What Is Visual Merchandising? – Importance, Elements, & Examples

Visual merchandising is what one sees when walking into a retail space. It is the presentation and organisation of products in both the store and on display to arouse customer interest and convince them to buy and return to the store.

It is a well-defined strategy that aims to influence customer decisions inside a store; thus, it is crucial for retail marketing.

But what exactly is visual merchanding, why is it important, and how it works? Here’s a guide explaining everything.

What Is Visual Merchandising?

Visual merchandising is a practice of optimising retail store presentation and displaying goods to highlight their features and benefits better and encourage customer interest.

To make this visual merchandising definition simpler, divide it into three parts –

  • It’s a practice of optimising retail store presentation: Visual merchandising is an intentional practice to optimise the space and layout of the store to present the inventory in the best possible way. 
  • It focuses on highlighting product’s features and benefits: Marketers plan, design, and display products with an aim to highlight their features and benefits.
  • It aims to encourage customer interest: Visual merchandising aims to influence customers and encourage them to purchase goods and return to the store in the future.

Visual merchandising is an important aspect of retail marketing. It does not only include displays for merchandise on display but also includes store layout, greeter design, floor plan, signage, fixtures, and lighting.

It includes shaping customer experience inside a retail space through presentation and advertising. Therefore, it is an important tool that retail marketers use to influence consumer behaviour and thus fulfil their marketing goals – sales and repeat visits.

Importance Of Visual Merchandising

A good looking and well strategised retail space is essential to meeting a business’s sales and marketing goals. Visual merchandising helps retailers –

  • Improve customer experience: Customer experience is vital to running a successful business and visual merchandising is a very important part of it. It helps to organise the retail space and help customers find what they’re looking for easily – thus improving their experience while shopping in your store. Moreover, it helps to attract, engage, and inform customers better with carefully designed displays.
  • Sell targeted items: Some items bring in more profits than others, and sellers want to sell more of these. Visual merchandising helps highlight these targeted items and thus help sell them more.
  • Influence Buyer decisions: Visual merchandising also involves using neuromarketing techniques to influence buyers’ decisions by appealing to their unconscious minds. This involves strategic product placement (profitable items are kept at the eye level), store paint (to set the mood), fragrance (to make you want more), and music (to influence you subconsciously).
  • Meet sales goals: Visual merchandising is the salesperson that persuades the customer to purchase intended products subconsciously. Marketers do this by strategically placing profitable items, making them noticeable and tempting people to buy them.
  • Market retail stores: A memorable store is what stands out in the crowd of boring retail stores. Visual merchandising aims to make the store stand out and find a place in the customers’ minds. This is done by using visual cues, positioning, and aesthetics, making them stop and look and, sometimes, even take photos or spread the word organically.

Objectives Of Visual Merchandising

Customers enter a store by seeing two things – the brand and the store design. Visual merchandising aims to influence customers by directing their attention towards the store and then to certain areas inside the store, creating a positive first impression.

Besides bringing in more customers, the process of visual merchandising aims to –

  • Creating a good customer experience,
  • Make the retail space visitor engage with space with all the senses (hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste)
  • Increase sales
  • Develop store design to target the right audience
  • Use store resources to get the most out of marketing ROI
  • Give a reason to customers to come back
  • Make the most out of promotional space.

Elements Of Visual Merchandising

Visual merchandising involves six distinct elements that work in conjunction to help retailers create a unique experience for shoppers. They are –

Store Layout

It is the organised arrangement of retail space that helps customers find what they’re looking for quickly. It includes store greeter, entry point, focal point, shopping flow, signage, and display fixtures.

  1. Store design: It is the physical look of the store that can be seen by anybody walking into it. It includes vinyl graphics, store fixtures, paint colour themes, lighting sources, and display fixtures.
  2. Interior design: The interior layout of the retail store that customers cannot see from the outside – it involves showroom floor covers, countertops colours, merchandising fixtures.
  3. Merchandise presentation: Product categories that are displayed together (by size or type), linear vs non-linear displays (merchandise arranged in a way that they have a path). It also includes decisions about which type of merchandise is suitable for the location and how to use the space effectively.
  4. Focal Point: A display is incomplete without a focal point where the attention is directed. This can be displays like mannequins, art pieces, themed decorations (like Christmas), lighting fixtures, etc.
  5. Empty Space: There is always a certain amount of empty space in the store to improve the visual appearance, the flow of foot traffic, and breathing room. It is used as an additional display area for merchandise.
  6. Display fixtures: A store fixture is anything installed within the retail space to display items, such as rotating racks, shelves, or tables.
  7. Signage: Store signage helps customers navigate to the right area, locate a product, special offers, and wayfinding. It can be in-store signs at entrances and exits, backroom information boards, shelf edge panels, window decals/signage.
  8. Marketing collaterals/POP displays: Store brochures, price tags, product cards, table-top visuals, floor decals and aisle signs are used to spread the store’s message.
  9. Promotional space: It includes backdrops for events and samples, popcorn machines etc. They can be used to entice customers into the store or encourage them to try something new.
  10. Mannequins: Mannequins are full-scale, detailed figures that are used as life-sized models to display clothing. Besides clothing, they can also be used to display props like jewellery and scarves.
  11. Brand elements: It includes any unique aspect that customers identify with a brand. This can be packaging, logos, or mascot figure that promote the brand and its identity.

