The rise of e-commerce and competitive pricing has seen retailers struggle to attract and keep customers in their stores. In the U.S, 22% of the country’s department stores have closed or announced closings since 2018, including reputed brands like Sears, Nordstrom, Macy’s, and JCPenney. One way to improve sales is by investing in visual merchandising, which features attractive window displays and creative in-store layouts to encourage purchase.
What is Visual Merchandising
Visual merchandising is the art of improving the aesthetic appeal of a product or store. While window displays are an essential part of visual merchandising, the concept also includes shelving layouts, themed displays, interactive displays, window installation, and in-store displays. In other words, you are visually communicating with your customers, whether they are potential or current customers.
Visual merchandising is incredibly powerful, research illustrates that consumers make most of their buying decisions inside the store. Furthermore, it encouraged impulsive purchases for items that catch a customer’s eye. Take the immersive stores of IKEA, for example, which bring room sets to life, and help customers imagine the products in their homes.
Although visual merchandising is primarily an art of attracting customers to retail stores, it also applies science to calculate various design elements like lighting, furniture placement, color, floor plans, patterns, and promotional displays. Visual merchandising helps retailers understand shopper’s buying habits and influence what and how they see products.
A Brief History of Visual Merchandising
Visual merchandising was not a priority for traditional retailers, who were mainly focused on selling. A French retailer called Aristide Boucicaut had the idea of operating a store with all kinds of merchandise, where customers could wander freely in “a town within a town.” His innovative ideas came alive in the world’s first departmental store named Le Bon Marchè in 1852. By the late 1800s, stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Marshall Fields were operating in the U.S.
The mass-production of glass from the 1840s facilitated the growth of the department store. Stores could now afford to have large storefront windows to display their products. In the modern-day, visual merchandising has developed into a form of marketing as retailers try to improve the customer experience. Innovative trends like brand activation, pop-up stores, and mannequins with personality and digital signage are influencing how brands encourage sales.
Importance of Visual Merchandising
Visual merchandising can make your retail space more attractive and improve walk-ins. The benefits of this strategy include:
1. Boost Sales
Displaying products in a compelling and captivating way elicits the urge to purchase among customers.
Imagine going to a clothes store stocked with coordinated collections of outfits that you can mix and match to create different outfits. The store’s displays and mannequins feature unique color schemes and patterns that create striking looks, and you can vividly picture yourself in various displayed ensembles. So, if you were looking for trousers, you might end up buying a shirt, jacket, and shoes because they go so well together. You can think of visual merchandising as retail bait, influencing customers to make purchases based on emotions.
The key to attracting customer interest is designing a welcoming environment that can include bold and beautiful colors and glamour. For instance, elements like sale signs, promotional marketing, and eye-catching product displays can boost your sales, which is the bottom line of any business strategy.
2. Increased Traffic
If you want to bring more customers in, you can invest in attractive signage and striking window displays that capture shoppers’ imagination. The buying process does not start when a customer enters your premises, but rather, when the decision is made to enter your store. In other words, the customer journey begins at the display windows. For example, props and backdrops are commonly used during the Christmas season to capture the holiday mood. You can design real-life window settings that make it easy for shoppers to imagine themselves using your products.
3. Designing a Delightful Customer Experience
Visual merchandising helps retailers focus on customer experience rather than the final step of buying. You should aim to create a pleasant atmosphere that will appeal to your customer from the moment they enter your store. Therefore, you can use product displays, immersive experiences, digital signage, featured spots, props, and well-lit displays to excite shoppers. Visual merchandising creates an environment for customers to discover products and have a memorable customer experience.
4. Encourage Brand Loyalty
Retailers can use visual merchandising to communicate their unique brand message to shoppers. This strategy is a form of storytelling, and you can shape the perception customers have regarding your brand. For example, Nike is well-known for its tag line “Just Do It,” and its in-store experiences includes mannequin displays, product presentations, and decorative walls that live up to the catchphrase. Visual merchandising will help you communicate your brand’s identity and personality to visitors.
Elements of Visual Merchandising
Whether you are looking to design more attractive retail displays or are new to visual merchandising, here are the essential elements of the concept:
Color is the most vital element in an in-store visual display. Additionally, color can help to evoking particular emotions. Colors help retailers create a welcoming atmosphere that boosts sales. In other words, bright colors like orange and red are commonly used to attract the eyes and excite shoppers, while some luxury brands use dull colors to suggest sophistication. You can also use colors to make different products stand out. For example, you can place a product in a neutral hue in front of a strong background to attract attention.
