What Is Visual Merchandising? Definition and Examples
Visuals heavily influence customer impressions of your business in digital and physical environments; as such, visual merchandising is a powerful tool for improving customer experience inside your store and, increasingly, online.
We will first define visual merchandising, and then run through some helpful ways you can use it in your business to drive sales and build your brand.
Visual Merchandising Definition
Many decades ago, companies realized they could influence customer perceptions by organizing products in their stores in a specific way. Instead of laying items out in the most convenient way, visual marketers focus on customer experience. Their goal was to find a product merchandising formula that would lead to higher sales.
Online and retail visual merchandising has several objectives:
- Making customers feel welcome
- Retaining customers’ attention
- Prioritizing the most profitable products
- Using products as a branding tool
For instance, a store might put a large figurine at the front entrance to create excitement, even if they never plan on selling it. In a similar vein, an online store might put its special offers or “most wanted” products on its home page, instead of hiding them away in a menu.
Although they may not be strictly visual, other merchandising techniques leverage:
- Scents that promote calmness (e.g., lavender), or excitement (e.g., orange blossom)
- Technology that allows customers to interact with merch via digital displays or their hands
- Space to encourage shoppers to move through the store
- Lighting for an ambiance that gets people in the mood for spending
- Colors that match your brand
- Scents that make customers feel nostalgic about the past
- Sounds that foster relaxation, such as running water, chimes, or soft music
- Sounds that incentivize action, such as rock or dance music
The goal is to exploit the senses to complement the brand message you want to convey. In other words, you need to use digital arrangements, display tables for boutiques, and all other tools at your disposal to provide in-store experiences that incentivize customers to part with their cash.
Types Of Visual Merchandising
So, how do you create a compelling visual merchandising experience?
Brand-aware design in visual merchandising means choosing store upholstery, textiles, flooring, and cladding to represent your company’s signature aesthetic. In other words, your efforts should go beyond the signage above your front door. Especially if you don’t really have a front door: In the online space, retailers include brand-specific designs in product photos and accompanying content, going far beyond branded headers.
As mentioned, the fixtures you use in your store influence the vibe customers get when they walk in. Depending on your choices, you can create a fun, laid-back, luxurious, serious, or affordable aesthetic.
Stores use bundling – i.e., displaying several products in a single display to show how they work together - to entice customers to make bigger purchases. For instance, you might bundle t-shirts, pants, and shoes together on a mannequin, or several matching kitchen appliances on a single countertop.
If you are a visual retailer, you often want to influence customers before they set foot inside your store. Exterior signs play a role in setting the tone for the kind of shopping experience customers can expect when they step inside.
A visual merchandising classic, window displays are meant to pique the interest of potential customers walking by your store.
Online operators can create digital versions of window displays on their websites, perhaps in the form of a banner on their homepage.
How you organize your store can also be a powerful tool for influencing brand perception. Stuffing shelves with products up to the ceiling tells shoppers that you run a budget-friendly store, while leaving plenty of open space and celebrating each product with an individual display creates a luxury vibe.
Seasonal displays can entice shoppers to spend more on themed products. In the US, most shops have seasonal collections for:
- All four seasons
- New Year
- 4th of July
- Valentine’s Day
The most beneficial seasonal displays depend on your business. If you sell clothing, individual summer, spring, fall, and winter displays will be the most important, whereas food stores will have Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas as their top priorities.
Checkout displays, also called “point of purchase” displays, take advantage of the fact that customers often make impulse purchases, especially if they have to wait in line, with cheap products everywhere they look.
You can adapt this concept for online stores, too. When customers get to the checkout page, you can offer discounts if they buy in bulk or recommend products that complement the items in their basket.
Music contributes to visual merchandising in unique ways. For instance, research shows that certain melodies can enhance other sensory influences, such as taste or sight.
Moreover, some music genres will be more in line with your brand message than others. For example, if you run a clothing store for teenagers, playing music currently charting well with that demographic can help ingratiate you with them. Similarly, if you run a department store where most shoppers are over the age of fifty, you might want to focus more on golden oldies or subtle music that won’t overpower your products.
Mannequins are visual merchandising staples. Brands usually avoid making their models look overly human to avoid unsettling people; they are generally made to represent “ideal” body types and transfer that aspirational quality to the clothes they’re showing off.
As mentioned, mannequins show shoppers what clothes and accessories can look like when worn in conjunction, encouraging them to purchase entire outfits instead of individual garments.
How you light your premises can also have a tremendous impact on your store’s atmosphere and product appearance. For instance, stores like Hollister keep shop floors quite dark and often diffuse essential oils into the air to create a unique experience for customers. By contrast, Walmart uses intense lighting that equally illuminates all parts of the shop floor and its products.
