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How to set up your concept store for success: advice for retailers

23 November 2023

Concept stores are the creative hubs of independent retail. As well as offering a selection of products in several categories (home, beauty, groceries, etc.), this type of space is often intended to be a place where people meet, connect and find inspiration. The aesthetic is also carefully curated and embodies the values of its owner — from the choice of furniture to the decoration and the music. 

Are you the owner of a concept store and struggling to find the ideal layout for your shop? You’ve come to the right place! We share our best tips and advice on how to decorate your shop and elevate your customers’ experience.

Photo: Kunstschule.design in Berlin

Alrie Velleman

1. Designing a concept store: first things, first

The importance of philosophy and values

Aptly named, the concept store is, of course, all built around a specific concept. This concept is your true identity, your values, and your philosophy. Everything else must flow from this concept and follow a logical, relevant pattern. This philosophy must be clear to your customers, and they should be able to identify who you are and what you represent from their first interaction with you.

Let your furniture do the talking!

This may be stating the obvious, but it is vital to remember that every element of your concept store must align with your values. Are you advocating for eco-responsibility? Think about choosing energy-efficient lighting solutions. Are you a fan of artisanal products? Choose bespoke furniture rather than those bought in chain stores (or in blue and yellow shops where you can also buy hot dogs).

Attention to these details will determine your value proposition’s authenticity. 

Find a balance between aesthetics and functionality

Like Alina Wheeler said, “Design is intelligence made visible.” Sometimes aesthetics and practicality are at odds with one another, and, as a concept store owner, you have to think outside the box to find the best possible solution. If you’re unsure of what to do design-wise, always return to the main objective, which is selling your products. Remember, the decor is there to elevate your products, not vice versa.

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2. Keeping your main goal in mind: what is your why?

Attracting clients, facilitating purchases and encouraging customers to return

It’s as simple as that. Remind yourself that the purpose of your concept store is to sell your products, and every element of your shop’s layout needs to be designed to support this. 

Let’s break our sales objectives down into three parts: attracting customers (we’ll talk about the importance of the shop window below), making it easier to buy products (in concept stores, we’re more often talking about self-service, where customers select products and take them to the checkout themselves), and finally encouraging customer feedback. 

The entire shopping experience must, therefore, be designed with these objectives in mind, including the layout of the concept store.

Continuity of the customer experience after the purchase

Selling is good; selling again is better. After a purchase in your shop, it’s important to remind your customers why they bought and, more importantly, why they should buy again. 

Newsletters, loyalty reward programmes and social networks are excellent ways to do this and keep engaged over the long term. What does this have to do with the design of your concept store? Aesthetics, of course! Your communications and online profiles must align with your overall image. So remember to keep the online and offline aspects consistent.

3. Creating an exceptional shopping experience

The importance of the customer experience in a concept store

The customer experience is central to the buying decision — this rings true for many store types but more so for concept stores. If customers come to you, they expect a special atmosphere, a careful selection and personal attention or advice from experts.

Our top tip in this regard is to fit out and decorate your shop according to the ideal customer you want to attract to your concept store. This is where the importance of the marketing concept of persona comes into play, along with your experience to date.

Encouraging impulse buying

This might seem obvious, but an exceptional shopping experience encourages customer impulse buying. The layout of your concept store is key for taking advantage of this. Here are practical steps to take:

  • Display your promotions at the entrance to the shop or next to the checkouts.
  • Offer testers for beauty products or a tasting station for grocery products. Sensoriality plays a vital role in the buying decision, so get creative! 
  • Take care with your products’ “situational” aspect: do you sell perfumes? Add elements reminiscent of their notes to the display, such as flowers, citrus fruits or leather.
  • Encourage cross-merchandising displays: take advantage of the fact that you sell different product categories in your concept store to create themed collections and encourage complementary sales. For example, you could offer collections such as “Self-care essentials for this winter, ” including skin care products, fluffy blankets, and spiced teas.

