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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