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How to design a supermarket

How to design a supermarket, the complete technical guide

How to design a supermarket: technical guidelines with standards, useful tips and a 3D BIM model together with render and DWG files ready for you to download

In this article we will identify the steps to correctly designing a supermarket: from the reference building regulations to the distribution of spaces and the consequent different types of layout. Finally, we will see a practical example regarding how to design a supermarket, also showing a video, presentation slides and a 3D model of the project created with a professional software for architects and engineers.

You can download the project file immediately below and try to achieve the same results and the free trial version of the Edificius, the architectural BIM design software.

retail store layouts

Supermarket design – rendering

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Download the 3D BIM model (.edf file) here 

Shop layout designs consist of multiple important components and, when designing a supermarket, one of the main concerns is a strategic store layout planning. It is well known that an efficient space distribution including both shelf space allocation and shop layout management can have a positive impact on the consumer behaviour and will lead to a higher consumer satisfaction.

Hence the need for studying and analysing various factors that apparently are not correlated between each other and with the project: the technical, marketing, social and psychological aspects. All of them are key factors that influence and can optimize your project intervention.

Space distribution and organization in a supermarket project

The objective of a functional supermarket design is to optimize the organization of interior spaces so as to maximize sales.

For this reason, it is necessary to understand and interpret consumer habits and thus implement design choices that can have positive effects on product sales and customer perceptions.

How to design a supermarket

Functional layout

It is well known that furnishing arrangement also greatly influences people behaviour when shopping.

It is important that the store layout contributes to a positive shopping atmosphere, inviting customers to prolong their stay in the supermarket and encouraging a certain number of unplanned purchases, the so-called ‘instinct purchases’.

In current retailing, there are four common conventional layout types that stores nowadays use: grid, island, free-flow and racetrack layouts.

Grid Layout

When designing a supermarket, the most convenient furnishing layout is represented by the grid model.

This layout contains long pathways which are placed parallel to each other in a linear manner, thus creating a grid.

Retailers are in favour of this layout style because it makes the entire sales process more efficient. Particularly, it optimizes spaces while guaranteeing a greater availability of products and a fast shopping experience.

Another important advantage is given by the simplification of the logistic aspects, as it facilitates, for example, the supply for shelves and the control of the various products present.

Other positive aspects regard the store flow and traffic between the various shelves. You can easily move and orientate yourself in the various departments, creating less disruption to the ‘traffic’ and reducing congestion. Aspects which, if badly managed, can compromise the image of the business and, therefore, reduce profits.

However, this layout also has negative aspects that can affect sales or the customer flow.

In fact, maximum spaces optimization determines that shelves are always organized in the same manner, with minimal variations over time. Shoppers become too familiar with this layout and tend to complete their planned purchases in less time, thus avoiding ‘instinct purchases’

Another downside can be represented by the distribution monotony, that is due to logistical issues and which could make the consumer experience more frustrating, since the supply needs prevail over the demand.

Island layout

It is a more recent and innovative organizational model.

This type of distribution involves the presentation of products arranged on platforms or on other supports located in different points of the supermarket. Generally, this model is common in small specialized shops, or in niche shops for displaying small-sized items and provide a personalized aspect to the business.

The positive aspect of this model is the greater freedom for customers, who are provided with a free route that allows them to observe all the products arranged in homogeneous areas. This arrangement makes customer smore motivated to visit the whole store and, with the products matching their type of needs, unplanned purchases are encouraged. In addition, this model truly values customers and fully satisfies their needs.

Downsides are:

  • less space optimization as compared to the grid layout, since with the same surface area it is possible to place fewer racks
  • higher logistics costs, especially in terms of shelves management and organization.

Racetrack (or Loop) layout

This model is less common in a supermarket design.

It consists of a main ring corridor that goes from the entrance to the cash desks, emphasizing a perimeter track and allowing customers to view all the departments. The main route occupies the entire surface of the store, while secondary routes are organized to avoid overcrowding in a few points.

Free flow layout

Considered as the simplest type of store layout, free-flow systems combine different layouts and have many pros.

There is no defined pattern, therefore this layout type affords you the most creativity, where typically the grid layout integrates to an innovative island layout and encourages shoppers to go in any direction while increasing impulsive buying.

When designing a supermarket,a well-structured store layout can be advantageous for both consumer and retailer and will be crucial to the overall commercial activity performance, especially when considered together with correct sizing.

Dimensions and design tips

There are several national and local regulations regarding dimensions when it comes to designing a supermarket.

Below we provided some approximate store measurements, however you should always refer to your local standards.

  • height for newly built premises ≥ 3.00 m (118.11 in);
  • height for pre-existing premises ≥ 2.70 m (106.29 in);
  • minimum height of emergency routes and exits – 2.00 m (78.74 in);
  • emergency routes and exits must remain clear of any obstacles;
  • emergency door width 0.80 m (31.49 in) – sizing depends on the premise level of crowding;
  • provide changing room and toilet facilities for staff;
  • retail mezzanine floor area ≤ 2/3 of the store surface
  • minimum height above and below the mezzanine 2.40 m (94.48 in) (average height ≤ 2.20 m/ 86.61 in for sloped roofs);
  • mezzanine depth≤ 2.5 times the lower one of the previously indicated height measurements.

With regard to the aisle width between rows of shelves, it is useful to consider sufficient space that enables customers to stop and pay attention to products even in case of overcrowding.

Supermarket planning and design - layout created with an architectural design software

Supermarket aisles dimension

The overall dimensions of individual shoppers and furnishings to take in consideration are:

  • shopper walking in the aisle – 0.60 – 0.90 m (23.62 in – 35.43 in)
  • shopper standing in front of shelves – 0.75 – 0.90 m (29.52 in – 35.43 in)
  • shopper with trolley – 0.75 – 0.90 m (29.52 in – 35.43 in)
  • person in wheelchair ≤ 0.90 m (35.43 in)
  • display rack width – 0.80 m (31.49 in)
  • chiller cabinet width – 0.90 m (35.43 in)
  • refrigerator unit width – 1.40 m (55.11 in)
  • deli counter width – 1.20 – 1.40 m (47.24 – 55.11 in)
  • shelving width – 0.80 m (31.49 in).

Following these tips you’ll be able to create a functional environment and a good customer experience.

How to design a supermarket: a practical example

The example that we’ve prepared this week is the project of a small supermarket built in an urban context, precisely on the ground floor of a residential building.

The total area of the premise is approximately 300 m² (11811 in2), developed on one level and organized in various functions that will be listed below.

Supermarket design - project drawing created with Edificus, the architectural BIM design software

Supermarket floor plan

The interior of the room has been designed to create a “U” shaped path, to allow the customer to view as many products as possible. For this reason, the entrance and exit are on the same side.

Trolleys are located at the entrance in a special space. The customer route runs along aisles arranged in 6 parallel rows 1.80 m (70.86 in) wide, in which the various products for sale are arranged.

At the back you’ll notice the deli counter, which is sized to ensure a comfortable space for employees. Behind the salami counter, at the back of the building and separated from the rest of the shop, there are staff areas, namely the warehouse, a small office, the changing room and the toilets.

At the end of the route, cash desks are positioned directly towards the exit so as to facilitate the outflow of customers and avoid unnecessary traffic jams.



Download the 3D BIM model (.edf file) of the project

Download the IFC model of the project

Download the DWG files of the project drawings


Presentation Slides