Best Practices in Aisle Arrangement
Based on How Shoppers Shop


At Decision Insight we’re often asked, “What matters most at retail?”

It’s a complex question. CPG companies tend to focus on Assortment, but one could argue that spending research dollars on determining the 99th, 100th or 101st product in a category provides little benefit to the portfolio – or the retail partner. A less popular element of the merchandising mix that can provide handsome dividends for your portfolio – and for the category – is Aisle Arrangement.

How Shoppers Shop Regarding Navigation

First, how do consumers shop? The 15+ years of shopper research we’ve conducted tells us there are two Stages of Navigation:

1. Orientation: When entering a large category or aisle, shoppers first orient themselves by finding key visual cues. Shoppers use these cues to then shop in smaller blocks – generally 4- to 6-foot product areas at a time.

2. Selection: Once a shopper has narrowed the aisle to a specific smaller block, they typically start their deeper search at eye level. From eye level, the shopper’s natural viewing routine is usually a left-to-right reading-style pattern (vs. up-and-down).

Visual Cues: Essential to Aisle Orientation

Simply put, without visual cues, shelf placement and aisle location are less impactful. Shoppers are forced to scan more of the aisle to find their consideration set. Although this may seem like a positive (especially in a broad category), this creates a much more difficult shopping experience, often leading to lower category conversion.

However, with visual cues, a lead aisle position often maximizes sales. Once oriented, shoppers look for the first product “block” that meets their consideration set. With visual cues, a lead position increases the likelihood of reaching the shopper. Those visual cues help shoppers find their way around the aisle, providing a reassuring “map.” They simplify the shopping experience – and, elevate the importance of shelf placement and aisle location. A few types of significant visual cues include Signage, Brand Blocks and Package Type Blocks (the impact of each is highlighted in research below).



Signage as Visual Cue

A recent client study explored a large category (40′) with a high degree of variety seeking and SKU proliferation. The current aisle was arranged by product type. But, given so many SKUs, it was difficult for shoppers to recognize the product types. A test aisle added signage – merchandising blades – that communicated the product category and separated each product type.

The Results: Total category conversion increased 3% in the test aisle with shoppers buying at least one product. And, the sub-category leading the test aisle realized a 5% increase in sales.


Brand Block vs Checkerboard

A second client study explored Brand Blocking vs. a Checkerboard approach (an aisle arranged by product type, breaking up traditional brand blocks). A major retailer had recommended a Checkerboard aisle arrangement, blocking products instead by sub-category (including private label). This eliminated shopper visual cues usually created by brand blocks.

The Results: The Brand Blocked layout clearly performed best, with 7% higher sales than the Checkerboard arrangement. Moreover, within the Brand Blocked aisle, placement became key with a 20% increase in sales for the brand given the lead position.


Package-Type Blocks

A recent client study explored the shelf placement of product sizes within a major brand’s portfolio (within a brand block). The aisle is typically constructed using a “top down” approach, with the smallest sizes on the top shelves moving to the largest sizes on the bottom shelves. The objective of the study was to understand the impact of moving the largest-size products to eye level, based on knowing that shoppers typically begin their product search at eye level once they are in the category. Then, their natural viewing routine is usually a left-to-right “reading” pattern (vs. up-down).

The Results: Moving the larger sizes to eye level resulted in substantial trade up – with a double digit increase in the purchasing of larger sizes. Both the brand and the retailer benefitted from the higher dollar volume driven by the trade up.


Digital Arrangement: Beyond Brick & Mortar

Beyond brick & mortar arrangement, Decision Insight is engaged in ongoing research addressing digital shelf “arrangement.” Online, the retail advantages of product placement, multiple shelf facings and endcap displays are gone — as are product adjacencies that give context to size differences. In eCommerce, the key to driving sales is optimizing category/search layout, imagery, presentation, and merchandising. Decision Insight is at the forefront of this research, providing clients with eCommerce shopper insights based on real-time online shopper behavior.

For more information about Shopper IQ® – Decision Insight’s suite of proprietary virtual shopper testing methodologies – or Digital.IQ™ – Decision Insight’s eCommerce testing platform – contact Leslie Downie.


AlexSodekAlex Sodek is Chief Research Officer at Decision Insight.
He can be reached at alexs@decisioninsight.com or (816) 437-9834.