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5 Ways Retailers Use Space Planning to Convince You to Buy More

Have you ever walked into a store and felt like some unseen force was guiding you in a specific direction? Perhaps you went in wanting only to buy a packet of bananas, but the store’s flow guided you past the ice-cream aisle, and suddenly a banana split seemed like a great idea. You walked out with more than you intended to buy and you’re little confused as to how it happened.

It happened through the combination of strategically planned techniques that retail stores all around the world use every day. The way products are displayed, and a store layout is planned is designed to get you to buy more. Retailers use space planning techniques to make you stay in the store longer, increasing the likelihood that you’ll stumble across something else you might want to buy.

The focus of this article is on how space planning can influence the way shoppers navigate a retail store, recognize and find the products you want, and influence your buying behavior.

What is Space Planning?

A retailer’s goal is to drive sales and improve the customer's shopping experience. They use a mixture of aisle navigation, product displays, and shelving to maximize sales per square meter while creating the ultimate shopping destination.

Space planning is the process of organizing in-store elements to create a customer flow, like a map showing you the road to featured products. For example, grocery stores are laid out to lead you to the best-looking products first. Fresh food

is also a retail technique used to make you feel less guilty when buying processed foods later on.

Based on buyer research, customer demand and competitors, a retail store will reposition products, shelves, and aisles to give the appearance of an up-to-date, modernized and vibrant store. Here are five space planning techniques retailers use to increase sales.


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What Space Planning Techniques get shoppers to buy more?

1. Enter the Decompression Zone

The first space you step into when you enter the store is designed to open your mind to the shopping experience, inviting you to browse and explore. A place designed to make you feel safe and secure. The decompression zone prepares you for what lies ahead, helping you focus.

A good decompression zone:

  1. Provides a wide, open space, that’s free from clutter;
  2. Allows easy entrance into the store with an overview of the merchandise;
  3. Has no distracting marketing or advertising gimmicks;
  4. Welcomes you by giving you a little space; and
  5. Flower displays at the entrance that usually entice customers to come inside

Nordstrom, an upscale fashion retailer, rolls out a long red carpet from their decompression zone, guiding customers to their merchandise.

2. Clockwise vs Counter-clockwise

It’s critical for retailers to make it easy for shoppers to find the products they’re looking for. Retail stores opt for space planning that goes counter-clockwise, from right to left, because most of the population is right-handed and will instinctively turn to the right. 

However, recently many stores have opted for the more unfamiliar clockwise layout, left to right, hoping it may arouse shoppers’ attention and stimulate them more than the familiar counter-clockwise layout.

3. Slow Down

Many retailers create little visual breaks, known as speed bumps, to give shoppers the opportunity to make seasonal or impulse buys. "Speed Bumps" are created using signage, specials or placing popular items halfway along a section, so people have to walk all along the aisle looking for them.

Retailers stock the items shoppers buy most frequently (staple items) at the back of the store, to maximise the amount time you spend inside the store, increasing basket size and impulse buying opportunities. This makes it difficult for shoppers to resist grabbing other items when making a quick trip to the grocery store.

Another space planning technique used to slow customers down, is by removing windows. Disconnecting you from the outside world, so you forget that time is passing, essentially keeping you in the store longer.

4. Visual Appeal by Blocking

Retailers create a triangular composition, otherwise known as tiered formation, using style or color, blocking certain products together – high at the back, tumbling to low in the front.

They start with a center feature and merchandise out symmetrically, placing best seller items in a prominent visual location, enticing you to buy through visual appeal.

5. Shelf Spacing

Shelf space is positioned to manipulate shoppers into buying more. This is a highly debatable space planning technique amongst retailers, with some believing eye-level to be the top spot for a product while others reckon higher is better. Some retailers prefer the ‘end caps’ – where products are displayed at the end of an aisle, believing those products receive the best visibility.

What are the benefits of Space Planning?

By implementing above space planning techniques, retail stores create an aesthetically pleasing layout, allowing shoppers to find the products they’re looking for while eliminating out of stock items.

Products sell at a more even speed, creating less need for product ordering and shelf restocking.

A retail store might opt to first test these techniques by doing realograms beforehand and then once planograms have been implemented, evaluated the two against one another to determine technique effectiveness.

Of course, an increase in sales would also be an indicator of space planning success.


Space planning refers to the efficient flow of used space, ensuring you’re comfortable while shopping and that the overall experience will lead you to linger longer.

Retail stores spend a lot of time creating the perfect flow across different departments and products, persuading you to spend more money.

If you’re a retailer looking to optimize your store’s floor space, you may want to learn more about how you can improve your return on shelf space with our best of breed category management software here. 

DotActiv Team

The DotActiv team comprises of multiple category management experts, all lending their years of retail experience and knowledge to create well-researched and in-depth articles that inform readers of DotActiv’s retail blog.

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