About this Article
Written by: Chanel Namigohar
Written on: October 20th, 2015
Tags: industrial engineering, lifestyle, building & architecture, communication, ergonomics, environmental engineering, history & society
Thumbnail by: Chanel Namigohar/Illumin
About the Author
Chanel Namigohar was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She went to Beverly Hills High School then USC where she studies Business Administration.
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Volume XVII Issue II > Shop Smart
A store’s layout is carefully constructed to optimize for ease of shopping and increase sales. The placement of products, the arrangement of aisles, and the use of promotional signs are a scrutinized by engineers to increase the productivity of the business.
When was the last time you walked into a store? Did you notice anything about the layout? Probably not. Many people simply walk into stores without ever realizing that its layout has been meticulously designed, structured, and implemented by skilled industrial engineers. A successful store layout has the power to increase a business’ sales, and perfect inventory levels [4]. With an effective store layout the merchandise can sell itself, minimize employees’ workloads, and maximize profit, all without you even noticing its impact. With this goal in mind, industrial engineers ensure that every section of a retail store has a purpose, and appeals to the eyes of the customer [3]. The exciting and often hidden field of industrial engineering deals with many technical arrangements, such as the manufacturing and shipping methods, the inventory systems, and the quantities of inventory that should be kept on hand at all times. Going beyond the tangibles, industrial engineers also employ aspects of human psychology to increase the productivity of the business. The arrangement of aisles, discounted items, and the placement of products are all carefully planned through utilizing the principles of human psychology [1].

Arrangement of Aisles

Three store layouts that industrial engineers utilize the most include the grid, the loop, and the free flow (See Fig. 1). Creating a blueprint for the store layout before setting up the merchandise ensures that the products are positioned in the optimal place [1]. Blueprints serve as a template for the store designers, and are adjusted for optimal efficiency.
Industrial engineers most commonly employ the grid layout when designing the layout of grocery stores. This layout positions all merchandise to be displayed in aisles that are parallel to the walls of the store. Customers may travel up and down the aisles, easily making their way through every section of the store, allowing for an organized view of the products. Careful consideration of the placement of each product category must be planned out ahead of time [4]. For example, desserts and candies would be placed together and would not be too close to the vegetable aisle. Likewise, for a toy store, aisles are often separated by age, gender, difficulty level, type of game, or brand. This is done in order to help guide customers to a desired section, to decrease the overwhelming feeling of too many choices, and ultimately increase the chances of a purchase.
The loop, or “racetrack” layout, is also designed to increase the chances of a purchase. The layout is essentially a circle and is primarily used for many large retail, home goods, and electronic stores [5]. Here, customers view the merchandise by circling the store and grabbing products near the edge of the oval path or venturing into the center of the store. This arrangement allows for a full view of the walls of the store. If you have ever pushed a cart through an IKEA, or a Bed, Bath, and Beyond, you may have found this “racetrack” layout to be less overwhelming than the many aisles in the grid layout, since there is only one main pathway [1]. Imagine the thousands of items at an IKEA warehouse organized in aisles from the grid layout. It would be impossible to rummage through their vast inventory unless you knew exactly what you wanted.
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Fig​ure 1: Grid and Loop Layout. Drawn by the Author.
However, industrial engineers know that not all stores have inventory that sell best with grid or loop layouts. Some specialty stores, such as clothing stores, are better suited for the third layout, the free flow layout, which allows for the most creativity. In this store layout, aisles are placed at angles, and fixtures are scattered around the store. The diagonally placed racks help to lure customers from one part of the store to the next.
One store that successfully utilizes this strategy is the Anthropologie clothing store. Anthropologie features interesting furniture, such as large couches, as well as a decorative library to give off a vintage, yet comfortable feel. The furniture is also positioned at angles to not only encourage customers to stay inside, but to also guide the customer to numerous sections of the store. This type of layout also allows for creative displays that permit the store to communicate a story to its customers. Last season, Anthropologie created a mock kitchen in its store (See Fig. 2). The kitchen featured white marble countertops accompanied by spilled flour and dough. Engineers placed these sections adjacently to send a message to women that people who wear this type of clothing live a more upscale life. Although this may seem like a far-fetched or illogical association, subconsciously, the elaborate kitchen and the ornate clothing will resonate with the customer that expensive clothes lead to a specific lifestyle [4]. This business strategy could not have been successfully implemented without the industrial engineer, and their understanding of human psychology.
Chanel Namigohar/Illumin
Fig​ure 2: Anthropologie makes use of the free flow layout.