The science of retail store design

30th May 2022

It’s a well-known fact that the complex world of retail has experienced a shakeup in recent years, as a result of navigating the various challenges of the pandemic — and subsequent enforced store closures — as well as the increase in online orders in the ever-evolving digital space.

That said, as lockdown restrictions lifted all over the world, and now shopping malls and town centres are open once again, shoppers have returned to physical institutions to experience the traditional method. It’s now in the hands of brand leaders to ensure their retail houses continue to draw people in, fostering a positive and memorable experience for everyone who steps over the threshold.

Agilité Solutions’ junior project manager, Federica Pisacane — who has helped a number of high-profile retail brands to bring their store requirements to life — takes a closer look.

Each and every brand — from multi-million-pound institutions to young, fresh SMEs — has a unique identity and set of values they will work to. These all feed into a sort of ‘brand bible’ which encapsulates the makeup of the brand and can heavily influence how retail store designers envisage the space. For the bigger, luxury names, these can be particularly rigid — with very little movement for interpretation as consistency and curb appeal is key — whereas the smaller, independent brands are typically more fluid.

Here are a number of the main factors that responsible retail designers must take into account when developing the space…


Layout and customer flow

The path that a visitor takes around a retail space may feel like a happy accident, but the chances are, this has been carefully considered by the team of designers. And, it is believed that the natural direction for most people is from right to left, or counter-clockwise.

As a result, designers will often ensure particular attention is paid to the very entrance of the store, in order to pique the visitor’s interest, and guide them gently through the space without challenging them to decide their own direction. After all, if the layout is too confusing or distracting, the shopper will be less inclined to focus on the products themselves. Lighting is also key in highlighting particular items, differentiating from the rest of the product line.


Target client

It’s vital to have the target demographic in mind throughout the entire design process — from their shopping habits and product preferences to environmental standpoint and lifestyle choices. Take Hermes’ traditionally elegant, sophisticated clientele, for example, the retailer’s upmarket environments typically incorporate sofas, homely touches, and a team of friendly sales assistants who are on hand to help — the sense of luxury and high fashion is evident across any Hermes store you happen to set foot in.

In contrast, the Italian sports fashion label, Off White’s target market is the active, young, and modern shopper — as a result the store is likely to reflect the active lifestyle that the clientele will seek.

Brand positioning

As the sustainability movement continues to gain momentum, brands are seizing the opportunity to reflect their environmental values within their spaces. A perfect example of this point in practice is for the outdoor wear retailer, Timberland, and its reimagination of stores, with nature taking centre stage, complete with wood, reused materials, and a ‘give back’ scheme, which encouragers shoppers to return their unwanted pairs of ‘gently-used’ shoes — to offer them the chance at a new life.


Post-Covid landscape

In preparing to welcome those who do venture out, retailers must be mindful that consumers will be ultra-aware of meeting ‘oncoming traffic’ in the aisles and perhaps wary of the proximity to others in changing rooms, at café tables, and in hair salons – as well as wondering who has touched what.

Carefully-spaced sections and sanitation stations scattered throughout the store are key to ensuring visitors’ safety and comfort while inside the four walls.

Location, location, location

Of course, location cannot be ignored when ‘setting up shop’. Retailers must first establish if an appetite for their store exists in a new territory.

A great method for testing the waters is a pop-up shop to understand the nuances of a different location, and even have a soft trial of an imminent brand campaign.

Experiential retail – more than a store

Finally, understanding how to elevate the customer experience – be it via omnichannel, experiential retail, or simply by adapting existing processes – will inevitably pave the way for trend-setters to emerge as market leaders.

Of course, experiential retail isn’t a new concept – but it’s one which is finding its way into many construction and fit out projects, and something we expect to become an industry expectation in years to come.

By their very nature, high street stores exist to offer products to consumers to see, touch, and try – with a view to them eventually making a purchase. But in recent years, the purpose of a bricks and mortar store has been brought into question as retailers explore what other function they can serve, or ‘experience’ they can create.

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