4. Finding sources of inspiration and creativity: take notes (and screenshots)

Use Instagram and Pinterest

Don’t hesitate to use all the tools at your disposal to find inspiration for the decoration and layout of your concept store. Before you embark on a renovation project, use platforms like Pinterest to create mood boards and wish lists and soak up the inspiration!

Instagram is also an excellent tool for finding inspiration. Don’t just like, but save posts of good ideas for future reference.

Take a stroll

Indeed, inspiration sometimes comes from unlikely places, but sometimes it can be found right under your nose! By wandering around and visiting other boutiques in your neighbourhood or region, or even when you’re travelling, you’ll most likely stumble upon something you find inspiring. You are part of a community of retailers and shops; don’t hesitate to reach out or take a note from their pages!

Stay authentic

Draw inspiration from others, of course, but remember that it’s your concept, your values and your philosophy that make your store unique and your customers’ favourite meeting place. So always keep the story you’re telling in mind.

5. Making your shop window work for you: an essential ally in attracting customers

The art of designing an attractive window display

The window display of your concept store plays an essential role in your sales strategy. It should make people want to cross the street, unable to resist your entrance. You need to make your values and history clear at a glance and present your flagship products as well as your new releases.

When it comes to technical points, follow the basic principles: Ensure that good lighting highlights your products, introduce a focal point in the centre of your window to draw attention to the product of your choice, use colours that match your aesthetic and the pyramid principle for positioning your elements, etc. For more on this, read our article, 10 Key Principles of Visual Merchandising for a Retail Store by Sarah Manning, here

The importance of regular updates

Remember to update your concept store’s window display on a regular basis to align with seasons, commercial events or product launches. You must make passers-by want to come in for the first time and entice repeat customers with a new layout.

6. Increasing the chances of a sale with a seamless customer journey

Optimising the customer journey

Make time to plan your customer journey carefully. In this case, the customer journey is literally the path your customers take through your shop before making a purchase. 

To optimise it, don’t hesitate to test different layouts and, most importantly, take your cue from your customers’ behaviour. Here, old school world best: choose a sample size and record their route. Note which way they started, in front of which display they stopped, tested/touched products, and added products to their baskets. The aim is to find the optimal pattern for your customers and use it to your advantage!

This path should be fluid, subtly guided according to your preferences, with your products placed in exactly the right place (ideally at eye level and hand level) to maximise the chances of a purchase.

Your unique concept and the experiences you want to create in your shop should guide your layout. Do you offer hot drinks? Set up a cosy corner and showcase complementary products around it. Are you organising a pottery workshop? This is the perfect opportunity to highlight your favourite DIY brands!

7. Closing the sale: last but not least

Make the checkout process pleasant for the customer

The last stage in your customer’s visit to your concept store is the checkout. Ideally, this experience should be fast, efficient and friendly. It’s also your last chance to make a good impression and make your customers want to return.

A successful experience depends on a number of things like courteous and professional customer service, a modern cash register and working card machines, as well as the layout of your checkout counter. 

You can decide whether your cashier should stand or sit, what equipment is required, how to arrange your queuing area, and if you want to display information that customers might find interesting. 

Two important points to focus on: 

  • Make sure that the decoration of your checkout counter is in line with the atmosphere of your concept store in general. You’re at the end of the sales process, so your customers should feel a sense of continuity throughout their experience. Think of it as closing the loop so customers leave without doubts about your values and philosophy.
  • Encourage additional and impulse sales by offering small products around your checkout. Ideally, these should be low-priced or part of a “buy 2 get 1 free” offer.

Here are the most important things to remember:

  • Your unique concept must be at the heart of all your design decisions.
  • The furniture, lighting, and decoration must be aligned with your values.
  • Clever design of your concept store will increase impulse buying.
  • Look online and at your competitors for inspiration.
  • Your shop window is your customers’ first point of contact: organise it carefully and change it often.
  • Test the layout that optimises your customers’ shopping experience.
  • The checkout counter should be an integral part of your design strategy, and its look and feel should align with the rest of your shop.

Top tip

As an independent retailer, everything you do daily is an opportunity to create content! So don’t hesitate to share your updates on social networks, whether it’s photos, stories or reels.