your store is long and narrow, don’t trap customers – break aisles up so customers don’t feel discouraged about walking a long distance to get out of the aisle (try for a max of 40 feet for large stores, 24-28 feet for smaller stores).
  • Keep seasonal and high impulse offerings at the front near entrances and checkouts.
  • Keep customers informed with the right signage – to inform loyal customers and to keep new customers coming back.

Dress up your retail space with some personality.

Your space is your space. It’s a reflection of you and your brand. So, you need to make sure it’s uniquely created and positioned for you and the products you’re selling.

What can you do to make your space more personal and inviting?

  • Stay on brand with any design elements like colours.
  • Connect added value to products.
  • Don’t add seats if it doesn’t make sense to your shopping experience.
  • Consider providing samples for items that require customers to make a better, more informed decision at home (wallpaper).

Don’t make things look and feel the same as any other retail space. Customers will notice — they don’t “buy” bland, and they won’t be inclined to stay and shop.

But a similar-sized space designed to sell its products in a unique way – a personal expression of the brand and you, the retailer – will make customers stay and shop.

Reduce clutter with a merchandising accessory that’s right for your product.

Create the illusion that your space is larger than it actually is, with lights, mirrors and reflective surfaces, and wide aisles.

Be personal, be smart, and welcome the idea of customizing your space, so your merchandise and brand are represented well.

Looking for some additional reading? Here are a few more articles to get your creative juices flowing.

6 Visual Merchandising Tricks to Increase Your Sales Per Square Foot

Apparel Magazine:
Fitting More Square Feet Into a Small Hole: Leading Retailers Test New Ideas to Increase Sales Per Square Foot

‘Brands are becoming culture coders,’ retail trend researcher reveals

Retail Merchandising Tips: How to Capture Attention in Your Store

6 Tips for Creating an Optimal Retail Store Layout
We know what you need to effectively sell.

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