4 Retail Store Design Tips That Drive Sales

Store consultant doing physical makeover

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Updated May 9, 2024

Consider how the layout of your favorite grocery store makes your shopping trip a breeze. I personally enjoy navigating the aisles of my local supermarket.

Here’s why: The layout is intuitive. Milk lines the left wall, meat is strategically placed at the rear, cheese finds its home on the right, and the cash registers await at the entrance. If I'm ever unsure where to find an item, clear directional signs quickly point me in the right direction. (Well, except for those tricky items like honey—should it be with the cooking supplies, the jams, or near the peanut butter? But let's not get sidetracked).

Is your retail store design enhancing your sales or holding you back?

When I begin a business makeover for a client, the physical aspects of the store are often my starting point because they significantly influence the shopping experience. Frequently, they are the most glaring, easily fixed, and require the most physical work.

I approach the project as a new customer because they have fresh eyes. They don’t pick up what the owner feels is “obvious.” If the store has gotten sloppy with organizing the merchandise, it will show how customers walk through your store (and quickly out if done poorly).

My overriding philosophy in retail design is to think like a customer and “Don’t make me think!”

Four retail store design tips that help boost sales

When a first-time shopper enters your store, your store layout should feel intuitive. By strategically using signage, product displays, and organization, you can guide shoppers to browse the aisles, easily find what they’re looking for, and make unplanned purchases.

1. Follow the natural traffic patterns

For a typical store in North America, customers naturally walk in and to the right. That means your best and brightest “wants” should be there, not at the back of the store or off to the left. If you don’t do this and put your counter on the right, at the very least, it will cause a commotion. Put your sale stuff up at the front and on the right, and your profitable merchandise sales will fall.

2. Keep it easy on the eyes 

Just because you can use 256 colors of markers or ink doesn’t mean you should. Signage should be simple and a quick read – not clever or tricky. Consider the difference between an ad in Martha Stewart’s Living versus a freeway billboard. Your store signage should be modeled on the billboard. Design shouldn’t be complicated.

3. Make a cohesive display

You can't just stick a pile of merch on an end cap and expect it to sell. You have to make the customer feel smart about seeing what items go with other items to enhance their purchase. The key is showing your whole store in the display, not just one product.

4. Take steps to maximize upsells

What are you putting at the register? The unique, weird, cheap stuff that customers have to ponder, “Who would buy this?” If so, you may be missing the easy money. Instead, put products ANYONE could use. It shouldn’t require much signage, either. Think: “Don’t forget the glue,” not “Glue sticks $1.99.”

Be clear about what you want your customers to do, and you'll be able to create a compelling store design that sells merch and puts money in your jeans.