10 Retail Store Design Ideas for the Best Shopping Experience

Here are ten ideas for designing a retail store, including store layout design, storefront display ideas, and shelving for a curated shopping experience.

May 22, 2020

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From the retail space layout to the way you present the items on offer, design can make a tremendous impact on your customers. Today we’re looking at 10 design ideas to help you make shopping at your store an unforgettable experience.

Although online retail is gaining bigger momentum every year, brick-and-mortar stores still have some big advantages over ecommerce. For example, over 70% of consumers prefer interacting with a human. Moreover, it’s quite clear that it’s not exactly an either-or situation: traditionally brick-and-mortar retailers are increasingly using technology and adding the possibility of online shopping to their usual offer.

A key concept in retail design is visual merchandising. This is the process of using floor plans, colors, lighting, shelving, technology and other elements to attract customers. However, it isn’t enough to just get the buyers’ attention, a good design strategy also means meeting their expectations and helping them achieve their purchasing goals.

Today, we’re looking at 10 design elements to help you boost sales and improve the overall shopping experience.


1. Create gorgeous window displays

There are two kinds of shop windows. One is informative: you see a popular item with all the necessary information like price, other associated products, perhaps a “staging” of how it should be used.

Another kind, most commonly associated with high end brands, is the artistic window display. Big department stores like Harrods in London or Barney’s in New York have had some art-gallery-worthy displays in the past which you can certainly take inspiration from.

Of course, you won’t always have the resources or even a big enough shop window to replicate these examples, but think about components like color and different materials (some of them very cheap!) that you can use to create that “wow” effect.

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You can also use the space behind the counter to this end; include posters or signage with current or upcoming promotions.

Or this awesome display from James Dant in Indianapolis. Although there are a lot of items in one place, they make a sensible design choice: it’s almost like browsing through someone’s very cool closet!

2. Enforce your brand identity at the threshold

The moment customers walk into your shop they should get a better idea of what kind of shopping experience awaits, namely what are the products and price range.

This space is often called the “decompression zone” and is meant to bridge the gap between the shop and the real world. Leave enough space for customers to feel welcome and not buried under a mountain of different products. Display a few of your best items to entice them to keep exploring. Also, don’t include any vital information in this section as customers are likely to miss it.

A boutique called Heist in Los Angeles is a great example to take inspiration from. It has a wonderful spacious layout that gives shoppers that all-important moment to take in their surroundings before they start browsing.

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3. Create a store layout that makes sense

Did you know that 90% of people go right upon entering a shop? That’s why you should start from the right and create a map of the path you’d want your customers to take.

Supermarkets are the perfect example of this logic. You usually start with fruit and vegetables (most of which is unrefrigerated) and end with frozen goods.

The same logic isn’t always as straightforward but it is applicable. It’s important to know your buyers’ intentions and act accordingly. If they walked in because they expected some great bargains, put those discounted items front and center.

You should also always think about slowing buyers down, without causing frustration (like a complicated maze just to reach the checkout). A fun way to do this can include little nooks or secluded areas where they might look at different products not on their shopping list.

A great example is Nordstrom's flagship store which opened in New York last year. They make a great use of interesting angles, shapes  and colors to provide an original shopping experience. And the numerous seating areas are perfect for a family shopping trip, so that the “entourage” of the key shoppe has a place to feel comfortable.

nordstrom NYC.jpg
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4.Use signage to draw attention to important things

We may instinctively walk to the right, but big bold signs can certainly help lead customers to where you want them to go or draw their attention to important details. For example, people react more forcefully to the color red, which is why this color is often used in sales and discount signage to promote that swift purchase decision.

On the other hand, if you offer a range of products that aren’t easily identifiable (like cosmetics in similar packaging), you can use signs to help your customers find what they’re looking for.

The playful, colorful design of Lush could be a bit overwhelming if you’re looking for one specific item. However these bold, blackboards are terrific signposts to help you find what you’re looking for quickly.

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5. Shelving 101

Imagine walking into a clothing store wanting to buy a t-shirt and seeing every single t-shirt they sell in one space. It would feel a bit overwhelming, right?

Again, shelving is a matter of convenience, as much as design. That’s why clothes stores often group things around “an outfit”, or a certain color scheme. Make sure to put your most popular items at eye level, as studies suggest that these products receive 35% more attention than items placed elsewhere.

