Retail premises design for effective displays and customer flow

Store and premises design, product displays and visual merchandising are key aspects of your retail business location. An effective display and design can help attract customers to your business and improve sales.

Effective visual merchandising involves optimising the display of products and services to highlight their features and appeal to customers.

How to effectively display products

Retail displays include the look of the store for customers and passers-by, as well as the design of an online store.

There are many types of displays that you can consider for your business, including:

  • external or entryway items and signage for physical locations
  • window displays
  • website design and layout
  • product arrangement on shelves.

To be effective, all displays and visual merchandising should:

  • match the business branding
  • attract and appeal to target customers
  • help to prompt a natural and logical flow through the premises
  • help to move customers to the sales counter.

When thinking about creating an effective display in your store, consider:

  • where the sales counter is placed—placing the counter away from the entrance can help to encourage customers to flow through the store, rather than a quick purchase
  • the lighting—if the store is too dark, customers may feel uncomfortable and leave
  • aesthetics—ideally, the display should be attractive and appealing to your target customers
  • the customer journey—your displays and visual merchandising should create a calming customer journey that helps direct customers to the sales counter.

The store layout can be used to optimise your customer traffic flow through the store, which can help to increase sales.

Popular layout patterns to consider include:

  • grids—using the outer walls of the shop to create small proportional display spaces within the store
  • geometrics—combining display racks and fixtures at irregular angles to keep customers surprised and engaged
  • diagonals—using diagonal lanes and display walls to encourage traffic flow throughout the store and improve cashier and customer visibility
  • angles—using angles with fixtures and walls to improve traffic flow and create a high-end retail space.

The lighting that you use in your store can help to highlight your products and draw customer attention.

The lighting and fixtures should suit the types of products you sell.


  • glass shelving to profile high-end products
  • wooden shelving to present traditional 'cottage' products
  • plastic or metal shelving for utility products
  • using focusing fixtures, such as spotlights and glass-front display cabinets, to highlight premium products
  • erecting shelves at equal but well-spaced heights to create a symmetrical, orderly arrangement your customers can easily follow.

Well-designed external signage improves the visibility and image of your business and the impact it has.

Consider investing in expert advice or professionally designed signage. You should:

  • choose a design, colour and theme for your external signage that you will use consistently throughout your store, across all marketing collateral and online
  • keep external signage clear and uncluttered
  • not allow external signage to block your customers' view inside your store—they should have a clear view into your store that intrigues or entices them
  • get advice from your local council if you are planning external signage—signage regulations are the responsibility of local council.

Your internal signage can be used to convey a message about your store and your products. You should keep the look of your internal signage consistent with your external signage.

To design effective internal signage:

  • use directional signage and product markers to help your customers find products easily—good signage complements good customer service
  • give clear and specific commands on your signage, such as 'See our specials of the week' or 'Find your top 5 favourites here'
  • selectively use product signage to convey a brief, informative and engaging message for your premium products—for example, 'The Tibetans have used this natural anti-aging remedy for centuries'
  • use your market research to tell customers what you want them to know about your products (e.g. '70% of our customers prefer mineral powder cosmetics')
  • style your signs consistently throughout your store.

If your business is in the food and beverage industry, you will need to ensure that your products are displayed in accordance with Food Safety Practices and General Requirements. These requirements stipulate safe ways to display food within your business.

Ways to comply with these requirements when you are displaying food and beverages include:

  • ensuring food is displayed at safe temperatures
  • using closed storage cabinets
  • keeping food out of reach of children and protected from open windows, fans, insects etc.
  • displaying ready-to-eat foods separately from any raw foods
  • using storage that is easy to clean and disinfect.

As well as meeting the safety standards, you might also consider the following to effectively display your products:

  • facilitating in-store demonstrations and sampling for customers to try before they buy
  • ensuring that all food displays are clean and uncluttered
  • displaying product information about what is in the food, how it is made and pricing
  • ensuring sufficient space for customers to browse the menu and make a choice about the products they want to purchase without pressure
  • creating queues that form in the correct place to avoid congestion.

Methods for creating effective displays

Professional retail designers, visual merchandisers, window dressers and store planners can help you create effective designs for your store.

While commissioning a professional may require a financial outlay now, an effective and engaging retail design will help you increase sales in the future.

Intense retail competition requires businesses to design retail spaces that set their stores apart.

Effective retail design requires creativity, innovation and commercial savvy—a unique blend of skills that retail business owners may not have.

If you decide to create your own retail displays, see the following list of methods you could use, why they work and examples of how you could implement them.

A large block of colour attracts attention even when the product displays are small.

