How To Get Started: When To Consider A New Store Design

Posted on August 30, 2018 by Carm McCormick

How To Get Started: When To Consider A New Store Design

Posted on August 30, 2018 by Carm McCormick

5 red flags that every retail business owner should recognize signaling it’s time for a new store design.

To stay competitive, those responsible for creating dynamic and engaging retail environments need to take the blinders off. No matter your role – whether you’re a store planner, location manager, or retail business owner, you have to take a hard look at your space on an annual basis to see if it’s falling behind and failing your business and your customers.

Forgive me if that sounds harsh – believe me, there’s no judgement here.

But as a retail-environment designer, it pains me to see retailers – who are otherwise at the top of their game – working in a space that doesn’t leverage the latest technologies, design elements, and strategies to drive purchases, both in-store and otherwise. While these tactics include fundamentals like keeping foot traffic up, nowadays they encompass so much more – creating a place to connect, build community and loyalty to your brand, and offer an authentic, immersive experience.

It’s a matter of survival.

So, let’s look at 5 red flags that retailers should take note of – things that might be silently screaming, “it’s time for a change!”

Is Your Branding Blurry?

If your retail space isn’t creating what we call an “immersive experience” for your customers, then you’re probably not telling your brand story well enough. The buzzword of the day is “experiential commerce” – a consistency of look, feel, and even smell to envelop the customer in your message, tone, and story.

Consider window displays as an opportunity to tell your brand story, using elements that are relevant to existing customers and relatable to new ones. Appeal, surprise and delight with seemingly random touches. You’re making that crucial first impression before anyone enters the store.

Where signage is concerned, be crystal clear on your brand story and your positioning. Create an Instagrammable moment. Think bold, branded artwork to entice people to snap, chat and share. In his book Re-Engineering Retail, Doug Stephens writes that “media is abundant; attention is scarce.” So be sure to grab their attention.

All that sizzle you’re selling should be supported by store flow, fixtures, colours, and ambience. Ask yourself, are you missing any elements that your customers require? Watch them to learn. Visual merchandising is powerful, but don’t forget that humans react favourably to sensory cues like smell and sound. The key is to make your presentation fluid, clean and interesting enough to engage shoppers’ attention – and then hold them.

Same Old, Same Old

Ask yourself if your store looks old. Just like hairstyles and jean fashions, styles change – and your retail space may just be caught in a timewarp. It’s helpful to work from the outside in (windows, threshold, or decompression zone) to appraise the kind of update your store requires.

CONSIDER: As a person who is in the space often, you may not notice little things like dirt build-up, scratched door frames, chipped fixtures, or an overall “worn” feeling to the space.

Next, check out your merchandising displays. Are they located where they’ve always been? Perhaps it’s time for a refresh. Eighty percent of your sales tend to come from the first third of your store, so highlight all the “wants” at the front and all the “needs” in the back with the sale stuff.

Then, if you need more than a quick nip and tuck – if full surgery is required – you’ll be able to lay out a plan, determine your timeline and create a budget for whatever is required to give your space that facelift.

Perhaps The Flow Is Muddled.

Realize that designing your retail space is a never-ending process. You’ll never stop switching out, tweaking, adding, or subtracting elements in order to build that resonating experience. And at the end of the day, your focus should be the customer journey.

Try doing a walk-through yourself. Where do the visual cues guide you? Or get staff, friends, or family to do the same and give you honest feedback. Watch the customers to see what draws them and what they avoid. There’s a set formula for optimum traffic flow within retail spaces – “enter and turn right,” power walls, etc. – that have been researched and proven for 90% of consumers. These are unconscious reactions and can be easily implemented to up your retail game. It’s not rocket science.

Hello, Comfort Level. Hello, Personal Space.

If you haven’t heard of “butt-brush effect” (coined by consumer behaviour expert Paco Underhill) then you might not realize how much shoppers value their space. It seems that typical customers avoid merchandise in an aisle where they could potentially brush another customer’s backside or have their backside brushed. In other words, crowding them. Even if they are very keen on the product. The easy fix is more breathing room in aisles, sales floors and around displays. Call it browsing space, if you like.

CONSIDER: Dwell-time is time spent engaging in-store with a product. If that item is laundry detergent that’s dash-and-grabbed, it’s not as vital a factor as when the purchase is a piece of apparel that benefits from more space and time to encourage it into a change room, then brought to checkout.

So adding elements of comfort such as couches, benches, or other seating will be seen as a “personal touch” (remember branding) to pamper your customers and anyone accompanying them. They’ll speak to dwell-time. Perhaps an invaluable trade-off for merchandising space. That may mean consolidating. Or making better use of fixtures in order to convert space. Either way, keep seating facing the merchandise to frame the merchandise as top-of-mind.

Looking the Part – Knowledge Headquarters Or Experience Center?

If your retail space looks light-years removed from the current trends towards Bluetooth-connected-app-pings-for-dressing-room-availability and digital signage to entertain those in the checkout line, don’t fret. No one says you have to make a big technological leap all in one move, but a certain level of product knowledge and expertise helps draw customers to your bricks-and-mortar location – just as a “coffee bar” or “kid zone” positively affects customers’ “approach behaviour”. Help your retail space look forward-thinking in whatever way possible.

Now screens, apps, and devices aren’t a plus if they’re blank. They require content and expertise. A strong social following can generate content to display and push genuine engagement. Dependable technology for staff to check product info and inventory is a baseline. If staff have apps at their fingertips, it’s absolutely key that they are experts at demonstrating and promoting the advantages to customers.


It’s one thing to look at an Apple store and want to emulate its style, but Apple’s entire being (store design, merchandising, staff, service methodology) is built on its brand story “think different.”

  1. So, figure out what your own “think different” is.
  2. Walk the store or have an unbiased, trustworthy straight-shooter you know pinpoint your hits and misses. Listen. Of course, CBSF can help.
  3. Get your game plan on: prioritize what needs fixing, budget for it, start plan how you’ll make it a reality, and determine the help you need to get there.

Here’s some food for thought: retail doesn’t stop changing, and that cycle is now faster than ever. The renewal/refresh cycle was once every 10 years; now even the slow-to-change big-box stores are looking at 2-to-5 year cycles.

You don’t need to tackle the whole store at once. You can move through the neediest areas or departments. Only plan for what you’re changing now. Trends will stale-date by next year and there’s no use in redoing work that’s already been done because the retail landscape has scrapped it for you.

We’re happy to fill the role of unbiased, trustworthy straight-shooter for you, if such a need arises. Give us a call at 905-264-0917 or contact us.