How to Make the Most of Your Retail Space as a Creative Business

In this article I wrote about how I didn’t want to shop at a retailer where the product’s value wasn’t being communicated through proper visual merchandising or service.

This time, I want to use those thoughts to help small, independent retailers fulfil the potential of their shop space.

The shop floor is just as much a marketing channel as your website or lookbook, and there are always ways to make your retail space more effective, interesting and meaningful for customers.

(If you don’t have a retail space, you can still use this article to help you fulfil the potential of your ecommerce site or market stall).

Here’s how to make the most of your retail space in a way that’ll achieve your business aims and please your customers.

How to Make the Most of Your Retail Space - Eleanor Snare


First, stop asking yourself “What do I want to sell?”. Selling stuff is a strategy to help you achieve a bigger business goal (like steady income).

To really fulfil the potential of your physical retail space, you need to ask yourself these four questions instead:

  1. “What do I want to achieve with this space?”
  2. “What is the customer journey in this space?”
  3. “What does my customer need from this space?”
  4. “What does my customer want from this space?”



Your retail space is the physical expression of you, your business and your brand. It’s not just a place to sell stuff. So thinking about what you’re trying to achieve with it is essential to fulfilling its potential.

Your main aim for the space will tie directly to your business objectives and will probably be commercial. For example:

  • My aim is to encourage repeat purchases
  • My aim is to sell high-ticket items
  • My aim is to have every person who walks through the door buy something

But you might also have some aims not related to sales but definitely linked to the perception of value you want your brand to have. For example:

  • My aim is to make the space feel relaxing and welcoming
  • My aim is to exude coolness and ironic trendiness
  • My aim is to express the creativity of my brand

Select the most important of these aims. These are what will shape your store.


How to Make the Most of Your Retail Space


You can split up your store space (or ecommerce site, or market stall) into smaller sections which could have different aims.

This is what big retailers do, and it’s why:

  • Shop window displays always have the most exciting items (and tiny printed prices)
  • Low-ticket items are placed near the till
  • Grocery essentials are put round the edge of the supermarket, not the centre

These smaller spaces are all trying to achieve different aims which reflect different stages of the customer journey.

[Tweet “Indie retailers can learn from big brands: build your retail space around your customer journey.”]



The customer journey has lots of different variations but the basic premise is the same: customers go from not knowing anything about you, to knowing about you, learning more and eventually buying from you.

The number of customers gradually decreases the closer you get to purchasing – that’s why the customer funnel makes sense (more go in the top and only a couple come out the bottom).

I use this version:

Customer Journey Portrait

Here’s a flavour of how the customer journey works with a physical store:

  • “Oh! You’ve got a shop.” (Awareness)
  • “And you sell those tiny boxes I like.” (Education)
  • “They’re pretty too.” (Consideration)
  • “At that price, they would be an absolute steal.” (Desire)
  • “Do you take card?” (Intention)
  • “I’m so glad I popped in!” (Conversion)

This is a very simplified version, but you can see how it works.

The journey ends with your business aim (the ‘conversion’ point) and the whole journey is geared towards achieving that aim. Here, it’s what you want to achieve for your physical space.



In a retail store, different areas are designed to respond to different parts of the customer journey as the customer travels around the shop. The idea is to get them to move on to the next stage in the journey.

Here are some examples:

  • Awareness – window display and outdoor advertising
  • Education – main in-store display area with range of products
  • Consideration – specific product area with range of sizes
  • Desire – display card mentioning product USP
  • Intention – clearly displayed Visa and Mastercard logos at the till
  • Conversion – till point itself

This is how the most successful businesses think of their shop: not as a space to flog stuff, but as a way to achieve their business objectives by enticing customers onto the next stage of the journey.


Thinking about your store in this way will do two things:

  1. It will help you achieve your aim for the space
  2. It’ll give customers what they want

Designing your store around your aim and the customer journey gives customers what they want because you have to know the customer to get the customer journey right.

(Read more about knowing your customer here).


How to Make the Most of Your Retail Space



The customer journey links directly to the third question: what does my customer need from this space?

First, use the customer journey to work out what a potential customer would need to experience in your shop’s physical space to make it to the next stage of the journey. These aren’t nice-to-haves; these are essentials.

For example, if you don’t have clear signage outside your shop or on your stall, customers won’t be aware you exist. If you don’t have displays which contain a range of your products, they won’t be educated about what you sell.

Take it step-by-step through the journey and you’ll be able to work out the things they need. You’ll also understand the barriers which you might’ve put up which will stop them from moving to the next stage of the journey.



The reason I mention barriers is because lots of independent and small retailers are good at (1) – they know their customer or potential customer and what they need. But they’re not always that good at seeing and removing barriers to that customer journey.

For example, I’ve been in independent retailers with multiple stockists where it’s hard to tell different makers apart due to poor signage or poor layout – which is a barrier to consideration.

On craft stalls, the products might be beautifully displayed and labelled, but if the owner is ignoring passers-by it creates a barrier to desire.

And one of the most common barriers to intention is not having a card machine.

Your shop space should make it as easy as possible for customers to progress through the customer journey quickly and simply. Think about what they need and try to remove barriers wherever possible.

[Tweet “Any retailer’s store space should make it easy for a customer to buy. If it doesn’t, why not?”]



After you have your aim for the space, you understand the customer journey, have given them what they need and removed barriers, you can start to consider what customers want from the space.

You’ll have an aim for your retail space that’s sales focused. But you’ll also have an aim which is more focused on how the value of your brands and products are communicated. This is where to start with what your customers want from the space.

Although it’s your aim for your brand and how it’s valued, always start with your customer and how they want to feel. So if you want your store (and your brand) to be seen as relaxed and welcoming, ask yourself what your customer would want to feel relaxed and welcome – not what you want.


How to Make the Most of Your Retail Space


I think this is one of the hardest things for independent and small retailers. If you’re an entrepreneur with a strong vision and personality, it’s hard to suppress that and think of your customer first – especially if you have loads of creative and innovative ideas.

But your shop is not about you. It is about making it easy for your customer to help you achieve a business aim. Without them, your brand will not survive.

[Tweet “Your #smallbusiness shop isn’t about you. It’s about your customer.”]



Each business’ customer will be different, and a clear customer profile will help you work out what their desires and fears are. How they shop and spend money are important elements to consider.

A recent example we discussed with my students were concept stores, which look incredible and can communicate the value of the brand very effectively.

But they only work if your customer wants that. If you have a product display with only one of everything, some customers will be too fearful to buy anything. Others will love the idea of being completely unique. You need to know your customer first.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Does my customer want luxury, or everyday?
  • Do they want aspirational qualities, or accessible qualities?
  • Does she want innovation, or tradition?
  • Does he want uniqueness, or belonging?



Your answers to all these questions will help you design tactics to create a space which will achieve your aims. By now you should have:

An aim for your space which is commercial.

An aim for your space which is focused on communicating your brand.

An understanding of the customer journey in your retail space.

An understanding of what your customer needs from the retail space.

How to remove any potential barriers to the customer journey.

An understanding of what your customer wants from the space.


By putting all these answers together, you have a set of criteria. Using these criteria, you can start to develop visual, personal and physical tactics which fulfil all these elements and make the most of your retail space.

You can find some inspiring ideas to get you started in this article on Clever Retail Ideas for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know on Twitter or share your comment below.

Thanks for reading.

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