Considering the challenges faced by today’s brick-and-mortar retail locations, it probably goes without saying that your customers’ experience is key. From the second they peek in the windows of your gift shop to the instant they pass the threshold on their way out, everything they see, smell, touch, hear, and even taste – every perception – determines whether they come in, look around, purchase (and how much), and whether they’ll come back.
Your shop’s overall layout predicts product placement, directs customer flow, and defines the overall look and feel of your store, so it deserves excellent planning. Factors that affect your floor plan include the size and shape of your space, your products, and even your target markets. It’s also important to consider the psychology of browsing shoppers – triggers that influence the way they act even without being aware of it. A good layout avoids some triggers and encourages others.
Recommended Floor Plans for Gift Shops
A well-planned layout not only improves your customers’ perceptions, it also helps meet your overall goals for the shop, like directing customers toward high-priority products, or slowing them down a bit to drive impulse purchases. Most gift shops use the loop (or racetrack) plan, the free-flow plan, or often a combination of the two.
The loop plan groups displays in the middle and on the walls of the space, leaving an open path around the perimeter. This leaves your walls highly visible, increasing their value in displaying priority items, and your center displays can be more flexible and creative. For instance, you can slow down shoppers with “speed bump” displays that spotlight one or two select products every week.
Often used by smaller boutiques, the free-flow plan is all about maximizing shoppers’ curiosity and the thrill of discovery. Fixtures and displays are grouped and placed throughout the space at angles to encourage browsing while your walls remain visible. The goal is to guide customers toward specific product zones, even dividing your space into mini shops within the shop. This layout is also easily updated according to seasons or changing needs.
Aspects of a Good Layout
Let’s start where your shop starts: the first few square feet just inside the front door. Experts in retail layout call this the decompression zone — the area where your shoppers mentally transition from whatever they were doing outside to the mindset of browsing. If you overcrowd this area, or block it with display tables – anything that hints at a barrier – it can actually send your prospective shoppers right back outside.
The next step past your open, inviting entrance is to think right. Here in the U.S., since we drive on the right side of the road, the natural tendency of 90 percent of shoppers is to drift to the right upon entering a new space. The display area and “power wall” beyond and just to the right of your entrance is your prime real estate for signature promotional items and drawing people in.
Another key to a good layout is help your customers maintain their personal space. People don’t usually mind standing or passing next to each other as long as their attention can be diverted from one another; however, accidentally touching someone else ruins the whole illusion of maintained personal space. Aisle widths of 3.5 feet or more are recommended as most comfortable for all customers, including those using strollers or wheelchairs.
One thing that doesn’t need to be in line of sight is the cash register. Plan for your purchasing area to be either at the end of flow or to the left near the front. This is the option most often chosen for small spaces with limited staff.
Working Your (Floor) Plan
Once you have some ideas for how to update your layout, it’s smart to get out some grid paper and a pencil and get sketching. This will help you work out any potential hitches before a single item is moved. Really put yourself in your customer’s shoes to envision a comfortable experience that makes sense within your space.
Don’t forget to give some thought to your purchasing counter. If customers won’t have baskets, is there enough room for them to pile items and continue shopping? Put down a bag while checking out? Easily access your card swiper? Get an item gift wrapped, or other customer service? Is there room to display a few small items for impulse buy?
Once your fixtures and displays are in their new positions, stand in the decompression zone and note where your eye is drawn. Any clearly visible walls, display areas – even your seating area or refreshment stand – are “power areas” that will attract instant attention. These are the places to feature new items, seasonal features, and priority displays, so make sure they’re easily accessible.
Finally, test your paths by pushing a large baby stroller throughout the space. If you can navigate easily, congratulations! You’ve built a comfortable space that customers should enjoy moving through.