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Design a Better Retail Store Layout

Philip H. Mitchell

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When you start contemplating making changes to your retail store layout, there are some store layout basics that you should consider. If a store is to be remodeled, I like to start by doing enough research to know what's working well with the current layout and what isn't. How are people moving through the store? What are elements about the current design that should be saved or replicated in  the new retail store layout?

Here are some retail store layout basics that you should consider: There has been research completed , much of it by Paco Underhill and his company Envirosell, that gives us some very basic principles that we should adhere to. For example there should be an area inside the front door that is void of product display. This area of perhaps 12 or 14 feet square has been termed the “decompression zone".  The decompression zone allows customers to enter your store and adjust to your environment. The decompression zone, when done right, communicates a “welcome" to your patrons and allows them to make their first judgments of your retail world. Their first judgments are often the ones that stick so this area of adjustment is very important.

Another phenomenon Underhill has observed is what he has named the “invariant right". This refers to the fact that when given the opportunity people prefer to, and most often do, move to the right after entering a store. When I am designing a store I always try to encourage people to move in the direction that they are most comfortable. By adhering to this principle whenever possible I notice that the store “feels" better. When a store “feels" better it operates at a higher level and produces better sales and additional profits.

When I am designing a floor plan a couple of additional store layout basics that I consider are balance and symmetry.  Most people react positively to both balance and symmetry. I have tried experiments in which I presented different designs for the same store, some were balanced some were not, some were symmetrical and others weren't. As retailers studied the various plans I was struck by how often they preferred balance and symmetry though we had not discussed those issues at all. I believe that preference carries through to the shopping experience. I also know that most shoppers would be unaware of the subtle differences and would probably just say the store “felt" better. After all is said and done, the shopping war is one by stores that “feel better" to their patrons. Never forget how important retail store layouts are to the feel of a store.

Philip H. Mitchell is the author of Discovery-Based Retail. His book has been endorsed by Scott Wright of the North American Retail Hardware Association, Art Brown of the Mid-American Lumberman's’ association and other industry experts. Philip is also one of the founding partners of a retail consulting company of the same name, Discovery-Based Retail. His company works with retailers, both small and large, helping them enhance their profitability by improving their customer interface. Their company also specializes in improving the production of the entire salesspace and designs floorplans to accomplish this. He can be contacted at 888-292-6531

Visit his website at


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