Merchandising Know-How: Study of store layouts -- which one is best for you?

A recent article in the Dallas Morning News reported that retailers are gearing up for a "more organized" Christmas. To keep shoppers spending, retailers are planning free shipping, lower prices, customized gifts and remodeled store layouts.

A recent article in the Dallas Morning News reported that retailers are gearing up for a "more organized" Christmas. To keep shoppers spending, retailers are planning free shipping, lower prices, customized gifts and remodeled store layouts.

It was the "remodeled layouts" that caught my eye because the layout of a retail store influences the way customers move through the store and, consequently, the products they see. Although the layout is influenced by the size and shape of the store, it is possible to direct the flow of traffic and pull and push customers into different areas. Research has found that customers who shop an entire store buy more than those who shop only in selected areas.

There are three main types of layouts: grid, free flow and racetrack.

Grid -- In a grid layout, aisles are in straight lines from the front of the store to the rear. Grocery stores are a good example of stores using grid layouts. This simple arrangement is easy for customers to use and lends itself to the practice of placing destination products in the rear of the store to force customers to walk by other items.

There is a type of grid pattern that utilizes a central aisle down the middle of the store with secondary aisles stemming off both sides rather like tree branches. This is more adaptable to specialty retail, but not always the best arrangement because of the customers' tendency to bypass the side aisles and walk down the central aisle to the rear of the store and back out.

Free Flow -- In a free flow layout, irregular fixture arrangement leads to greater flexibility for both the positioning of fixtures and shopper movement through the store. This method is more appealing than the grid layout and more adaptable to specialty retail. However, it does not always make the best use of space. If too many fixtures are used, the overall effect can be overcrowding and narrow aisles. Customers do not like to be crowded when browsing a rack.

Racetrack -- The racetrack configuration works well in large stores and those rectangular in shape. The aisle begins at the entrance and moves around the store like a racetrack. Customers customarily move to the right and follow the aisle around the store. Smaller aisles lead off the racetrack to the walls. This layout, with its secondary aisles, exposes customers to a lot of merchandise as they move to the walls and back to the main aisle.

It behooves retailers to do tracking surveys to identify how people move through their stores. These can be informal and performed by watching customer movement and marking on a store schematic where purchases are made and where they are considered but not made. The results of the survey can help retailers decide where items should be placed to maximize sales and how to prevent overcrowding and "dead spots" in certain areas of the store. Research has shown that sales have increased 11 percent due to layout changes following a tracking study.

Sharon Leicham is the creator of The MerchandisingHUB, the author of "Merchandising Your Way to Success" and "How to Sell to Women" and is a regular columnist for SNEWS® writing on merchandising and marketing topics. You can access all of her columns by going to, where you will find tons of information targeted at the needs of the independent specialty retailer. You can email us with questions and comments at

For more retail training support and know-how, be sure to check out the SNEWS® Business 101 tools and stories, including our 10-part Retail Merchandising Training series produced by SNEWS®, including a useful online calculator for performing the most common retail merchandising calculations -- free to All Access Subscribers.


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