Customers respond very differently to the lighting choices you make. Some view fluorescent lighting as cheap or are put off by harsh lighting, particularly when trying on clothes. Others may want bright lights to see what they are doing. Softer lights can calm people down and create a luxurious feel, while ramping up the lumens creates a more intense atmosphere.
And even though most people still prefer in-store shopping, that doesn’t mean all your lighting efforts should be concentrated on your physical venue. Designing your website in shades that reflect your values and the brand “vibe” you’re trying to convey is essential.
Cross-merchandising is a strategy akin to bundling. The idea is to deliberately place complementary items alongside each other, even if they are not in the same category.
Grocery stores often adopt this technique around Christmas time. Instead of storing turkeys, stuffing, and gravy pouches separately, they bundle them together in the same display refrigerator.
Electronics stores do something similar. They will often display devices, like smartphones, alongside their accessories.
Naturally, you can adopt a similar strategy online. Linking complementary products to the one your customers are currently looking at encourages them to spend more.
What Can You Do To Improve Your Visual Merchandising?
Reading through visual merchandising examples can be helpful, but if you want to significantly improve your storefront, here’s what to do:
Research Your Audience
First, learn as much about your customers as possible. Go beyond conventional demographics, such as income, age, and location, and explore more in-depth factors, such as your average shopper's hobbies, lifestyle, and interests.
Conduct market research to uncover the primary preferences and characteristics of your best customers. You can then build customer personas (the most common sets of traits your customers have put together) and adjust the imagery in your shop to cater to them.
Learn New Trends
Next, find out as much as you can about how your rivals go about visual merchandising. Visit their stores, take note of what seems to be working for them, and how you could leverage it.
For instance, if providing plenty of space between displays is en vogue right now, follow the industry leader. Similarly, if monochromatic designs are all the rage, try them for a season and see if they improve your sales.
Make Displays Interactive
Static merchandising works well, but interactive displays can boost engagement even further. For instance, you might link your physical displays to your online store, boosting website traffic. You could also offer customers the opportunity to try products before buying them.
Hire A Consultant
If you can afford it, you might want to hire a professional merchandising consultant. These experts are familiar with the best practices in the field, and can implement them much more quickly than you can. What’s more, having an expert on your payroll means fewer expensive mistakes.
Still, bear in mind that the average visual merchandiser salary is $43,006 per year; if you want to have one in-house, you’ll need to make plenty of room in your budget for it. Otherwise, you can hire them on a case-by-case basis, if you don’t predict needing their services too often.
Safety is a concern in any visual merchandising effort: Temporary arrangements can fall over and injure people.
If you implement any new interior or exterior signs, affix them safely to the walls so they can’t tumble down. Always follow instructions and maintenance advice for additional shelving, tables, or electrical circuitry you install. Also, check if your business insurer would be willing to cover your liability before undertaking any merchandising projects.
Turn Merchandising Into Marketing
To execute your marketing vision, use graphics that will inspire customers to share their experiences of your store with their friends. The more infectious you can make it, the more effective it will be.
Lastly, you’ll want to create themes in your visual merchandising: Perhaps they’ll be about seasonal items, new products, or celebrating fifty years in business. Whatever it is, having a theme with an attached storyline can draw people in.
Try changing individual aspects of your merchandising strategy, such as the products on display, decor, color, themes, or number of mannequins at a time, and keep track of any concurrent changes in demand or revenue.
The Bottom Line
Visual merchandising is a method for drawing in customers and increasing revenue by setting the tone for your brand. The most obvious examples of visual merchandising are seasonal displays in brick-and-mortar stores. However, that is far from the only way you can use this strategy; coordinating the sensory impression your physical or virtual storefront gives out can be a deciding factor in your success - you would do well to invest in it.
Visual merchandising is the practice of arranging your business’s visual aspects to highlight your best products, entice customers, and make more sales. Most companies use store visual merchandising that reflects their brand. It is something that can be done both in-store and online.
An example of visual merchandising would be window displays that capture the attention of prospective customers as they walk by the storefront. Seasonal displays are one such instance: Chocolate eggs around Easter, or a boutique table showcasing beach equipment during the summer.
There are many types of visual merchandising, including window displays, end displays, mannequins, interior layouts, product bundling, and brand-aware design choices.
The benefits of visual merchandising include the ability to move more seasonal or thematic stock, sell more products in general, make customers feel more welcome, and increase brand awareness.
Julia A. is a writer at SmallBizGenius.net. With experience in both finance and marketing industries, she enjoys staying up to date with the current economic affairs and writing opinion pieces on the state of small businesses in America. As an avid reader, she spends most of her time poring over history books, fantasy novels, and old classics. Tech, finance, and marketing are her passions, and she’s a frequent contributor at various small business blogs.
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