Colour can help to attract customers from a distance—for example, in a window display.

Create window displays with blocks of colour as a backdrop.

The stock displayed outside the entrance needs to enhance the look of the store. This can help customers engage with the business brand, rather than create a barrier to the door and obscure the view the customer needs to be attracted inside.

Too many products outside a store can also deter potential customers.

Stand outside your business and observe the number of signs, external marketing and products and consider:

  • is the space complementing line of sight into the store?
  • are the displays and products outside the store forming a barrier to customers?

Changing the window display every 2–4 weeks keeps the display fresh and can help to entice customers to return regularly.

Create theme-based displays or change a few items to create an ongoing story.

A hot zone is an area that customers are drawn to before entering the store. It might be the window display or seeing the store entrance from the street.

This zone should be enticing to your target audience. Consider highlighted new arrivals, special offers or unique products that will influence a customer to come into your store.

As customers enter your store, you should create a decompression zone. This is a zone free from clutter and distraction and can help a customer adjust to the store environment.

Be sure that signs and products are not cluttering this zone.

Check that signs, products and other items, such as promotional balloons, are not near the entrance.

Create a clear zone when the customers enter the store, where they can easily scan the store environment and see what they are looking for.

A strike zone is an area in the store where customers typically look at products to determine price and quality.

It is the space you will use to make first product impressions on your customers.

Consider highlighting your specials or popular products within your strike zone.

Choose a mix of affordable and mid-priced items in this zone to prevent customers from being scared off by more expensive items.

Having various display heights can help attract different types of customers.

Products displayed at knee height attract children who may then ask their parents for items.

Items at eye height allow adults to easily see them.

Consider both children and adults and display relevant products accordingly.

Displaying your most profitable or popular products at eye level helps customers make a quick selection.

Only provide essential information plus pricing to facilitate a fast purchase.

Consider your most profitable or popular products. Are they displayed at eye level so that customers can easily access them?

Aisles that are too wide allow customers to walk through the store too fast.

Slowing customers down allows more time to look at products and consider purchasing.

Aisles that are too narrow for target customers can cause bottlenecks and frustration, resulting in customers leaving the store quickly.

Consider the width of the aisles in your store.

  • Are they suitable for your target customers?
  • Do you need wider aisles to accommodate trolleys, wheelchairs and prams?
  • Are the aisles too wide to encourage customers to browse?

Keeping displays uncluttered helps customers select products faster.

Pyramids, vertical and horizontal lines have been shown to help attract customers.

Consider the amount of product on your displays as well as their shape.

  • Do you need fewer products displayed to draw more attention?
  • What products could be repeated in virtual displays or stacked in pyramids?

You should make use of all your retail space. Using the margins around the store, the end of aisles or even strategically placed shelves at the counter makes the most of your space.

Ideally, as customers move through the store, turning corners or looking up, products should be visible and easy to include in their purchases.

Consider the layout of your store—could you use the ends of aisles or the area around the checkout to display products more effectively?

Having essential items (e.g. milk) at the back of the store, encourages customers to move throughout the store.

As they move through, your other visual merchandising strategies can be used to encourage them to purchase other discretionary or more expensive items.

Cross-merchandising involves grouping related items to increase sales.

Grouping products has been shown to make purchase decisions easier.

Consider grouping:

  • products of a similar purpose (e.g. placing a pasta maker next to cooking pans and utensils)
  • items that tell a story (e.g. beach towel, sunglasses, book)
  • products of the same colour (e.g. all fashion items in colour blocks).

Consider displaying engaging information about your products to help customers make choices.

Consider how you could place information cards near products in your store (e.g. book or wine recommendations, ratings and reviews of popular products from staff).

Study your store displays and customer flow

Use the following checklist to help you study your store display and customer flow.

You can complete the checklist or have a friend or mentor observe your store and provide feedback.

If you are yet to open your store, you can use this checklist to observe an existing store similar to your business.

Are the signs easily visible?
Is it clean and uncluttered?
Are there bold, attractive colours?
Does it look fresh?
Does it look open?
Is there comfortable lighting?
Does the store have effective zones?
  • Hot zone—the area that customers are drawn to before entering the store
  • Decompression zone—the area the customer first enters
  • Strike zone—the first impression of the store
Are customers drawn through the shop with aisles large enough for ease of movement but narrow enough to slow them?
Are the more expensive items at eye level?
Are product information and price ticketing enough but not too distracting for the customer?
Are products displayed in lines or other shapes?
Are colour or other types of blocking used?
Are the demand items at the back?
Do customers move through the store and reach the sales desk too fast or too easily?
Are there items around the sales desk for customers to purchase?