Before we begin lets define what visual merchandising is to avoid confusion.
Visual merchandising means creating and developing floor plans and product displays in order to maximise sales. Products are displayed to highlight their features and benefits in order to attract, engage, inspire and motivate the customer to make a purchase. In its simplest form, “its the activity of promoting the sale of goods, especially by their presentation in retail outlets and stores”.
Good visual merchandising so important for stores because it allows you to tell your story, to position yourself in the market and differentiate yourself from your competition and it delivers your brand identity whether it be luxurious, value, stylish or urban, inspirational or aspirational. Customers today want to be entertained and demand inspiration and excitement as a part of their shopping experience.
Visual merchandising begins with the exterior, with the store building itself, and flows through to the window displays which play a significant part in enticing customers into the store and through to the shop fit, the internal layout, hot spots and not spots and displays within.
There are three merchandising techniques, horizontal, vertical or pyramid.
Live merchandising is the term for creating a scene or real life scenario – whilst Hero merchandising is the term for focusing on a single product.
At its base level VM simplifies our lives making it easier for us to find what we need in a hurry, moving up a notch, it shows the products we are looking for in a pleasing environment, for instance displaying bath towels on a shelf might show us the colours and size options, (Horizontal merchandising) but displaying them in a room setting shows us how we might use them in our life(Live merchandising). Hero merchandising might involve stringing a large quantity of towels falling out of a shower head for example, making an everyday product suddenly stand out of the ordinary.
In a nutshell VM sets the stage for the products to shine and take centre stage.
With judicious use of creativity, design and product VM helps to create an environment that triggers our impulses to buy. Implementing effective design ideas should increase footfall and increase sales. Good visual merchandising takes advantage of every seasonal opportunity to create and display merchandise. A seasonal display whether it be Christmas, Valentines or Nurses day, introduces new stock to customers and increases conversions by a planned and systematic approach to stock display and turnaround.
It also helps to create the atmosphere within the store by telling a story. As a race, we are able to process information much faster and to retain in for longer when its in story format.
VM encompasses many elements for display purposes, including colour, lighting, music, innovation, space, product information, scale of props, height and elevation, repetition, sensory factors – sight, touch, sound, smell and now there are many displays utilising technology in the form of digital displays and interactive displays.
Your window display is the first contact a potential customer has with your marketing message – So you will want to make it a positive experience. Store windows need to either be dramatic, themed, cheeky or send a message.
Here are 7 tips, to encourage potential customers from the outside to the inside:
1. Apply good lighting – We are naturally attracted by light. Light shining on a beautiful product appeals to customers, it draws our attention without us realizing it. Particularly in winter months as good lighting looks cheery.
2. Use Mannequin like props – People pay more attention to human-like items and your displays will look more alive. Put the mannequins at different heights for even more attention. Our brains have to scan to make sense of what we see, and the more disruption to the scanning, eg by having it look up and down, the longer the process takes, so the more chance there is of them coming in.
3. Let them peep – Expose only part of your window sometimes – I know this one is more scary than the others, but give it a try! This also works if you have vast expanses of window that you can’t fill with stock for whatever reason, or if you want to hide the fact that your shop is cavernous.
4. Tidiness and cleanliness: This is not revolutionary. But customers have perceptions of your shop,and we want them to be good perceptions. Scruffy, untidy or dusty displays imply carelessness. Your customer’s thought process goes something like this: Scruffy / dusty window equals shop doesn’t care. if they don’t care about the window, they won’t care about product selection or serving me! I know this seems unfair when you have a million things to do. But this is what happens. these first impressions are called “moments of truth” Cast your eye over your window now to see what your potential customers see.
5. Use the big to enhance the small: Use bigger props in the background to draw people to small merchandise – like jewellery. This is also true of displays in cabinets, always tallest at the back.
6. Replication: Put numerous props of the same kind together to create an amazing visual impact. This works with colour, or style or shape. Repetition, repetition, repetition!
7. Magnification: have props enlarged to a hundred times their ordinary size – this can be stunning – imagine a huge ring with a massive stone, all made of polystyrene, above a ring display for example or a huge canvas of an product taken from an odd angle!
What makes a good window display?
