9 Store Layout Designs and Tips for Customer Flow
Why Are Store Layout Designs an Important Tool in Marketing?
You might not think so at first, but store layout designs are an important tool in marketing. A good layout can make shopping in your store more pleasant and result in more sales.
The way a store’s floor plan is set up can influence customer buying behaviors by directing foot traffic toward items the retailer wants to feature.
In the best case, a floor plan layout and display strategy work seamlessly to influence customer behavior. A good layout can increase sales while at the same time improve the customer experience to encourage repeat business. 
This is why it’s so important to determine the best store layout for your products and customer base.
#1 Rule: Always Have Your Customer in Mind!
Retailers should carefully design their entire store with the customer in mind. The design depends on several factors. Among them:
- A store’s square footage and architecture
- The nature of the products being sold (for instance, high-end items require a different approach than impulse purchases)
- Specific goals of the store owner
- The target clientele
In the sections ahead, we’ll look at different store layouts to show how they can be used to increase sales, affect flow patterns, introduce new products, and boost customer engagement in various types of stores. With the right store layout, customers may come back again and again. 
Types of Store Layouts
1. Angular Store Layout
Shops with an angular layout use freestanding displays, such as mannequins, to showcase their products. Instead of shelves as the focus of shoppers’ attention, the displays show what the products look like, allowing retailers to put them in their best possible light.
Angular displays employ the same principles used in-store window displays during an era when customers went downtown to shop and walked along the street window-shopping. If something caught their eye, they’d either enter the store or make note of it to save up for a future purchase (the “how much is that doggie in the window effect”).
Because the emphasis is on sight-oriented marketing, this approach works best with products that are visually appealing and large enough to be displayed in an eye-catching manner, such as clothing.
Another example: Cars on display in an automobile showroom sales floor. A vehicle showroom is retail space, too, although we may not always think of it that way.
In the angular approach, circular and oval displays look like spotlights, which draw the eye to something that’s of interest and often seen as glamorous.
The angular approach doesn’t work as well with toothpaste or cans of beans, although it has been tried with items like that in the past. From the 1930s through the ’60s, supermarkets famously created eye-catching displays by making huge stacks and pyramids of products — that sometimes got knocked over in slapstick comedy scenes.
The downside to this design is that you need more real estate (floor space) to make it work effectively without seeming cluttered. It allows for less inventory to be put on display and eliminates shelf space typically used to store products. In some stores, you have to ask a staff member to “check in the back” to see whether they have your size.
Best for boutique stores
- Incorporates freestanding merchandise displays
- Works best for retail shops with the perception of higher-quality items on displays
- Is a good approach for boutique shops and other clothing stores
- Takes up browsing and shelf space because of round displays
Stores that use the angular layout
- Kate Spade
2. Grid Store Layout
A grid store design is the most commonly used layout in retailing. It’s heavy on rectangular shapes, with parallel aisles guiding the customer from one end of the store to the other, sometimes with an intersection aisle that runs the width of the store halfway up.
Supermarkets and discount stores often rely on this model, which displays products not just on aisles, but on “end caps” at the end of each aisle. End caps can be visual merchandising spaces to highlight new products, special pricing on sale items or discontinued stock, or to draw attention to what’s on the rest of the aisle. 
Another strategy some supermarkets use is to place essential or popular items, such as meat and dairy products, along the back wall, which forces customers to walk past other displays on the grid.
Grids are generally fairly easy to navigate, which makes them good for self-service or customers who push shopping carts. Products can be organized together, with signage at the ends of each aisle directing shoppers to specific merchandise.
There are downsides, too, though. The grid layout tends to be just plain boring, and it can be hard to see what’s on the next aisle over — especially in supermarkets with high shelves. If products are poorly organized, customers may become frustrated spending a lot of time looking for what they want because they have to go all the way to the end of an aisle before changing course.
Best for supermarkets
- Features counters and shelves in long rows throughout the store so shoppers must go up and down aisles
- Most common store layout in retail
- Best for stores with lots of products
- Typically used for supermarkets and some discount stores
Stores that use the grid layout
3. Loop Store Layout
The loop design, sometimes called a racetrack, guides the shopper on a loop through the store.
The first modern grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, pioneered the loop layout more than a century ago. It worked like this: Shoppers entered the shopping area to their left, picked up a shopping basket, entered through a turnstile, then followed a zigzag loop to the other side of the store. There, they checked out and went through a second turnstile, before exiting.
Some large discount supermarkets, like Food 4 Less, a no-frills chain operated by Kroger, still use this layout today. Nowadays, the loop is more common among other kinds of retailers.
IKEA uses this “forced path” layout to direct customers through departments that showcase furniture for each different section of a home in succession. Display-heavy furniture stores use it, too, sometimes arranging various furniture-set displays in a loop around a central service/sales area.
Using this layout maximizes a retailer’s control of traffic flow. They can make sure the shopper passes almost every item that’s available on their shelving or in various display areas. The loop format also encourages browsing and impulse purchases of things not on the shoppers’ lists. (“I didn’t know they had that!”)
