Doing Retail Right: How to Set Up Your Store

Retail is challenging, and whether you’re just starting out or an old hand, we want to give you the tips and help you need to succeed. This is the first of a series we’re running called “Doing Retail Right”, where we’ll go through the major areas you should be mindful of in your business. We hope you find it beneficial.

Location, location, location: the age-old axiom of real estate.

When you’re designing a store, it’s just as important. No matter where your storefront itself is located, the way that you set up the store is critical to leading the customer in the right direction, maximizing purchases and helping with loss prevention. What do you need to know when you’re designing a store and setting up your retail space?

Let’s break it down step by step.


When a customer is walking, driving or riding by on the street, they should be able to see your storefront and immediately know what you’re about.

Your potential customers should feel drawn in.

If you have windows, you should be using them. Each window should tell a story—a story about a product, or a seasonal display, that’s:

  • Tied together thematically or by color
  • Not too cluttered

Space is king in retail design, and the more space you allocate for a product, the more the customer associates it with luxury, quality or exclusivity. Choose something you really want to highlight.

Finding accessories for a display while you’re designing a store doesn’t have to be hard or expensive, if you’re working with a small budget. Try keeping an eye out at places that offer cheap accessories:

  • Garage sales
  • Estate sales
  • Flea markets
  • Craft store bargain bins
  • Thrift stores

Consider using a metal watering can for a garden-themed display, or a blank picture frame that works as a decorative element. Small wooden chairs or benches work well and double as stands for merchandise.

Whatever you do, it should maximize the appeal of your storefront. Keep your windows clean and your window displays fresh and they’ll pay dividends.

The Dead Zone

It’s been a longtime tenet of retail design that within the first five to fifteen feet of a person walking into a store, they’re unlikely to notice much.

Stocking products here when you’re designing a store is a waste of space and money. Avoid it.


So you’ve gotten the customer to walk into the store. What comes next?

You create a decompression zone.

What is the decompression zone? When customers walk in, they’re subconsciously adjusting to the store environment, and a good decompression zone allows them to do this.

The first thing that you want them to do as they come in is see the entire store’s layout.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re designing a store.

  • Keep your store layout open, not cluttered.
  • Use shorter shelves to make your store look more open.
  • Don’t put high racks or shelves at the front.

Keep sales staff, merchandise and signage out of the area, because it’ll be wasted. Customers will tune it out. Make sure that the decoration contrasts with the outside so the customer has visual cues that they’re entering a new environment.

Once they’re through that decompression zone, you can think about catching their attention. Some retailers, like Costco, will put out a display of an interesting item out of the box so customers can see, feel and handle it. Designing a store display that  Just make sure it’s outside of that dead zone so people are more likely to engage.


A well-designed store leads customers on a journey, using visual and spatial cues to steer them through. There are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re designing a store’s main space.

  • Steer customers to the right. In North America, 90% of customers have a tendency to turn right when they enter a store.
  • Build a power wall. That first wall that the customer sees when they turn right is prime retail real estate.
  • Be aware of the “butt-brush”. People are unlikely to move into areas where they’re likely to brush by other people—keep spaces open.
  • Create a path for customers to follow. In most North American stores, this path leads customers counterclockwise around the store.
  • Slow customers down by using “speed bumps”, or special displays that feature products in the middle or at the end of aisles.
  • When customers reach the checkout, it should be designed to sell. Checkouts are prime space for impulse buys and small, easily-forgotten items.

Designing a Store

There’s an entire industry devoted to maximizing the retail environment. We’ve just scratched the surface of what you should keep in mind while you’re designing a store. But if you’ve been wondering how you can eke more out of the space you have, try incorporating some of these tips. You’ll find they pay dividends in the long run.

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