Exterior Design Considerations in Retail Store Design

The exterior design of any retail store must protect the interior from the outside elements (heat, dust, humidity, light etc.). Just as  important, it also serves to convey information to potential customers. The  exterior is first part of the store that potential customers see. They will determine  from the outside whether or not they wish to enter and shop. It is critical that the  outside of the store gain the attention of customers and entice them to enter. If the  outside does not reflect an image appropriate to customers, they will not enter into the store.

The important exterior design considerations  for the retail store  design are:

1. New Building versus Existing Facility

The decision to build a new facility or seek existing space is a critical  element in exterior design planning. Each option has its advantages. Building  allows the retailer to design all aspects of the exterior and interior. However, this  option may be limited by location availability, time, or cost. Buying, renting, or  leasing existing space has the advantage of being much quicker, may offer the  advantage of a superior location and may be less expensive. However, a retailer is  often limited in what can be done with regard to design issues. It is often the case  where major renovations of existing space are as expensive as building from the  ground up.

2. Restrictions

Recognizing the importance of the exterior, retailers have become very  competitive in their designs. Unfortunately, this has often led to many areas  looking like a war zone of competing colors, signs, shapes, and sounds. Both  property owners and governments alike have taken steps to ensure that consumers  are not assaulted by on overwhelming amount of stimuli.

  • Lease requirements. Many property owners require retailers that lease  their space to adhere to certain rules regarding store design. These rules  serve two purposes. First, they assure the owner that property will be  maintained good condition; and second, they ensure that the surrounding  property does not lose value. For example, most malls require that signs  be certain sizes and often limit the use of intense light.
  • Building codes. Most cities have building codes for businesses; often  many are directed at retailers. These serve several purposes. First, they  protect the public. Fire codes and safety regulations are examples. Some  codes include sign ordinances that try to create some kind of visual  harmony. Second, they ensure equal access to shopping for those with  disabilities; and third, they reflect the community’s attitude with regard to  appearance. For example, many town recognize the need of retailers to  promote their business through the use of signs. However, for aesthetic  purposes, they have limited or abolished signs in particular areas.
  • Theme areas. Theme areas are those in which buildings must meet  structural requirements that fit a certain theme. Many downtown areas are  implementing very strict building codes that allow businesses to stay only  if they fit with the atmosphere the area is trying to create.

3.  Color  and Materials

The exterior  color  texture of a store give a lasting first impression to the  consumer. Often, this will be the first and sometimes the only thing a customer  sees of a store. It is important that the exterior look and “Feel” right to the  shopper. The  colors  and material should express the image of the store.  Today’s retailers are increasingly using textured building materials  (brick, rough-sawn wood, and so on) at the store entrance to give a pleasant  feeling to the  facade.   Steel buildings tend to create an impression of strength,  whereas glass tends to create an altogether different impression, usually of a  more modern store. Concrete or bock can contribute to the overall image of low  cost or value. Brick may create a more upscale feeling.

4. Signs

Effective use of signs identifies the nature of the business, build a  corporate identity, communicates an image, ties the company to its advertising  through the use of a logo, and attracts to the store.  The most common signage is in plastic based materials despite the  relatively high cost. Companies find that effective signs have individual letters  that are coated in tough plastics and illuminated from within by neon tubes. This  type of sign has advantages because it uses 15 to 20 percent less energy than  other lighted signs and has an extremely long life. Stores desiring a very  contemporary look may use exposed tubes; small strip shopping centers may use  hand crafted wooden signs to maintain a low profile. Backlight signs offer a  slightly more expensive possibility. Instead of the light splashing out of the front  of the letter, it washes the wall with a silhouette. Mall tenants may be limited in  the type and size of their sign management rules. Signs from materials such as  wood or metal that have direct lighting can be used to create different images  from luxury to country. However, plastic technology today allows the creation of  nearby and look.

  • Exterior walls and signs.  Many retailers use the exterior wall space to promote their store. Painting  the name and logo of a business on the exterior is often less expensive than  having a custom-made sign. Examples of this vary from a simple, elegant script  indicating the name of the store to more exotic art that includes not only the name  but also pictures. It artwork is used on the exterior of the building, it must  conform to the principles of design, appeal to the customer base, and be  integrated with the rest of the architecture.


