This Explains the High Ceiling Phenomenon in Retail Stores

Next time you're at the store, look up!

Have you ever been in a cramped retail store? Think about it. Sure, maybe it was jam-packed with furniture, food or clothing, but the space itself probably wasn’t all that small.

Retailers like Costco, that sell everything under the sun (plus new and unexpected products), need a lot of room, especially for stacking inventory. It only makes sense that the ceiling is high enough to accommodate the extra product, but what about when retailers have ceilings that are multiple stories high?. So much unused space!

This high ceiling phenomenon can be easily explained by saying that retailers need room for hanging signs or space to put security cameras. But there’s a more subtle reason for these sky-high store designs, too.

The Psychology Behind High Ceilings

Though storage space is important in a store like Costco or Sam’s Club, getting the customer to buy something is more important. According to Mental Floss, the design of these high ceilings in big-box stores actually have an effect on how shoppers think and make decisions.

According to multiple studies, physical space leaves more room for holistic thinking. In a retail store, high ceilings play a role in the creative process—like imagining where new holiday decor would fit in your home or how a set of patio furniture would look on your deck. More space means a more open-minded shopper.

How Much Space Is Too Much Space?

Still, high ceilings can’t go on and up for forever. For the same psychological reasons, too much space can actually hinder a shopper’s decision-making process.

There’s no specific number on how high a retailer’s ceilings should be (except the one in the building code), but if shoppers need to be laser-focused on an item, high ceilings might not serve them well. Architecture that is more on the snug side makes it easier to focus on the specifics of a product. In other words, spaces with lower ceilings are better for making detail-oriented decisions, like evaluating prices.

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Hannah Twietmeyer
Hannah is a writer and content creator based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a passion for all things food, health, community and lifestyle. She is a journalism graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a previous dining and drink contributor for Madison Magazine.