What Is Visual Merchandising? Definition and Examples

ByJulija A.
March 23,2022

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

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.

Interior Fixtures

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.

Exterior Signage

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.

Window Displays

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

Seasonal displays can entice shoppers to spend more on themed products. In the US, most shops have seasonal collections for:

  • Halloween
  • Easter
  • Christmas
  • Diwali
  • 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

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.

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.

Avoid Hazards

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.

Use Themes

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.

Test Regularly

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.

Frequently Asked Questions
What is meant by visual merchandising?

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.

What is a visual merchandising example?

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.

What are the types of visual merchandising?

There are many types of visual merchandising, including window displays, end displays, mannequins, interior layouts, product bundling, and brand-aware design choices.

What are the benefits of visual merchandising?

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.

About the author

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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This way, you can determine the level of competition and avoid making any of the same mistakes.  Also, try to find out how much it costs to open a nail salon in a particular area. You may be able to access this information by asking owners of local salons or by consulting public LLC records.  Finding out how much they charge helps, too. Knowing this will give you a sense of how much leeway you have regarding pricing. If there’s an expensive local nail boutique, you may be able to undercut them. Lastly, try to find out what services they don’t offer. You can then bear this in mind when brainstorming nail business ideas. If you can offer something your rivals don’t, you’ll attract more customers.  Step 3: Find Someone Who Has Done It All Before Most successful business people have a mentor – somebody who works behind the scenes, offering helpful insights and important advice. This person doesn’t necessarily need to have set up their own nail care salon business, but they should have an entrepreneurial past. The cost to open a nail salon can be high, so always choose a mentor who understands business concepts.  A good mentor is someone who:  Understands how the nail salon business works Can be there for you long-term, particularly when the going gets tough Has well-developed business acumen and can advise you on financial matters Has experience gaining clients in a market-facing role If you don’t like the idea of owning a nail salon by yourself, you can always ask a partner to join you. Joint ventures can be highly successful since each person can support and motivate the other. However, the person you choose must be:  Competent in their role Committed to the success of the joint venture Responsible Passionate about opening a nail salon business Someone you can trust Step 4: Write Down Your Business Plan Once you have all of the preliminaries out of the way, it’s time to write down your business plan. This document describes in detail what your business will sell and what you would like it to achieve, and it serves to remind you of what you do and why you do it. There are many business plan templates available on the web. These make organizing your goals easy. As you write your business plan, you’ll want to consider the following:  The cost of opening  The recurring costs The target market How much you’re going to charge customers The services you will offer The competition in your area The amount of profit you think you can make each year The contribution any funding will make (and how you can pay it back) How you’ll market your nail room ideas How you’ll charge customers (subscriptions, membership of pay-as-you-go) How you’ll pay back any startup capital or bank loans Step 5: Decide on Your Nail Salon’s Name and Branding If you go to any nail salon open in your local area and ask people why they are in there, most of the time, you’ll find that it has little to do with their nails. Instead, nail shops are places people go to escape the madness of the world for a few minutes and get an all-round pampering.  For this reason, it’s imperative that you get your nail shop’s name, branding, and interiors right. The more you can sell yourself as a location that offers the ultimate pampering experience, the more customers are likely to frequent your business.  When choosing a name, go for something that really describes who you are and what you offer. Try to avoid something that sounds generic or creates a false impression of what your customers can expect.  For interior design, pick décor that complements your salon’s goals. Find a designer who understands how to make people feel welcome, pampered, and cozy. Step 6: Flesh Out Your Financial Plan Starting a nail salon business costs between $75 and $125 per square foot, depending on where you are in the country. Therefore, if you open a small 500-foot salon, you’ll be paying $37,500 to $62,500 in startup expenses. Because the sums of money involved in opening a fixed or mobile nail salon can be quite high, having a financial plan in place makes sense. Where possible, separate your business finances from your personal accounts. Financial plan templates make it easy to record all relevant details. When fleshing out your financial plan:  Estimate how much your running costs are likely to be Estimate your weekly income Calculate your future cash flow by subtracting running costs from weekly income To keep your nail shop open, you’ll need to ensure that the flow of income is positive.  Other things to include in your financial plan are:  Key performance indicators you’ll use to determine whether your business venture is successful A pricing strategy based on your location, demand for your services, brand image, and competitors’ pricing A record-keeping system so that you can report all your income and expenses to the relevant authorities Your personal financial situation, including how you’re going to manage any outstanding debt you might owe Step 7: Pick a Location Once you’ve written down your business and financial plans and have a strategy in place, you’re ready to choose a location. Ideally, you want an area that is:  Easy to access Close to a large and interested target market Near to popular intersections, transport hubs, and pedestrian routes Close to other businesses Many nail places open in residential areas, office buildings, and even college campuses. These tend to offer reasonable rents and high footfall.  Step 8: Gather All Licenses and Permissions Many people want to know if they can open a nail salon without a license. The answer is - it depends on your location. Some states allow you to open nail businesses without first applying for a license, while others don’t. You should be able to check state rules on your local government website.  Common requirements include:  Business licenses State-mandated training for nail techs Building permits Cosmetology licenses Step 9: Attract Customers Once your nail business is ready to go, the last thing to do is to attract customers. Here are some of the things you’ll need to do:  Post Your Salon on Directories Posting your salon on directories makes you easier to find and also helps with SEO. Many nail salon owners put their shops on Beauty Seeker, Best Salon Guide, Who Do You, and Yelp.  Reach Out on Social Media If you own a nail business, Instagram and Facebook are your friends. Both platforms provide ample opportunities for you to show off your skills and what you can do.  When marketing on Instagram, make sure that you:  Make your feed appealing, showing customers the types of services they can get if they go to you Interact with clients by regularly replying to their comments and messages Experiment with reels, showcasing the newest nail art trends  If you market on Facebook, be sure to:  Set up your own business page. You can use this for posting videos and messages to your audience. It also offers a shop facility where people can hire services with you Join local communities and groups interested in cosmetics, such as manicures and pedicures Pay for highly targeted promotions, targeted at people who are likely to want to use your business For Google and SEO, you’ll need to set up a Google My Business account. This service ensures that the search giant displays your business in Maps results, along with your website link, opening times, review rating, and branding images. It’s one of the best ways to boost your position in search results.  Further Reading 30 Essential Customer Retention and Brand Loyalty Statistics Ladies Who Lead - 35+ Amazing Women in Business Statistics Conclusion Opening a nail salon can be a lot of fun. However, it also requires a business mind and strategic thinking. Ultimately, the goal is to generate an income for yourself that allows you to give up your regular day job.  Getting to the point where you can manage your own shop takes a few months, but if you follow the right strategy, you can attract clients who keep coming back for more and create a lucrative business.
By Julija A. · March 21,2022

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