Visual merchandising is the practice of displaying products to help customers find what they want and encourage larger purchases. Far more than simply setting up shelves, visual merchandising helps you find the optimal store layout, and determine exactly where to place products.
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What is Visual Merchandising?
Visual merchandising is the process of designing your floor layout, shelving layout and product displays to maximize sales and give customers an exciting shopping experience. Visual merchandising as a science explains how customers behave in a store, and thus, how your placement of products can provide them with the optimal shopping experience.
Here are the main goals you should keep in mind when thinking through how to merchandise your store.
- Brand Image – What’s your brand? Make sure that when customers walk in your store, they know they are in the right spot.
- Influence Customer Purchasing Habits – Correct shelf layout and product placement leads customers through all the areas of your store where the money making items live. By practicing this concept you’ll sway customers to purchase 4 items when they only came in for 2.
Keeping these two things in mind will allow you to come up with a floor layout and associated product merchandising plan to maximize your store’s full sales potential.
Now, let’s discuss how to get this all accomplished.
Floor Layouts and Aisle Spacing
Having a good floor layout will ensure that you can place all your products in locations that give the highest change for a sale. Customers should notice how easy it is to move and shop your store without ever having to take their eyes off the store shelves.
As you’re planning where you want your products to be displayed in your store, it’s important to know your type of store layout. Store layout refers to how your shelving is placed throughout your store so that your items are easily shopped and customer traffic flows to the items that make you the most profit.
There are three primary layouts and designs you might be using and it’s important to know a little about each as they will determine how you plan your product placement. To learn more about store layouts, read our article on planning your store layout.
1. Straight Store Layout
This layout gives you the maximum floor space to display merchandise and brings the customers to clearly defined focal points. This floor plan is typically used by supermarkets convenience stores, and dollar stores.
Notice how you are drawn to the what’s at the end of the aisle. These are called endcaps. We will talk about what types of products should be placed in these locations just a little later.
2. Angular Store Layout
Sometimes also called a “mixed” floor plan, an angular design uses a mix of display types. This floor plan takes up more room but tends to be more visually pleasing: Every product can be shelved in it’s optimal style and with proper light. The angular layout is typically used in jewelry stores, clothing stores and other boutiques.
3. Loop Floor Plan
A loop floor plan also uses a combination of display units. The difference is that shelving is setup to form a pathway for visitors to travel – typically in a “loop” through your store.
Loop floor plans take up more space than straight and angular layouts, but they typically provide the best visibility of your products.
Remember, you can’t make any of these floor plans work for you if you don’t have the right fixtures and shelving. Find out what you need by checking out this article on how to plan your store layout.
Product and Merchandise Display Planning
Now that you have an understanding of the floor plan you want to use, it’s time to start planning how you want to place your products. It’s important to spend plenty of time planning your product placement because when done properly, your customers will most always pick up an extra thing or two on the way to grab what they really need. They’ll also find it easier to locate the products they want to purchase.
Here are a few general merchandising points that apply to most small businesses, no matter what type of floor plan you choose:
1. Put the most consumable products at the back of the store
This will force customers to walk past all the prime merchandising areas on their way to pick up milk, toilet paper, or bread. You’ll find that customers will always pick up an extra item or two that they forgot about or didn’t realize they needed along the way.
2. Line the path to the back of the store with high margin items
Place high markup items and floor displays, like the one below, along the way to those high volume items in the back of your store.
The toilet paper in this example has a particularly high sales markup percentage. It’s a perfect reminder to customers that they forgot something, or they are about to run out of home and should get more. This translates into extra sales for your business.
3. Put seasonal merchandise and smaller high margin items at the front of your store.
Keep these displays in the fronts of your stores throughout their particular season. You don’t want to be stuck with out of season stock that you have to markdown to sell.
Worse, you could get stuck with it and have to throw it all away, so give it the best chance to sell by keeping it in the front of your store.
If you don’t have enough seasonal merchandise, then place smaller high margin items like gum, candy, or accessories at the front. This is where impulse buys are likely to occur.
4. Put general merchandise and groceries on separate sides of the store
It allows customers to become familiar with where products are located in your store, and keeps things looking consistent. You might consider organizing your store into departments and categories so that customers can become familiar with where to find product in your store.
For more on how to create a department structure, check out our article on how to create SKU numbers, where you’ll find ideas on how to make departments for your store and much more.
5. Customers always turn right when entering
The right side of a store after the entrance is the most common direction that customers turn, so it’s some of the most prime merchandising space you have to utilize. ALWAYS make sure to place high margin, high consumable items in these spots.
This area, known as the “power wall,” is also where you make the strongest statement about your brand. Choose items that are the most appealing (not necessarily the most popular) and encourage visitors to venture further inside.
6. Never place high theft items at the back of your store
The back of your store is typically the easiest location for theft to occur because it’s the most concealed part of your store. Keep high theft items like cosmetics and hair accessories stocked near cash registers and areas that are easily viewed from multiple points of your store. Also, make sure you have a clear view to the back of the store or security cameras.
Visual Merchandising Tips for a Market/Retail Store
If you have a grocery or general merchandise store, here’s some additional tips on how to display your merchandise:
- Categorize your products by aisles or groups of aisles, meaning you should have departments throughout your store for a consistent look and feel.