Depending on the kind of retail store you’ve got, you can be even more creative with shelving, playing with levels and different types of storage (dump displays, rolling racks, gondolas, wire shelving etc.).

Here’s a lovely example from Sido in Shanghai. This shop has more of a thrift-shop feel, however the generous spacing makes almost every item pop.

sido boutique shanghai.jpg
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6. Play around with wall colors and lighting

Lighting is a key element of interior design, and you don’t have to be an interior designer to see how it can make a world of difference! Dim lighting is probably better for creating a cosy atmosphere in a bookshop, while crisp, white light can give your store interior a modern, clean feel.

Aesop is a terrific example of creating very different spaces while adhering to а cohesive design strategy of visual simplicity. The first example of a retail store in Seoul features a pristine combination of white and light wood. It’s clean and natural looking - which is what this brand is all about!

aesop korea store.jpg

On the other hand, their Milan store design features gorgeous teal tiles and matching cabinets, evoking a sense of a spa experience, which is also very fitting for this brand. Both stores feature modern ceiling lights and shelves lighting that helps the recognizable bottles stand out.

interior aesop store milan.jpg

7. Provide a hands-on experience

Remember when you were little and went shopping with your mom? And she told you not to touch anything, but oh my god, was it hard to resist the temptation?!

But what if you went a step further from just grabbing what you need and taking it over to the checkout? Many food retailers are already doing this, for example with pick-and-mix salads or candy.

There are tons of creative ways to entertain your shoppers (the so called “retailtainment”) and help them create a completely personalized experience or even new products. For example, the Indianapolis-based fragrance brand Penn & Beech allows customers to make their own scented candles.

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Of course, this is also a great tactic to use with popup stores, so that you can give customers a real “taste” of your brand, without the whole array of products on hand.

8. Utilize technology

Technology has become inevitable, even in brick and mortar small businesses. Think at the very least about your cash register and POS systems which you could hardly do without.

Of course, it goes without saying that a good-looking, responsive website is an absolute must when it comes to retail design. And yet, there are other in-store options that you can use to make the shopping experience even smoother.

QR codes are an increasingly popular trend in retail design. In 2018 it was estimated that around 9.8 million households in the US included a person who used their smartphone to scan QR codes.

Big brands like Heinz and Walmart are already using QR codes to provide product information (like additional offers) or for payment. They can also be used for contactless shopping—something we’ll probably see a dramatic increase off in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.

walmart qr code payment.png

A level up is doing something like this interactive mirror in a Ralph Lauren dressing room, which allows customers to see their outfits in different lighting and easily request new items from shop assistants.

9. Provide additional value

Whether it’s free samples of a product or free events, a store that’s more than a shopping experience is a fantastic way to build customer loyalty.

A cosy seating area with magazines and perhaps some free beverages can help your customer feel at home and convince them to stick around a little longer. And the longer they spend in your shop the more likely they are to be tempted by an impulse purchase!

Lululemon is a super creative example. The activewear apparel has become a recognizable brand because of their unique retail approach: apart from athletic wear they offer free yoga classes. Forgot your workout tee? No sweat, you’re at the perfect place to find one!

lululemon yoga (1).jpg

10. Encourage impulse purchases

No one is immune to impulse purchase. This Invesp report suggests that the average shopper makes 3 impulse purchases in every 4 out of 10 stores they visit. More importantly, 8 out of 10 impulse buys are made in a brick-and-mortar store.

Make sure you’ve got fun “treats” very close to the checkout point. A rule of the thumb is to think about small, inexpensive items people could easily put in their bag or pocket. Bookstores, such as Books Actually in Singapore, are a great example to learn from: come in for the books and leave with cards, bookmarks, small gifts and of course beautiful stationary!

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Retail store design is not just a job for interior designers

As the owner of your small business, you need to create a space that relates to your customers needs and wishes.

Of course, how your store looks is important! You need to impress buyers to get them into the shop, but also make sure they have a positive experience once they’re inside. If customers are confused about finding products or feel uncomfortable because of bad lighting or non-functional spaces, they will probably walk out before they’ve even had a look at what you have to offer.

Use nice product displays and additional value as speed bumps to their buying journey. The longer they decide to spend in your shop (without being made to by lack of functionality), the better!

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.

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