How to Design Retail Storefronts

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Online shopping may seem omnipresent, but retail stores will always be popular with consumers. Design plays a huge part in a business's level of success, and experts know more today than ever before about the science behind why consumers spend money.

Storefront design is all about guiding the consumer experience from the sidewalk to the cash register. Design answers questions about what consumers should see, where they should pause to take in the space and what products will pique their interests. Storefront design can't be an afterthought if you want your store to be successful, and it's not just about having a pretty interior. It's behavioral science at work.

Storefront Design First Impressions

The threshold is a big deal. It’s considered the first 5 to 15 feet inside your door depending on your space size. This is a transitional zone, and it’s likely that consumers might miss what you have here. It’s why so many places will post signage or use the space for baskets and other things since it's a dead zone where products don't tend to be successful.

Instead, when consumers step inside, they will reach an impression about your business. They’ll note your cleanliness, whether your fixtures are cheap or posh, the lighting, the accessibility, the variety and the general atmosphere. What would you like their impression to be?

Design a Path

Floor layout occurs in many ways — a “U” around the shop, a zigzag, freeform, you name it. Keep in mind that consumers tend to act the same as car traffic, so this means most North Americans will instinctively turn to the right upon entering a shop, while those in the U.K. or Australia generally turn to the left. This is a good place to put items that set the tone for their visit — it’s where you put things you want them to see.

By using racks, tables and displays, you can influence the way your customers move through your shop. Having eye-catching displays at the end of aisles can help ensure customers walk the whole store rather than just skim the space.

Consider Your Storefront Lighting

If you’ve ever wandered through a supermarket in a daze and then felt more alert at the cash register, that’s all strategy and design. The lighting is brighter at the cash register so fewer mistakes occur and lower in the rest of the store so you take more time to consider things and hopefully pick up some impulse purchases.

A café or bistro storefront may benefit from warm lighting, while a clean, daylight approach might be better for a kitchen store. Harsh lighting at a makeup counter may have clients leaving unsatisfied since their self-esteem is challenged. A lighting consultant could suggest bulbs to give the best skin glow so people feel their best and are inclined to buy more products in hopes of sustaining that feeling after they leave the shop.

Comfort Counts

A spacious interior may seem like a waste of valuable square footage, but consumer behavior expert Paco Underhill coined the phrase “butt-brush effect,” which describes how consumers are less likely to venture down retail spaces that are narrow or crowded, especially if their butt should brush the products or another consumer.

Keep in mind that sometimes there’s an unenthusiastic or exhausted compatriot along for the browse, and if that person is impatient or uncomfortable, the eager consumer may be less likely to stay long enough to find purchases. Providing some seating may mean having a captive audience for longer.

But Wait, There’s More!

Paco Underhill’s book “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping” should be read by every store owner and manager in business. It’s a seminal work that will teach you to think about merchandising, display and design in ways that can profoundly improve your bottom line.