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16 tips for setting up your retail floor to sell



Photo by Cam Morin

When did you last make a major floor move? And we don’t mean moving product from over here to over there.

Your sales floor is a living, breathing entity that should change (frequently) in order to flourish. If your store is filled with the latest product but your sales are in a rut, it could be because your customers are bored. They come to your store to do more than buy—they come for ideas and inspiration. They come to be entertained, and even when they don’t buy anything, it’s the experience that brings them back.

‘The Target Syndrome’

Think about the last time you shopped at a Target store. How much did you spend? Chances are, even if you went in to buy a bottle of glass cleaner, you probably spent at least $50 on things you hadn’t planned on purchasing. We call this “The Target Syndrome” because it doesn’t happen in other big box stores.

When you look hard at a Target store, you see a neutral box that allows the merchandise to pop. The sales floor serves as a backdrop for powerful signage and creative displays that encourage you to fill your cart with things you didn’t realize you needed until you got there. The store layout is designed to move you easily throughout the store.

Create and control the shopper journey

Conducting a store makeover should start with observing how people shop the sales floor: Where do they go? Where do they linger? Which areas do they avoid or miss altogether? Then take a hard look at “The Big 3”—the three critical things that must be assessed before beginning a layout rehaul:

Photo by Amanda Vick

1. The Enablers. These are the important but often overlooked things that allow customers to shop comfortably. Enablers make shoppers feel welcome: Think displays and signage that attract attention; carts and baskets that do the heavy lifting; clear, easy-to-navigate aisles; and strong displays that make shoppers excited to interact with the merchandise, and most importantly, buy.

2. The Inhibitors. These are the potholes, the shopper-stoppers that disrupt the buying experience. Good examples include empty fixtures, messy or unorganized displays, products that are stacked too high, or displays packed so tightly they turn customers away. The Inhibitors give us a strong indication of how well the store is run.

3. The Impression Points. These things start outside of your front door—sometimes even in the parking lot if your store is free-standing or located in a strip center—and continue throughout the sales floor. The Impression Points create the perceptions customers carry with them as they shop your store. They also contribute to what they share with friends afterwards. The Impression Points create customer “moments of truth”—aha moments, both good and bad. A typical visit to your store could result in more than 25 moments of truth.

Set your sales floor up to sell

1. Create winning windows

Potential customers should be able to take in your window displays in eight seconds or less. Your displays should capture the eye and hold attention long enough for the passerby to absorb what’s being shown and entice that person to come into your store.

Intricate displays with lots of little parts are hard to set and the details are often missed by shoppers. Instead, create displays using props and larger products that can’t be missed in those critical eight seconds. Add vinyl lettering to the display that highlights what you sell, and consider replacing window displays with vibrant photo graphics that fill the space when the window size/shape is less than ideal.

2. The first 10-second impression

Stand just inside the front door and look around. In the first 10 seconds inside your door, shoppers are making value judgments about what they see, thinking “Should I grab what I need here or head to another store to browse at my leisure?” View your sales floor from just inside the door each day, checking to ensure you’re giving shoppers the impression you intended.

Photo by Clark Street Mercantile

3. Consider your store decor

The colors and textures you choose for your decor matter. Do all the design elements you have chosen work together? Does the paint color on the walls work well with the flooring? Does your signage incorporate your colors? Is your brand well represented on the sales floor?

Color affects people in different ways; some colors cause people to linger, others to leave. Color is typically categorized in two different ways in store décor: primary colors (neutrals) and secondary colors (bold accent colors).

Primary colors are used in 80% of a store’s décor to create a relaxed atmosphere for customers to shop and to make the merchandise stand out.  Accent colors are used in 20% of the store’s décor to make it pop.  Think of accent colors as attention grabbers.

4. Check your sight line

While you’re still at the front of your store, check its sight line. You want shoppers to be able to see into and through the sales floor. Get rid of tall fixtures near or at the front that block displays housed behind them. A good rule to follow is to place shorter fixtures near the front, and taller fixtures toward the rear of the store. Remember, the more a shopper sees, the more they’ll buy.

5. Work your decompression zone

Every store has an area located just inside the front door that’s known as the decompression zone. The size depends on your store’s square footage. This space gives shoppers a chance to transition from whatever they were doing outside of your store to shopping. Understand that the decompression zone is a no man’s land and that shoppers will walk right by anything you place there. It makes more sense to place floor signs, carts, baskets, and product displays just beyond the decompression zone where shoppers are more likely to see them.

6. Choosing the right layout

It’s said that nearly half of your sales floor is never seen by shoppers, so a big part of your job is to create and control how they move about the sales floor. This isn’t done by building or moving walls but rather by strategically placing your fixtures.

There are many variations of layouts to choose from but the following the three most popular:

Grid layout: Grocery stores use a grid layout where fixtures run parallel to the walls. Shoppers have been trained to pick up a cart at the front door and walk up and down every aisle. In a grid layout, end features are the stars.

Loop layout: Best Buy, Target, and Macy’s rely on a loop layout to move shoppers through the store. Loop layouts utilize a clearly defined main aisle that circles through the store like a race track. Loops offer maximum product exposure because the perimeter walls and gondola valleys are just as important as the end features. Loop layouts generally work best in a larger footprint.

Free-flow layout: Boutique and specialty retailers benefit from a free-flow layout. In this layout, customers shop the sales floor according to how and where you place the fixtures. Free-flow layouts are completely flexible and easy to change.

