Work in retail long enough, and you’ll no doubt come across a few tips and tricks to help you sharpen your floor planning skills. Of course, you shouldn’t welcome all advice. After all, what might work for one store might not work for yours. Thus, when listening to any suggestions, you need to decide on what makes sense to your business.
Ask yourself these questions: Firstly, why do you want to change your floor plan? Is it to improve your store’s performance or is it because you feel like you need to refresh your store? Secondly, is your proposed change going to benefit your customers?
In tweaking the details of your floor plan, as much as you might want to think about yourself and your bottom line first, you need to consider your customers first. Below are a few tips to help you do just that.
By the way, if you’re interested in reading about specific floor planning tactics that can help you to increase your sales, read this.
1. Ensure your store aisles aren’t too narrow to shop
Any potential customer who walks into your store does so with the hope of having a pleasant and fuss-free shopping experience. To ensure that happens, you’d begin by offering up the right selection of products. More than that, you look to offer the products they want at a price that suits their pocket.
Just keep in mind that you need to find the right price point.
That said, you can have the best selection of products but if your store is too cramped and claustrophobic to shop - shoppers keep bumping into each other - you’ll struggle to sell.
That’s because of what is known as the ‘Butt-Brush’ factor. Coined by Why We Buy author and founder of Envirosell, Paco Underhill, it refers to the fact that your shoppers don’t like to be bumped into when shopping.
In the book, Underhill relates a specific story about a tie rack placed at the front entrance of a Bloomingdale’s store in New York City, and how after a few bumps, customers would avoid it. This ‘Butt-Brush’ factor is just as pertinent to how you set up your aisles.
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When designing your floor plan, you need to ensure that your aisles are not so narrow that when shopping, your customers have to squeeze through to avoid bumping into each other. A best practice would be to ensure that you can fit two trolleys next to each other in an aisle and still have space for someone to walk past without fuss.
If you’re unsure about the space between your gondolas on your floor plan, there is no harm in walking your store. In fact, it’s always a good idea to do this: experience your store as a customer.
In doing that, you’ll soon know if you’ve designed a floor plan that pleases your customers. Better yet, you’ll see what other aspects you need to improve in-store.
2. Create visual breaks and hotspots in-store
As much as a fully-stocked shelf is a good thing for you and your customers, there also comes the point in time where it can work against you.
Let us explain.
There are many different products on any given gondola, and your gondolas are stacked next to each other to form what are often long corridors of uninterrupted merchandise. Just think of the aisles at your average grocery store for reference. While overheard signage usually informs you of what you can find in any given aisle, but that doesn’t mean it’s a pleasant shopping experience.
In fact, there is every chance that your customers will want to get in and out as quickly as possible. That means that they’ll gloss over some of the merchandise on your shelf, maybe even not seeing it in the first place.
That’s why you need to create visual breaks. We’ve mentioned this tactic in another article about how you can use space planning to convince your customers to buy more. You can read that piece here. In that piece, these breaks are viewed as speed bumps to give your customers the opportunity to make impulse buys.
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In the context of this piece, we’re referring to making space for visual breaks on your floor plan an opportunity to give your customers’ eyes a rest. As much as you want to maximise the selling space of your floor, you also need to let your customers breathe.
That could mean creating shorter aisles and placing eye-catching displays between each aisle. Similar to a speed bump, you also want to slow your customers down if only to provide enough space to ensure you don’t overwhelm them.
On the other hand, you could also look at including hotspots to draw shoppers to different parts of your store. In using hotspots, you must ensure that they’re placed evenly throughout your store. That’s because if you don’t, you could find yourself suffering from floor congestion when your store is at it’s busiest.
3. Design a pathway around your store for your customers to walk
While it’s up to consumers to decide if they want to visit your shopping outlet, once they’ve entered your store, you have some control over how they move around. More than that, you can influence the whole shopping experience.
Moreover, you can do all of this with a well-laid-out floor plan.
For example, if you know that your customers come into your store to buy Milk, you’d first place this item (and your entire Dairy category) on gondolas positioned near the back of your store. Then, you’d design a pathway on your floor plan using your retail fixtures.
As a side note, you can use anything in your store to guide shoppers, including any immovable obstacles and even pillars if you’re creative enough. In the case of using any obstructions, you can use them in conjunction with your retail fixtures to stop your customers from taking shortcuts.
You’re not stopping your customers from getting to their final destination and choosing the product they want. You’re merely exposing them to more of your merchandise on the way there. On top of that, because you’re directing them around your store, they’ll spend more time in your store.
If you’ve built your floor plan correctly, your customers won’t see this as a nuisance. That’s because as much as they’re walking around your store for an extended period, you’re offering them an incentive to do so - presenting products to them that they might not have thought about buying but now need.
In that way, when built correctly, your floor plan can also go a long way to helping you increase impulse buys and basket size.
Another factor to consider is your store layout. After choosing the design that suits your store best, you can go about developing a route for your customers to follow.
The bonus is that if you have multiple stores and you’re consistent with your layout across each of your outlets, you can build a strong retail brand.
4. Devise a decompression zone and use it appropriately
The decompression zone - that space which is located just inside your store entrance - may seem small and insignificant. However, it has a specific purpose.
Its objective is to give your customers enough time to adjust to your store after having entered and then guiding them in the direction that you want them to go. That said, there is a debate on how to use it appropriately.
On the one hand, there are those who argue that you should place products there. The argument goes: you need to maximise your selling space and grab the attention of your shoppers as soon as they enter. In that case, you’d want to include retail fixtures in this area on your floor plan.
However, that argument breaks down as soon as you consider the ‘Butt-Brush’ factor, which we mentioned above. Also, as retail strategists, Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender point out since it’s the area where your customers refocus themselves before beginning to shop, they’re likely to miss any merchandise you place there.
There is also the high probability of creating an unwanted traffic jam at your store entrance. If a shopper sees your entrance is busy, they could quite easily believe that your whole store is the same and thus won't attempt to enter.
Instead, you need to use this area for the way that it was intended. That includes designing a space on your floor plan that is clean, clear and welcoming. More importantly, it needs to allow your customers easy access to your store.