Visual merchandising 101 

AcknowledgementHumayun Khan, content crafter at Shopify 

When you’re diving into the world of retail either through a pop-up shop or your own boutique retail store, one of the key sales metrics you’re going to want to focus on is “sales per square footage, which is the average revenue a retail business generates for every square foot of sales space. 
Essentially, your “retail space” has to be your most productive and most efficient salesperson, and how you go about optimising your sales space for maximum revenue is to employ the art and science of visual merchandising.  
The word “visual” may cause a few grimaces; people think that they’re not creative, artistic, or stylish enough to make a retail space look good enough to lure customers in and persuade them to hand over their money for products.  

Yes, the discipline requires a sense of aesthetic – but remember that it’s also a science, which means that it’s a tried and true method that has been studied with results to show for it, results that you can replicate and recreate for your own store.  

However, it’s also important to recognise that the field of visual merchandising encompasses a lot of distinctive retail design topics and covers everything from creating the window display a prospective customer first sees, to the signage you put up and the layout you decide on to direct your traffic and a whole lot more. 

Begin with your target customer in mind
Knowing your target customer inside and out will help you tremendously when it comes creating effective merchandising displays. I’m not just talking about being familiar with demographic data like their age, income, and education level, but digging a little deeper into their psychographics and behaviours. In other words, target not just individual customers but their lifestyles too.

Find some inspiration
Thanks to the Internet you no longer have to wait around for that brilliant idea to hit you when you’re thinking about putting together your next merchandising display. Instead, there are a number of invaluable resources available in the form of blogs and boards on Pinterest.
It can be really easy to focus on just creating visually stimulating displays and forget about the other four senses, but the secret to creating an engaging and immersive experience is to create a multi-sensory experience or what’s known in the industry as “sensory branding. 
Let’s take a closer look at how you could go about doing just that: 

  • Sight – there is an endless array of visual cues you can play around with to communicate your message. From using colours for their psychological triggers, to leveraging lighting, symmetry, balance, contrast and focus to direct and control where a customer looks and for how long, it’s one of the most fascinating components of merchandising.  
  • Sound – the music you play in your store has such a profound yet subtle effect on how your customers behave. Depending on who you’re trying to target and bring in, you can slow people down by playing more mellow music and causing them to browse, or playing Top 40 to communicate that you want teenagers in your store 
  • Touch – this one’s probably the easiest to get right in that you need to simply remember to put your best foot forward and give customers the ability to touch, feel, and try out whatever it is you’re looking to sell.  
  • Smell – believe it or not, there’s an entire science to what’s referred to as “scent marketing, with several studies and real-world case studies of global brands like Samsung, Sony, and Verizon applying it to their advantage. The reason being that smell is considered to be a fast track to the system in your brain that controls both emotion and memory – two very prominent factors behind why we choose one brand over another.
  • Taste – this can work magic if you happen to be in the business of selling consumables, giving people the ability to taste and sample before they buy is the equivalent of letting people try on clothes, a general and effective best practice. 

Show, don’t tell
Before people purchase something they typically want an idea of what it will look and feel like. To accommodate this need you can set up your merchandise display in a way people identify with and could envision in their own home or on themselves. 
For example, the sales floor in furniture stores are set-up with displays that make it easy for people to envision how the same products could be set-up in their own homes, or kitchenware stores having their merchandise displayed like how it might look in a given kitchen and so on. 
Another prominent way apparel retailers do this is by creating policies that require their sales staff to wear the clothing they’re selling. And of course, the most tried and true example of this would be the mannequin, who you could style according to your latest releases and style. 
This tactic gives prospective customers an immediate point of reference and as soon as they can envision your product on themselves or in their homes, you can consider it as good as sold. 

Group like with like
Grouping like products with like products will give your customers additional reasons to buy more items from you, but it also has a more utilitarian reasoning behind it, namely saving them time from looking around and trying to mix and match things. 
It’s one of the reasons grocery stores will put dips right beside their chips, or peanut butter with jams. 
You can also think of it as creating categories, but you don’t need to limit your creativity there, you can also create “groupings” within categories. That means having merchandise that might be the same colour, price, size, or type together. 

The rule of three
In creating displays, most visual merchandisers will often refer to the rule of three, which means that when creating a display, try to work in sets of three. This means that based on how you’re arranging your products, you’ll want to have three of them side by side, instead of just one. For example, if you were arranging things by height, you’d have items that were short, medium, and tall.  

The reason behind this thinking is that our eyes are most likely to keep moving and looking around when we’re looking at something asymmetrical, because when we see some symmetrical or balanced they stop dead in their track. 
This also alludes to the “Pyramid Principle, where if you have one item at the top and all other items “one step down”, it forces the eye to look at the focal point and then work its way down. 

Use light to dictate mood and attention 
This ties into engaging your customer’s senses and guiding them to experience different moods and emotions based on your store’s lighting. Whether they feel like they’re in a nightclub, a fashion runway, or right at home will depend largely on how you decide to use lighting. 
Using spotlights to highlight certain products is also a sure-fire way to direct attention and make sure people pay attention to your top products.   

Change it up
Remember that when trying to optimise your square footage for the most sales, a scientific approach of formulating a hypothesis, executing on your idea, and then testing for results will put you in the routine of trying out new ideas and sticking with what works.  
With these tips in mind, go out and give them a shot on one of your merchandising display to see for yourself how you can increase sales through the way you display your products and create a more engaging experience. 

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