Store design is one of the key aspects of retail. But what are the golden rules for making a transformation a success, and how often should your shop be given a revamp? John Bensalhia investigates
As a customer, it’s funny how I take store design for granted. Walking into any shop, I never consciously pay attention to how the products are arranged or what is included on the wall displays. More fool me though, since design is a crucial element of retail business.
Retail design covers a wide spread of elements, but are chiefly the shopfront, signs, furniture, graphics and lighting. Retail design also has to take a number of factors into account. Does the store look good? If it does, is it functional? Are the products easily accessible to customers? And there’s the budget, which needs to encompass all these elements without overspending.
That’s why shops need to redesign their stores from time to time. They need to make the shop look the best it can be, and also keep it fresh and exciting. Customer feedback is crucial though. The better the store design, the happier the customer. However, a recent Mintel survey called Retail Store Design found that there were still some customers who were not totally happy with some of the shops they went into.
The most common turn-offs were long queues, hard-to-find items, unattractive store design and frequent changes in the layout of the store. Furthermore, the survey found that 13 per cent of shoppers walked out of a store because they found it hard to access certain parts of it.
Specifically, of those surveyed 45 per cent wanted more service checkouts, 38 per cent more toilets, 28 per cent wider walkways, 25 per cent a better layout, 22 per cent more seating areas and 20 per cent wanted clearer information on products and prices.
In addition, there are other potential problems you may have in your existing store, without you realising it. For example, customers may be put off by loud, intrusive music. Music is a common element of modern stores today, but it’s like if you go into a pub or a bar - sometimes you can’t hear yourself think, and so this doesn’t make for a relaxing shopping environment.
Bad lighting is also an issue. Customers need to see where they are going, not only in order for them to find the product they want, but more importantly, for safety’s sake. Dim, flickering lighting could be a potential hazard for, say, an older person who wants to buy a piece of sports merchandise for their grandson or granddaughter.
Badly conceived artwork and signage can be off-putting. Hand-written signs don’t really give off that air of sophistication and class that a shop needs, and instead looks like the local market stall. Tatty posters with rips don’t help either.
And if the store smells of greasy burgers that one of your staff ate on their lunch break, it’s time to dig out the air freshener.
All of the above problems indicate that it might be time for a redesign. But how to go about it? Even before you can think about the finer details, you have to establish what the best floor plan is. There are five key floor plans, and each one suits different requirements.
First up is the straight floor plan, which can be used for pretty much any kind of retail store. A straight floor plan allows you to make good use of both walls and fixtures to make small spaces in your shop.
A diagonal floor plan is a good one for self-service style retail shops, because this creates strong visibility for both staff and customers. This layout also allows for greater movement and motion inside the store. For more specialist stores, an angular floor plan is a safe bet. Angled and curved designs will make for good traffic flow in the shop, although the downside of this is that these can be costly to install.
If your shop leans more towards sports clothing and accessories, a geometric floor plan is a good option to go for. Using racks and fixtures, this layout makes for an accessible, interesting plan that can be created at a relatively low cost.
And then there is the mixed floor plan, which is a combination of straight, diagonal and angular layouts. The mixed floor plan allows for a high degree of flexibility and functionality.
What about the other design elements? The lighting should be just right - not too dim, but then not so bright that your customers will need a pair of sunglasses. The colour of the store should fit in with the mood and concept you are promoting. Make the signage clear and easy to read, and put up pictures or posters in small quantities, rather than plastering the walls with them.
The key aim is to keep your shop looking effective, but simple. Simplicity is the key watchword. Don’t put off the customer by having, for example, lots of items on display in the window. Pick out the newest, most eye-catching products of the time, rather than trying to cram too many products in a bid to provide something for everyone.
Likewise, inside the store don’t overstuff the shop floor with too many products. Stack or hang up a select amount of merchandise, since cluttered shelves or racks will look untidy and off-putting to customers. What’s worse, is that the products are more prone to damage if they are arranged badly because of the lack of room. It takes just one clumsy customer to knock or rip a product and bingo! Unnecessary waste.
It is necessary to keep the aisles as clear as possible, so customers are not left bumping into each other or trying to squeeze past in a jam. The counter area should also be easily accessible, and have sufficient staff manning the tills to avoid long queues - a pet hate of many a customer.
Achieving the right layout for the store is very much a case of trial and error. It is difficult to judge how frequently you should be updating the store. On the one hand, the same old design can be a bit predictable, especially if you have the same old products on display.
But on the other hand, if you change the layout too frequently, this just causes unnecessary confusion. Say you are after a product. You know in your mind where it’s located, but when you reach that location, the product’s not there. I’ve done that many a time, and it’s a frustrating experience. A good rule of thumb is to acknowledge any changes that you make with clear signage that points customers in the right direction.
When is the best time to redesign or update your store? You should look to update it when big sporting events such as the World Cup or Wimbledon occur. Seasonal times are also good – normally at the start of Christmas, easter and summer are good opportunities to promote your current crop of merchandise for the whole season.
As regards frequency of change, it is best to stick to a period of, say, two to three months - just like the seasons - and in the meantime tweak the store with small alterations to tie in with any topical events or your own personal changes.
Still, it’s the customers who are the best judges of retail redesigns. I polled a selection of people in Sussex, and they provided a diverse range of feedback. As mentioned, current events and styles are vital, which James Mills pointed out: “Sports shops should always take current trends and themes into account. A sports shop that doesn’t take big events like the World Cup or Wimbledon into account may lose out to those that do.”
Two people commented on space in shops, and how important this is. “I’m looking for wide aisles and accessible shelves, so that I can find the product that I want easily and quickly,” said Derek Charlton. Bernard Tovey added that: “Shops shouldn’t cram their products together because it makes for a really uncomfortable experience, especially when there are lots of customers. Its also trickier for disabled people, who need to move about as freely as possible.”
Joy Fox thought that shops should be as clean as possible in order to maintain a professional image. “I like shops to be clean and tidy,” she said. “There’s nothing worse than seeing stray litter or dirt on the floors of shops - it makes the shop look really unprofessional.”
Another turn-off was half-empty shelves or racks, according to Eleanor Walters. “They make the store look a bit sparse,” she explained. “Also, if you change things around all the time it’s annoying because you don’t know where to look for the item that you want.”
Barbara Holder agreed: “There’s a fine line to tread in how often you update the shop. On the one hand, you don’t want to never change the shop layout because it can get stale. But on the other, if you change it around too much it gets confusing.”
It’s a fine line to tread when contemplating store redesign. Change it too often or too infrequently - neither result is right. But if it’s for the good of the store, done with integrity and on the right timescale, it could be the perfect opportunity to bring in a brand new batch of customers.