- Avoid too many contrasting colors. When using color in visual merchandising, you should avoid creating overwhelming displays. You can design beautiful contrasts by contrasting dark and light tones.
- Consider Company and Industry Association. Certain colors and tones carry strong links to specific industries, companies, and ideas. For example, green is commonly associated with sustainability and the environment.
- Use a base color in your branding. Identify and incorporate the color that will be a driving force in your marketing campaigns. For example, Coca-Cola is associated with the color Red.
- Consider the cultural significance of different colors. For example, red signifies prosperity in China, while it is mainly associated with love in the U.S.
Landscaping is an essential technique for capturing shoppers’ interest. This strategy involves the elevation of products as ‘prime offerings’ to make them stand out. Landscaping gives retailers creative freedom as they can work with three dimensions: lateral, longitudinal, and vertical.
You can work with asymmetrical arrangements to create movement and product flow. Symmetrical layouts are easier to do, and they will help customers to experience your entire offering.
Lighting and illumination will bring your store’s colors to life and highlight the features of your products. For example, you can install spotlights to illuminate key attributes and drive sales.
You can play around with various kinds of lighting to influence your store’s ambiance. If you want to showcase new products or sale items, you can use accent lights to draw customers’ attention. Accent lights especially work well in retail stores that sell luxury items.
LED lights have become popular since they are softer than fluorescent tubes. You can use LEDs as task lights on display racks, changing rooms, and behind the shelves. When using lights in visual merchandising, pay attention to glare, contrast, and uniformity to stay ADA compliant.
- Layer your store’s light. Keep the ambient lights soft for the accent lights to make a statement.
- Use mirrors to brighten a retail space and reflect light. When used effectively, mirrors can be both decorative and functional.
- Invest in a light control system that adjusts the light sources to create different atmospheres.
- Backlight your brand message to generate a memorable impression on customers.
The way you present products in your retail space will influence your store’s performance. Space is an essential element of visual merchandising, as you can use it to connect or separate items. When planning store layouts, pay attention to both positive and negative space or read up about space management to make the most of your space.
Positive space is an item’s solid position, while negative space describes the open space around it. For example, you can use contrasting colors in the positive and negative spaces to design an attractive display. When used creatively, negative space will provide your products with room to breathe.
One of the taxing parts of designing a retail space is deciding what to do with empty space. The area between the displayed products and ceiling is often underutilized in stores, but it has a lot of potential to influence the customer experience. For this reason, you can use it to display signage and merchandise information to add product value.
Imagine visiting a store to find all the salespeople are busy and you cannot finding the product you want to buy. You will most likely leave the store with a poor impression of the customer service. In other words, making customers wait will lead to lost sales and unsatisfied customers. However, you can strategically use store signage to direct customers to their preferred sections.
If your visual merchandising strategy does not include digital signage, you are missing out on a revolutionary way of engaging shoppers. People have become accustom to screens, and you can take advantage of this attraction by installing digital screens throughout your retail space.
The primary element that makes digital signage effective is that visual displays are incredibly memorable. By incorporating imagery into your content, you will help people remember your brand and become return customers. Not to mention, you can use animated screen content in window displays, in-store displays, and point-of-sale screens to promote and advertise your brand.
- Create customer-focused content, while avoiding complicated messages on digital screens as they will quickly bore your audience. Instead, highlight the uses and requirements that your customers are interested in.
- Repurpose well-performing social media content.
- Use crisp visuals to entice and delight shoppers.
- Use digital signage to promote your brand’s message, culture, and values.
Retailers can harness the art of storytelling to elicit positive emotions among customers. To put it differently, people love stories. In a world where attention spans are rapidly shrinking, good stories are a necessary ingredient in marketing.
Great storytelling should begin with a unique brand message. How will your products impact your customers’ lives? What sets your offerings apart from competitors? When customers walk into your store, they should be immersed in a sensory experience that excites all their senses.
Everything should work harmoniously to stimulate a customer’s imagination, from music, scents, lighting, thought-provoking window installations to signage and layouts. Your store should be a place of discovery, where customers can find curated collections and new information about your products.
Final Thoughts on Visual Merchandising
Visuals influence people’s decision-making, and you can use storytelling, signage, color, landscaping, light, and other visual merchandising elements to increase sales. In conclusion, the basis of visual merchandising is a clear understanding of your brand. From there, you can manipulate your store’s interior and exterior to curate a memorable shopping experience