MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Are Store Ceilings So High?

Ever wondered why, despite most of their items being stocked on shelves that aren’t much over 6 feet high, many supermarkets & other stores’ ceilings are so high? As in, dozens of feet high. In stores like Sam’s Club or Costco, it makes sense, they stock their bulk inventory to the rafters. But why do smaller stores seem to need so much open space above our heads?

Like most retail design choices, it’s meant to get us, the shoppers, in a place where we’re comfortable spending the largest amount of money possible. And ceiling height actually impacts how we process our buying decisions.

According to the vice president of store design for Target, Joe Perdew, “There’s a universal design principle that you want to expand ceiling heights when you want people to make holistic decisions & you actually contract them a bit, or shrink them, when you want people to make detailed decisions.”

In retail, lots of products require imagination, like how a sofa might look in your living room or what kinds of recipes you might make with that particular cut of beef. High ceilings not only open us up physically, but psychologically, as well. They tend to make us think in more abstract terms, while lower ceilings can have us thinking more about details.

In other words, a high ceiling appears to get customers thinking…just not too much.

Practically, though, tall ceilings can allow for signs directing shoppers to explore other areas of the store. They can also help obscure security cameras that can be mounted high enough to have a wider field of view without making shoppers feel watched.

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