On the flip side, though, customers who want to dash in and out quickly for a specific item may be more inclined to shop elsewhere. It’s a good design for someone who wants to either browse or has an extensive shopping list.
Best for department stores
- Has one major aisle that starts at the store’s entrance and loops back around to the exit
- Typically is used for creative display purposes, as with furniture stores showing examples of home set-ups
- Tells a story on behalf of the store
Stores that use the loop layout
- Bed, Bath and Beyond
- Food 4 Less
4. Herringbone Store Layout
The herringbone layout looks a little like a spine, with aisles branching off on either side. (In this way, it’s similar to the spine layout, discussed below.) It works well for stores that are long and narrow, such as those confined to tight spaces in some enclosed and strip malls.
You enter at one end of the store and can choose to browse merchandise on either side. But you may come to a “dead-end” wall that forces you to go back out the same aisle to return to the center. The cashier is often situated at the back.
This layout is good for compact spaces and small businesses where a lot of products must be packed onto limited shelf space.
Bookstores are one example. Herringbone was especially used in bookstores in strip malls with limited square footage, and, for those old enough to remember, in bookstores in indoor malls with similar space restrictions.
The downside is congested traffic patterns, potentially resulting in the “butt-brush effect”: You bend over in a narrow aisle, and your rear end brushes up against something — or someone — behind you. This can prompt shoppers to move away from a display and go somewhere else, either to another display or out of the store entirely.
While the herringbone interior design can help maximize the use of store space, narrow and dead-end aisles can cause problems for customer traffic during peak hours. Shoppers who want to look at a specific area of shelving or try to exit an aisle the same way they came in may be frustrated by other customers who are “in the way.”
In short, this may not be the best option for shoppers who like their personal space.
Best for bookstores & hardware stores
- Typically used for bookstores and hardware stores
- Useful for stores with lots of products without seeming cluttered, although if stores try to pack in too much, the cluttered feeling is unavoidable
- Similar to the grid, but usually more compact
Stores that use the herringbone layout
- Small bookstores
5. Spine Store Layout
As with the herringbone layout, the main aisle serves as the spine, providing access to other aisles that branch off from a central corridor. This central aisle directs customers to the rear of the store, ensuring they’ll get that far, but because it’s a straight shot, they may just go directly to the back, missing merchandise on the branching aisles.
Customers have more space to look around and explore in this design, but that may not always be a good thing.
Think of the spine like a freeway or expressway. Because customers can proceed more quickly, they often do, ignoring the “country roads” or the aisles to either side. They may also speed right by the displays on the spine itself, not bothering to peruse them, either.
In an era of instant gratification, the spine can feed into customers’ desire to “get it over with” and create a false sense that they’ve seen everything once they’ve gotten to the back of the store.
For customers more interested in a leisurely shopping experience, however, the spine layout can provide extra breathing room and create a more relaxed feel. That’s one reason it works better at specialty stores than at general merchandise centers.
Best for specialty stores
- Similar to herringbone
- Makes use of a single aisle that branches off to other aisles
- Often used in medium-sized specialty stores that range from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet
- Encourages customers to go to the back of the store and come back to the front
Stores that use the spine layout
- J. Crew
6. Free Flow Store Layout
A free-flow design provides room for creativity and versatility. It frequently offers a more open feel and the ability to switch things up depending on what you want to display, and where.
Free flow may appeal to customers at upscale stores, who may appreciate creativity rather than a cookie-cutter style. The specialized or custom design approach may make customers feel like they’re more special, and that the items on display are more valuable.
One thing to watch out for, though, is the possibility that items may seem more cluttered or random if you don’t create some kind of theme or organization.
Decluttering can be more of a challenge if you’re not working from a template like a grid or a spine. But customers will be more apt to grow frustrated if they sense displays are disorganized or random — making it more difficult to find what they’re looking for.
A good way to counteract this, beyond being well-organized, is to create intriguing and creative displays that keep shoppers engaged longer. That way, they’ll keep looking until they find something they want, even if it isn’t what they initially intended to buy.
Store owners with less merchandise can find it easier to be creative and organized at the same time, making this approach potentially a good one for them. They can create a boutique flavor for a limited line of products that represents “only the best,” along with a shopping experience the upscale customer appreciates.
Best for small stores
- Has fewer rules, but still requires a design and marketing strategy
- Offers incentive for retailers to take their customer’s behavior and flow into account when creating a design
- Typically an open concept
Stores that use the free flow layout
- Abercrombie & Fitch
7. Diagonal Store Layout
The diagonal approach is a variation on the grid or spine setup, but with the branching aisles situated at an angle, diagonally (rather than perpendicular) to the center aisle. A diagonal arrangement increases line-of-sight visibility and exposes more merchandise and shelving to the customer’s field of vision.
A diagonal layout is often used by cosmetics stores and some electronics stores. Although line of sight is improved, aisles may be narrower, leading to the potential for “butt-brush” problems.