Anything (in good taste) that stops you in your tracks, grabs your attention or makes you want to enter the shop to find out more about what they sell. As the old adage says “First impressions count” Seasonal displays along with repetition, or isolation – If you’re going to display toasters, then make it an odd number of toasters on vivid coloured plinths, hang them upside down, or create a rainstorm of bread heading for them… The products should be the stars
What should retailers remember when creating their windows?
Its sensible to show a good range of your products and not just the latest lines. Also think about which lines are the most profitable, accessories can account for a large percentage of profits or regular sales, showing smaller items also has the benefit of showing varied pricepoints.
You’re selling emotion not just product.
People buy clothing and accessories not simply to clothe themselves, but also to send out a message or feel a certain way. Try to portray the feeling that people are attracted to with your products, whether that be fashionable, elegant, sexy or confident… Mannequins help to associate a feeling with an outfit so don’t stint on the Mannequin displays.
Do’s and don’ts of visual merchandising
Do have fun – be as creative as you dare – the windows that are the wackiest get the most attention. Obviously this isn’t appropriate for every store, but even high end stores for example can do some tongue in cheek displays
Do use Vinyls and props to create your theme – its much less expensive than you might think
Do think about it in advance, trying to throw something together the night before your window change is due isn’t the best way to get a great result.
Do schedule your Visual merchandising – you can work out an annual calendar in advance quite easily and then diarise when the changes are due – this helps you to plan and eases stress levels greatly.
Don’t try to get too much in there – it will just look a mess. Less is more !
Don’t make it all one level. Customers scan displays, so build in some height so that it will keep their attention for longer
Don’t put all your stock in the window – try to use products that you have multiples of, otherwise by the time you and your staff have gone in and out of the window a few times it will look very sorry for itself.
Inside the store – How can stores with limited space take their customers on a journey?
The comfort factor – making sure that your customers feel comfortable in your store – the more comfortable they feel, the longer they will stay, and the more often they will return… Music, lighting, ambience and good customer service will go a long way towards achieving this.
Do’s and Don’ts for merchandising inside the store?
Use a graphic designer to create graphics, visuals and POS that is unique to your store.
Ensure that your first hot spot (the one right inside the door) always looks freshand inviting. This particular spot is like another shop window and its the display that makes the customer coming in from outside start to slow down and adjust their walking pace to a suitable one for browsing, so pull out all the stops for this section.
Have fun with props, they can enhance your stock and add both interest and value to it, but remember that the stock is the star – its easy to get carried away
I always work to the old adage KISS – Keep it simple stupid. Anything that is too complicated whether in terms of colour, products or styles will be difficult to keep looking good, so remember that the idea of the display is to sell the product and make it easy for customers to pick the product up and actually touch it and look at it.
Looking for inspiration for visual merchandising?
The hottest tool for inspiration right now is Pinterest – just look for the Visual merchandising tag. Twitter also has a VM tag.
Aside from these new uses of technology, inspiration is all around. Shows, exhibitions, blogs, street art, travel, theatre – anywhere can provide inspiration if you’re open to it and you’re actually looking for it. Jim Rohn once said “Rarely does a good idea interrupt you” You have to go looking for inspiration, and you will find it in spades.
Should you invest in professional visual merchandisers?
The answer is yes and no. If you can afford it, then you can always learn from the professionals, even if they do 3 windows out of your 12 annual window changes for example then the tips you would pick up from them would lift the other 9 displays. But of course there are budgets to consider. If your budget doesn’t stretch to this, good design books cover the essentials of visual display, which are direction, line, size, shape, tone, texture and colour. If you are feeling adventurous and you live in a largish town or city it might be worth a call to your local college or university offering your store as a practice ground for the Design students…?
If you’re going it alone, then create a Swag folder, of designs and ideas that have inspired you and refer to them when you need inspiration, keep cuttings, magazines (tear out the relevant pages and discard the bulk so you don’t get overwhelmed at the scale of your folder) materials and photographs. Its also worth setting up a Swag folder on your computer to store digital images and ideas.
If you want to learn more then Skillsmart, the National Skills academy and Retail Academy (Mary’s Masterclasses) all run VM courses along with local providers.
Text taken from an article written for
Boutique magazine November 2012