The main purpose of windows is to attract attention and create an image to  potential customers standing outside. Humor, theatrical flair, color, motion, or  sound playing outside the windows work well to increase the effectiveness of the  display. One of the biggest advantages of display windows is the ability to  dramatically affect the exterior of the store. Most of the exterior requires major  renovations to change. A retailer can take advantage of its window space to  reflect changes in the store’s offerings on a seasonal or monthly basis.  The window displays project the image of the store. While one story may  be trying to say “Quality” in its windows by showing specific brands or fashions,  other stores may use window displays to project a low price or value image.  Regardless of whether it is a children’s store, a sporting goods store, or a home  furnishings store, the window display is often one of the first efforts to  communicate with customers and invite them.  Window design is a function of the physical design of the store, and not  something specifically requested by the retail manager or merchandising  designer. The open back, as opposed to the closed back, is a window through  which the interior of the store itself becomes the display case. When open-back  windows are used, the store does not have valuable selling space tied up in  windows, management need not concern itself with planning window displays,  and the problems of keeping windows clean and timely are usually avoided.  However, the open-back window can cause unexpected display problems and  exaggerate old ones. For example, the most significant concerns are reflection,  sun glare, sun control, artificial lighting for both day and night, and the necessity  for a general organisation of merchandise within a completely exposed store.

  • Awnings.  The use of awnings is a subset of the window and exterior design issue  and often poses a particular problem for retailers. Most awnings are made of  fabric and are of the old scissors or outrigger style. In recent years, fabric awnings  that can be fastened into a recessed box at the end of the building have been  developed. Other ways of awnings are structural part of the building.  Awnings come in many assorted sizes, colours, and styles. Merchants can  take advantage of an awning to attract attention by using it as promotional space.  Many companies now sell custom awnings that are designed to fit with the store’s  image.

6. The Store Entrance

One of the first and most striking impressions customers get of a store is  the one they receive as they go through the front door. An entrance should be  more than a device to keep people out of the store, to encourage them to come in,  or to protect against the elements. An entrance should have character, and it  should say to prospective customer, “Please come through the door where you will  be treated with courtesy and friendliness and served to the best of our ability.”  The entrance might be graceful and elegant or dull and functional; in any case, it  should be compatible with the store design and provide an easy way to enter.

7. Store Name

Although not strictly related to external design, the choice of a store  name does have an effect on the overall store image. The  favorable  or  unfavorable  image generated by the use of a name can enhance or negate the  style set by store design.

At first glance, choosing a name for the business may seem to be a rather  easy task. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The retailer who thought of the  name Equ-ulus for a small gift shop certainly made a mistake. This name is not  pronounceable, and it has little meaning for the majority of the customers to  whom the store is appealing. Often it is desirable that the name sound not only  attractive but prestigious. Certainly it must fit the type of store. For example,  Budget Weddings was chosen as the name of store that provided package services  for brides. It failed because brides-to-be did not like the mental picture of a truck  with that store name pulling up to the church and the reception hall. They liked  the low price but were embarrassed by the name.

8. Theft Prevention

Another area of concern with exterior design is employee and customer  theft. The design must consider the flow of people in and out of the store and how  they may be observed or pass through technology-based theft prevention. Exterior  doors and docks for receiving goods or trash disposal should also be designed and  arranged to minimize opportunities for unauthorized entrance and exit.

9. Multilevel Stores

Because of the need for increased parking space in relation to shopping  area in suburban stores and shopping centers, the multiple-level store is especially  appealing to retailers. Even super markets have experimented with this type of  design. Properly carried out, a multilevel facility offers the merchant a means of  both expanding the selling area separating areas from one another. It also gives an  overall feeling is that of “pulling people” though the store. Careful attention has  to be paid to which merchandise is in high demand so that it can be placed on the  upper levels. In the process of seeking it out customers will move through the  store. Putting a restaurant on the top level, for example, helps this pulling process.

Credit: Retail Management-AU

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