Best for electronics stores
- Places aisles at an angle to promote exposure to more products
- Essentially a variation of the grid layout, but with shelving placed diagonally
- Promotes space management and customer movement
- Works best when the checkout counter is in the center of the store for more security
- Has more narrow aisles than other store layout types
Stores that use the diagonal layout
- Best Buy
8. Geometric Store Layout
Stores that use a geometric design can create interesting angles without spending a lot of money on expensive display pieces and platforms.
It’s an approach that can be used to make your store seem relevant to younger shoppers, who appreciate creativity but might view high-end stores’ use of angular or free-flow designs as stuffy, elitist, or simply out of their price range.
Because of this, these layouts are often used in clothing stores geared toward a younger clientele.
Geometric layouts can also save space by dedicating less of it to large displays and can therefore work well for stores that have less floor space to work with.
Best for younger generation clothing stores
- Uses displays and fixtures with various shapes and sizes for purposes of making statements about the brand
- Typically used in clothing stores
- Makes use of artwork, music, and smells to create an atmospheric experience
- Creates a unique store experience
- Not great for older audiences
Stores that use the geometric layout
- Free People
9. Mixed Store Layout
Mixed layouts do just what they sound like they would: They allow retailers to borrow from several different approaches to best serve unique clienteles or best display different types of products in different areas of a store.
Some department stores, like Kohl’s and Target, for example, carry a variety of products that aren’t all suited to the same kind of display. At Target, you can find groceries and drugstore-type items in a grid layout, while clothing is on display on racks in another part of the store.
As an added benefit, mixed layouts keep customers from getting bored and allow them to experience a different feel in different departments.
Best for large retail stores
- Employs a mix of diagonal, straight, and angular for a more interesting customer flow
- Used by large retail shops
- Good for large retail stores with various products
Stores that use the mixed layout
Tips for Customer Flow & Store Success
When settling on a design, take customer flow into consideration. You can see how shoppers react to your displays and where they’re likely to go by keeping track of what they buy and by looking at videos from in-store cameras.
Once you know where your customers are spending time in the store, adjust the nature and placement of your displays to meet their needs and expectations.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
- In North America, 90% of customers turn to the right upon entering stores. So store owners are likely to place their “power wall” — the display area designed to convey the store’s brand, image, and what it has to offer — to the right.
- Most customers try to avoid spaces that are so narrow they’ll likely bump into the rear end of another customer behind them.
Window displays still work, especially in areas of high foot traffic. What you put in your windows will depend on what you’re trying to sell.
- High-end retailers will want to use glamorous displays that create the same kind of spotlight effect an angular layout does in the interior. Too many items in a window will distract from one another and convey the message that you have a lot of ordinary items, rather than a few extraordinary pieces.
- If you have an antique store, you might want to showcase variety. Choose some of your best pieces from different categories to send the message that you have interesting items for sale, and a good selection of them, so the prospective shopper ought to come in and see what else you have.
- Seasonal displays create a feeling of being in touch with what’s happening in the world as well as a feeling of warmth and hominess, especially during the Christmas season. Warm lighting and familiar themes can provide accents that entice window shoppers inside, even if they don’t see specific products they like.
The decompression zone is the first 10 feet or so inside the store. In this space, customers have just come through the door and are taking a moment to decompress and get their bearings.
This isn’t the best place to try to grab their attention with whiz-bang signage or impressive displays. Give them a moment to feel comfortable first. Then, let them choose the next move, while you provide the right kind of displays to entice them to buy what you want most to sell.
Retailers don’t want their customers to get bored. That can lead them to rush through the store and leave without seeing something they might have wanted to purchase. They always have a choice whether to leave or not — until they’ve decided to make a purchase and they’re standing in line.
That’s the one time a retailer has a captive audience, and that audience may be bored unless the store gives them something else to look at. That’s why stores often put low-priced items like candy, soft drinks, breath mints, and low-priced gadgets (earbuds, cell phone charger cords, etc.) at checkout counters.
Retailers know customers are bored, so they provide them with a last chance to make a purchase. But they know that once they’re in the checkout line, they’ve already decided how much you’re going to spend, so they can’t ask you to spend much more. That’s why the items on display near the register don’t cost much and why they’re often edible.
There’s nothing like food to encourage impulse buying when you’re hungry, and that candy bar will be just enough to tide you over. It’s a lesson many retailers probably learned from convenience stores, which use the same technique on customers waiting to check out.
Layout and engagement
Keeping these ideas in mind, merchants can choose the right retail store layout based on their store’s needs, its products, space limitations, and the customers they’re targeting.
They can then display the appropriate number of products effectively to attract shoppers’ attention without overwhelming them. Retailers can change up displays regularly so customers don’t get bored — but without confusing them with random arrangements that don’t make sense.
Stores that understand how layouts can be used to market their products, by identifying their target clientele and understanding the principles of flow and display, are the ones that will succeed.