- Place high margin items at the front of your store. These include things like:
- Sunglasses displays
- Back to school items
- Sodas and candy bars
- Batteries and small electronics
- Place consumables and everyday goods at the back of your store. Everyone needs paper towels, toilet paper, and ziploc bags. Placing these high volume items at the back of your store allows customers to eye other products as they walk to the back, giving you a better chance to get extra sales.
- Place seasonal items on the ends of interior aisles and also to the right side of your store. Try to mix or “cross merchandise” multiple high margin and seasonal items together like in the picture below, to maximize sales.
Back to an earlier point about seasonal merchandising, notice that these items are all breakfast related items geared towards the fall and winter season. Great items to merchandise together because when we drink coffee or hot chocolate we usually eat breakfast, and there is nothing more highly marked up than a good old fashioned box of cereal.
Visual Merchandising for a Jewelry Store
In a jewelry store setting, the same concept applies of drawing customer to your most high margin items.
Typically, jewelry stores use display cases in the main part of the floor to showcase necklaces, watches and bracelets, and usually gemstones. This is because in most cases, customers are going to shop for diamonds, which are always in the back parts of jewelry stores, drawing you past all the rubies, sapphires, and gold.
It’s the same concept of putting the most sought after and high volume items in the back. It draws customers past all the high margin jewelry like necklaces, bracelets, giving you a chance at an extra sale. It’s also a free flowing layout to help keep an eye on customers by allowing for good visibility of what’s happening in the store.
Some jewelry stores also use top-of-counter displays to showcase lower priced jewelry and items that bring higher margins. Then, more expensive pieces are placed in the case underneath them.
Another important point to consider when merchandising items in jewelry stores is lighting. Make sure that you are using the proper lighting to enhance your products, both inside and outside of the display cases. To learn more on how to set store lighting, check out our article on retail store lighting.
Visual Merchandising for a Boutique
A boutique or apparel store should be set up to let customers openly browse through your store while drawing them to higher margin brands. These stores are generally a mixture of angular and straight floor plans.
Here are some important points to keep in mind when placing products in a boutique setting:
- Organize sales floor by brands – Have a plan for what brands you want in the front of the store and which you want in the back of the store.
- Well known brands to the back of the store – Use famous brands like Ralph Lauren or Dior to draw customers through all the other lesser known higher margin brands, giving them a chance to catch someone’s eye and increase sales.
- Lightest/Brightest colors to darkest colors – Always display clothing from lightest colors to darkest colors for optimum visual appeal.
- Arrange with smallest sizes in the front – After you have the colors arranged, then arrange each by size from smallest to largest. An example of this would be hanging gray, blue, and black jeans on a rack. You would start with the gray jeans and hang them smallest to largest, then move to the blue jeans and so on.
- Accessories/Underwear to the back – These are high theft apparel items and need to be kept near the cash registers or fitting stations, where employees are stationed. This will help control the amount of shrink theft of these items can create.
Now let’s talk about the last part of our store to merchandise: the cash register area.
Cash Register Area Merchandising
The cash register area of your store is prime real estate for selling low cost/high margin items that catch customers’ attention right before they leave. You want to fill this area with items like small sodas, candy bars, batteries, sunglasses, socks, hair accessories, and more.
Items you choose to place in this area of your store need to bring in at least 50% markup. They also need to placed in a manner that does not interrupt the customers’ checkout experiences, so try not to over-merchandise the desk itself. Customers need to have enough room to put at least 10 items on the counter at one time.
Keep these two additional thoughts when designing your checkout area:
- Place cash registers in the front left or front center of your stores – The placement lets you keep a close watch on who’s coming and going. These are also areas where lower margin items are typically placed, so you are not losing valuable sales floor space where high ticket items can be placed.
- What type of material to use for checkout counter – If you are a jewelry store, I recommend using a sturdy glass counter. This will allow you to merchandise high ticket jewelry at the very last place customers stop in your store.
If you are a general retail store or boutique, then I recommend using a hard wood or metal to make your counters. You are going to need something with weight to support the amounts and types of items you’ll be ringing up. Check out this article on cash wraps and how to buy them.
Store Design Software and Store Planning Companies
Now you have all the information you need to plan out your store layout and display your products. There are three tools to help you with the planning process:
- Do it yourself in a spreadsheet – If you’re handy with Excel or Google Sheets, you can use these free spreadsheet programs to design your store interior. PCMag provides instructions on how to do this.
- Simple layout software – Programs like SmartDraw or FloorPlanner also allow you to design your store interior yourself, but with simpler drag and drop tools. These programs are inexpensive and user-friendly, but don’t give you the high level of detail as the next program: AutoCAD.
- Specialized design software – If you want to create a highly detailed product layout map, then you can purchase specialized software like AutoCAD. The program comes with many templates, and allows you to drill down to individual shelving units. The downside is a high cost ($350 to $750) and learning curve to get started.
- Hire a store planning company – There are design companies that specialize in the space planning and product placement for small business. They are typically expensive ($150 – $200 per hour), so unless you are opening a large store, I would not recommend using this option.
The Bottom Line
Displaying items throughout your store in a way that catches customers’ attention is difficult at best. Remember to keep items consistently grouped throughout your store. Keep high sales volume items that are low theft to the back to ensure customers walk past other high profit items along their journey.