Why Do Supermarkets Have High Ceilings?


We all spend lots of time grocery shopping, it makes sense that we start to question a few things in the grocery store ecosystem. One of them is why are the ceilings so high? Think of it, couldn't the building be constructed with less air space above our heads? It does seem a bit lavish.

There are multiple reasons for this. Turns out the leading one is wrapped up in the deep world of grocery shopping psychology, among other, more practical reasons.

Supermarkets have high ceilings to enable optimal creative decision-making by the consumer. Psychologically, with more air space, the consumer can better imagine how they would use the product in their own home.

Personally, I'm fascinated by psychology and annoyed all at the same time. It make me feel like a guinea pig, which is a bit of an uncomfortable feeling. But, good job for designers for figuring this out! The universal design principal in grocery store design is a real thing.

Folks, I am not making this stuff up. In-demand designers and architects get paid the big bucks when they incorporate psychology into any commercial design. After all, who doesn't want to make more money because the space encourages consumers to spend more?

Store design plays a part in affecting shopper's decisions in supermarkets.

Jeff Perdew, VP of store design of Target, spills the beans in an interview by the Star Tribune:
“There’s a universal design principle that you want to expand ceiling heights when you want people to make holistic decisions and you actually contract them a bit, or shrink them, when you want people to make detailed decisions. So that’s why it’s OK to drop beams and stuff over produce because you’re picking out that specific orange you want.”

Practical reasons for high ceilings in grocery stores and supermarkets

Lots of air and space for decision making can't be the only reason for high ceilings in supermarkets. I can't even imagine that argument "I can think better" being taken seriously when building a new home. Let's explore the more practical reasons for the high ceilings, for you left-side-of-the-brain thinkers out there.

Handling merchandise

Remember, in the big box and mega stores, we are not seeing all the rooms in the building. The store rooms are where fork lifts transport merchandise on palettes, sometimes lifting to great ceiling heights to place on upper tiers.

I have not seen the stacking in the grocery section of these stores. It is probably done on a smaller scale. Regardless, there needs to be a pocket of space higher than the forklift can lift for maneuverability when placing and removing palettes.

There are some reports of shelving units having heights up to 15 ft.

Ceiling components in large buildings

There are a lot of working mechanics included in the ceiling space of a large grocery store or supermarket ceiling. Besides the lighting, there is ductwork that snakes through the upper portion of the space, as well as security cameras, don't forget that.

Then there are the massive signs. They may not look that big to you, but they are on a scale big enough that the shopper can see and read it from clear across the building. Having higher upper space is necessary for advertising portions of the store better (in other words, people buying more).

Ventilation of grocery stores and supermarkets

The science of heat rising is an influential factor to consider in building design. Logically, this would seem like a complete waste of heating and cooling bigger spaces in grocery stores. Surprisingly, temperatures are regulated more efficiently with high ceilings, instead of struggling to heat or cool smaller spaces. The cushion or pocket of air regulates temperature consistency in the building.

The science doesn't stop there. Large regulation fans in the ceilings continuously redistribute the air. One really starts appreciating the engineering that goes into tall ceilings!

Other benefits of high ceilings in commercial design

Ever notice how a desk lamp provides a small spot of light, but when you raise it up higher, it widens the light pattern? This is the same effect with tall ceilings. The lighting can spread out further from a taller height, requiring less lighting. Smart, right?

There is even a fire hazard benefit to having tall ceilings in commercial design. Fires can't spread as easily, meaning they can't reach the ceiling and destroy the entire building. I would also think it has a benefit to the sprinkler system as well, blanketing more widely surfaces below.

In conclusion

It's important to know that builders try to build responsibly and use resources wisely. Even big box stores have budgets to follow, and building design is one of them. Getting the most benefits out of their construction investment is important, even if it's a psychological reason that churns the profit.

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. Years of being a stay-at-home mom and supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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