Photo by Korie Cull

7. Watch for desire paths

Have you ever skipped the sidewalk and cut across the grass because it was a quicker way to get where you were going? In doing so, you created a shortcut called a desire path. You have them on your sales floor too. Check your carpeting for excess wear in certain areas or spend time watching how customers shop the store. Once you identify the shortcuts they prefer, place displays directly in the middle of that space.

Photo by Hans Isaacs

8. Choose the right fixtures

Fixturing should add to the ambiance of your sales floor, but it should never be the focal point: Good fixtures let the merchandise stand out. You need basic fixturing like wall units, gondolas, and shelving to maximize dollars per square foot, and specialty fixturing for feature displays when showing off things like clothes, hats, or purses. The ADA requires a minimum of three feet between fixtures so all customers can shop comfortably on your sales floor.

9. Optimize your lakefront property

There are parts of your sales floor that are more important than others; we call these areas lakefront property. Use this space to feature new, important, and high-margin products. Merchandise the basics toward the rear of the store so shoppers have to walk past fashion and seasonal merchandise to get to them. If your store has a center door, the majority of customers will enter and either look or turn to the right. Items here should be merchandised with particular care.

10. Cause a pause

“Speed bumps” are the first displays a shopper sees when entering the store. Located center stage, speed bumps slow shoppers down and set the tone for what they can expect to find as they browse the sales floor.

Try to create a focal point using nesting tables that are cross-merchandised with groupings of related products. Tell a story. Why just sell a handbag when you can add on a wallet, makeup bag, keychain, and a scarf, too?

Your speed bump displays should be changed at least once a week, whether they need it or not. Do it more often if they sell down or become shopworn.

11. Be strategic with merchandise outposts

Say you are at the grocery store a few days before Thanksgiving. As you round the corner to get to the turkeys, you have to pass a series of displays of other things you’ll need to complete your holiday meal. These displays, called merchandise outposts, allow you to cross-merchandise throughout your sales floor. They encourage impulse purchases and are especially effective during the holidays to highlight immediate gifting needs.

12. Vary the heights

Displays work best when they incorporate height and depth, so add props and risers to table displays to add interest. Vary the arm heights on apparel fixtures, gondola shelving, and wall units. When everything is the same height, nothing stands out.

13. Utilize the power of 3

The human brain is wired to seek out the asymmetrical. That’s why we’re drawn to displays that feature products grouped in odd numbers, especially in groups of three. These odd-numbered groupings force the eye to move around, causing the shopper to see more of the items on display.

The power of three also benefits from the pyramid principle.  This is where you place the tallest item in the center and flank it with smaller items. The eye unconsciously seeks the tallest item first before scanning the smaller items at its side, creating a pyramid-like step down, allowing shoppers to see more of what’s on display.

14. Follow the signs

Your displays should be appropriately signed. Signage should be simple and easily understood at a glance. Think sentences, not paragraphs, and follow this rule: Take the average age of your oldest customers and divide it in half; this is the smallest font size you can use for signage. Avoid using anything smaller than a 30-point font so shoppers who wear reading glasses can easily read your signs without them.

Photo by Nikola Đuza

15. Wrap it up

Inside your store, customers should never stop thinking about merchandise, even when they are in line to pay for their purchases. Display small, high-profit, impulse items on and around the cash wrap. If you’re lucky enough to have a wall directly behind your counter, use it to tell a merchandise story or to showcase important products. If your store has checkout lanes, consider adding a queue with displays of impulse items shoppers have to pass through while waiting their turn to pay.

16. The 360-degree pass-by

If you’ve ever witnessed a store associate lead a shopper to a display and say, “I know it was right here yesterday!” try our 360-degree pass-by exercise: a quick walk through every inch of the sales floor.

In the five minutes it takes to do this exercise, you’ll easily pick up on areas that need attention, products that need restocking, displays to face or straighten, and signs that need to be replaced. Ask every associate to do a daily 360-degree pass-by at the beginning of their shift.

What’s the end goal? To create a layout that entices shoppers to walk your entire sales floor and to set irresistible displays that sell more products.

Store layout is an art but it’s also a science. The techniques shared in this article aren’t new, but they’ve been utilized by successful retailers for one simple reason: They work.

Before you start to make changes, take photos of your sales floor. The camera will see things the human eye misses, and you will have a clearer view of what your sales floor actually looks like to a shopper. Next, mount a blueprint of your sales floor to a piece of foam board and add a vellum overlay so you can easily note planned moves—it’s much easier to play on paper before you start dismantling displays. Then once you have a plan in place, make moves on the floor and sell away.

About the authors

Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender are speakers, authors, consultants who have helped thousands of businesses in the retail, creative, restaurant, healthcare, deathcare, hospitality, pet, collegiate, travel, tanning, beauty, tech, auto, sales and service industries grow their sales since 1990.

Photo from KIZER & BENDER

KIZER & BENDER are listed among the Top 40 Omnichannel Retail Influencers, Top 100 Retail Influencers, and the Top Retail Industry Experts to Follow on Social Media. They made Meetings & Conventions Magazine’s list of Meeting Planners Favorite Keynote Speakers,  were named two of Retailing’s Most Influential People, and their award-winning Retail Adventures Blog consistently ranks high among Top Retail & Marketing Blogs. As global retail thought leaders, KIZER & BENDER serve as BrainTrust panelists for RetailWire, retailing’s premier online discussion forum.

Rich and Georganne are experts on generational diversity, consumer trends, marketing and promotion, and everything retail. As consumer anthropologists they stalk and study that most elusive of mammals: Today’s consumer. In addition to focus groups, one-on-one interview, and intensive on-site studies their research includes posing as every kind of customer you can imagine. The result of their research is literally straight from the mouth of the consumer: solid ground level intelligence you can use to better serve your own customers.

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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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