Store Ambience

Store ambience creates a sensory experience by using lighting, music, colours or scents, which are all designed to enhance the overall customer experience. The store ambience directly affects other items in visual merchandising – it can change the perception of merchandise based on how customers perceive it. It includes:

  • Colour: It is used to draw attention to certain items, create a mood or theme. Colour is also an important element in retail marketing because it will increase sales if marketers choose a colour that matches their target audience’s colour preferences.
  • Lighting: The right lighting setting changes the ambience of any space. It creates shadows with no visible distractions, gives the merchandise a spotlight, and makes all colours brighter.
  • Music: It can be used to create a positive atmosphere that increases sales because of the moods it arouses. Music also affects shoppers’ emotions – happy music will make shoppers cheerful, so they spend more freely. Sad music makes people feel less energetic, so they don’t spend as much.
  • Scent: It can be used to create a certain mood – it increases the perceived value of products and makes customers more comfortable, relaxed, and willing to make purchases.

Store Narrative

The narrative is the story that the retail space tells. It can be based on the brand’s history and personality, the brand’s theme, the products sold there, or any other popular story that communicates an interesting message. The narrative creates a memorable experience for customers based on how it is presented – every element of visual merchandising has to be reflected in it. It includes:

  • Store Theme: The store’s theme aims to create the mood marketers want their customers to associate with their products. The theme may be displayed through interior design, brand elements, or product selection. For example, a chocolate store may use warm colours, creamy pastel hues, and soft music to promote the ‘chocolate experience’. The store theme may be based on a certain season, event, holiday or trend. The theme will change with the seasons to match the latest fashion trends.
  • Store Atmosphere: It combines store ambience with visual merchandising elements that are used to convey a certain message about the brand or product. For example, lighting can be used to create a calm atmosphere for relaxation, while colours and music can help customers feel energised. Buyers will associate these feelings with the brand or product and come back for more in future purchases.
  • Storytelling: The retail space can be designed to tell a story about the brand’s history, products, theme, or any other idea that matches its business objectives. The narrative is displayed through all visual elements in the store – interior design, product selection, and merchandising methods have to complement it.

Benefits Of A Good Visual Merchandising Strategy

A good visual merchandising strategy may prove to be a game-changer for your business. Here are a few benefits you can get from implementing it –

  • Increases store traffic: Through strategic placement of products and displays, retail marketers attract potential buyers. Once the customer is inside the store, retailers make them wander around and lose themselves in a maze of merchandising displays, all intended to direct their attention towards certain areas. Ikea is a perfect example of a store that makes people travel around the space to find products, creating an exciting and memorable shopping experience.
  • Increases sales: Right placements with complementary visual elements draw buyers’ attention to a certain area. Retailers make sure that the attention is not only drawn to a single product, but also to related products or complementary items. The process of making people wander around in a store also encourages them to discover new things and be open for impulse buying – whether it is an extra item they had not planned on purchasing or bought because it was on sale. All this leads to more sales.
  • Leads to more repeat customers: A good store narrative is a great way to retain customers because the experience they get from it will be memorable and unique. They will associate that experience with your brand or product and become more likely to choose them again in future purchases.
  • Aids retail store marketing: Sometimes, good visual merchandising leads to word of mouth marketing – customers will recommend your store to their friends because of the shopping experience they had. The narrative you’ve created for them has become unforgettable, making it easier to market to past and future customers. The store can also get organic Instagram and Pinterest exposure for free, which is essential in the age of social media.

Visual Merchandising Examples

Visual merchandising can be seen at every retail store. The idea is to grab the attention of potential customers through strategic placement of products and visual elements, so they are drawn to certain areas in the store. Here are a few examples of visually merchandised stores –

IKEA

IKEA is a great example of a company that uses visual merchandising to create a memorable shopping experience. The products are displayed in a way that makes people wander around the store, discover new things and be open to buying an extra product or two – all this leads to more impulse purchases. Ikea also does storytelling through its interior design, choosing colours and furniture styles that reflect the brand’s theme or idea.

IKEA visual merchandising
Source: Kimberly Madeya

The company also has a well-established online presence that attracts buyers with attractive merchandising displays. The icons in the main categories are presented in a neat grid.

IKEA visual merchandising

Zara

Zara is a perfect example of a company that does storytelling with its visual merchandising. The clothing and accessories displayed in the store tell stories about certain themes or characters, like this one:

Zara visual merchandising

The brand also employs a full-time team of architects and visual-merchandising experts to make sure Zara stores not only have the perfect narrative, ambience, and layout but that they have almost identical scenes all over the world.

The store plan is placed in the middle of the store. The products are displayed at the end of long aisles that make you walk around in them, increasing your chances to discover other items that might interest you.

Zara store plan

The brand uses a wall-mounted display rack in all its stores, showcasing a complete outfit. This interactive feature has become popular among shoppers, who share photos of themselves in Zara outfits on social media.

Zara store display

Zara also uses complementary colours and lighting effects to direct attention towards certain areas in the store.

Bottom-Line?

Visual merchandising is a key marketing tool that can make or break a retail store. It helps marketers connect with customers, create a memorable experience for them, market to past and future customers, and increase sales. It should be an integral part of every retail marketing plan.

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What Is Visual Merchandising? - Importance, Elements, & Examples

by Aashish Pahwa