16 Tips for Creating Stunning Store Window Displays
This article is part of a larger series on Retail Management.
A store window display is the scene you create in your exterior facing windows and one of the most powerful elements in your merchandising arsenal. Your window displays are an instrument for bringing in new and existing customers, displaying new products, highlighting promotions, and enhancing your brand image.
Creating window displays will be a major part of starting your retail store, and this guide will give you the tools to design something that will pack a punch and help you grow. Here are our top 16 tips for creating a retail window display that wows.
1. Stick to a Story or Theme
To begin creating your window display, it is best to determine a story or theme that you want it to embody. Having a set story will make your window display cohesive and understandable to customers and guide your own creation process.
An article from Forbes discusses the importance of storytelling in branding and merchandising and the way it appeals to customers. “In this [tech-driven] environment, businesses can no longer afford to be faceless entities. To survive, businesses need to connect with audiences, pull at their heartstrings, and engage with them on a much deeper level than seen before. That’s where brand storytelling comes in.”
In the image below, the theme in this retail’s window display is a woodland party, complete with forest critters dressed in their best garb. By creating a thematic scene in its window display, this retailer is able to engage audiences, add an artful element, and create interest around the products it showcases.
A helpful tip for deciding on a story is to start with a theme and then move into something more specific from there. For example, say your theme is travel. From there, your story could be a tropical cruise or a ski lodge retreat. Or say your theme is Halloween, then you move to something like trick or treating or a seance.
2. Evoke Emotions With Color
Color has strong psychological effects on human perception, so the palette you choose will elicit specific reactions. For example, red triggers feelings of excitement, passion, danger, energy, and action, so a red palette would work well in window displays that are conveying stories about love, exercise, or excitement.
Meanwhile, green is associated with peace, growth, and healing and would be better suited for window displays telling stories of vacation or nature. Reference the color wheel below for more on the sentiments invoked by different colors and hues.
When choosing your palette, you should not only consider the emotional responses you want to create with your color choices, but limit the number of colors in your palette. Too many colors will create a sense of chaos and disorder and can blur your story. I recommend sticking to two or three colors in your display to avoid creating confusion.
You can, however, create more colorful displays by sticking to a color family (say, reds, pinks, and purples), by maintaining a consistent color tone (think pastels or primary colors), or by using many different shades of the same color (maybe teal, hunter green, and olive). The key is cohesiveness, so you want to be sure that the colors you choose work well together and do not clash and create a sense of disarray.
3. Know Your Target Audience
For your window display to be effective at enticing customers, you have to know who you are directing your displays to—your target audience.
At my boutique, we sold modern bohemian-style clothing at a relatively low price point. We knew we were not going to appeal to shoppers going for luxury labels. Instead, we catered our message to women aged 18–45 with more laid-back lifestyles and clothing tastes. This meant displaying scenes of park strolls or casual brunches in our window displays as we knew that those stories would be more appealing to the women who would actually shop in our store.
To determine your target audience, you will first want to observe who shops at your store and then consider what other groups would be interested in your products. The Home Depot, for example, has gone so far as to name the target market the DIYers, or do-it-yourselfers, those who take on home improvement projects themselves.
Then, you will want to think about the types of displays that would appeal to that group. In the case of The Home Depot, its target audience is people who are willing to get down and dirty to get a job done. All of its messaging, then, focuses on depicting scenes of weekend landscaping projects or bathroom renovations, and the sense of personal satisfaction that comes with doing those jobs yourself.
4. Stay on Brand
You want to be sure that your store window display speaks to your brand. This will ensure that the impression your display leaves is in line with what your business stands for and that people have a good idea of what to expect from your store. This will also help you hone in on your target audience, as your brand voice will speak to those interested in your offerings.
Additionally, if your display is incongruous with your brand, it will seem misleading to customers and make them distrustful of your business. Going back to my bohemian-style clothing store, suppose our window displays featured mannequins carrying designer handbags and enjoying tea at a fancy table setting. This would not only deter our target audience but also create a false impression of what we offer. Customers would be confused and likely annoyed by the misleading window displays and would not want to visit again.
Consider your brand, what it stands for, and how you can reflect this in your store window displays. This will ensure that you are attracting the right customers and are not being misleading.
5. Keep It Simple
While you want your display to be exciting and draw people’s attention, displaying too much in your window is likely to overwhelm and even deter passersby. Don’t try to do too much in your display or you’ll just end up with something busy and unfocused.
For this point, I like to follow a rule of three:
- First, you should have a subject, or the main focus of the display
- Second, a background, or the backdrop for the display
- Third, accessory items, or supporting pieces that add depth
You can choose to use all three of these elements, or you can stop after the first or second. You should never, however, have more than one subject. Otherwise, the display loses focus and becomes too busy.
Let’s look at an example. In this display below, the subject is the figure, outfitted in winter gear. The backdrop is the winter forest landscape and lights. And, the accessories are the firewood and bird figure. By sticking to the rule of three, this window display creates interest and intrigue without cluttering the space.
6. Position Your Focal Point
Your focal point is the subject of your window display and the aspect of your display that customers will first notice and pay the most attention to. The rest of your display—from your background to accent pieces—are built around this point, so be sure you are placing it wisely and making it bold enough to carry visual weight.
The most important part of placing your focal point will be making sure that it is at eye level for people passing by. This will not only ensure that your focal point is seen and appreciated but will also promote window shopping.
To figure out the best positioning, put yourself in the shoes of your customers and take a step outside your store to see exactly where eye level falls. As you place your focal point, you will want to continue to monitor how it looks from the outside and play with the best positioning for packing a visual punch.
7. Take Inspiration From Others
If you find yourself stuck at any point in the process of creating your store window displays, some of the best inspiration you can find comes from your neighbors and competitors. Take a walk around your block or your closest mall, and look at what others are doing.
Pay attention to what captures your attention. What elements are most exciting to your eye? It might be a light display, window decals, or an elaborate scene. You can also observe the displays that are attracting other shoppers. Pay attention to what stores people are drawn to and what displays are translating to increased foot traffic.
One final tip—look at the merchandising leaders in your industry and take notes on what they are doing to make themselves stand out. Large corporate retailers have massive budgets and research departments dedicated to guiding their merchandising decisions, so look to them to see what the best strategies are for creating effective store window displays.
8. Consider the Season
You want to ensure that your window displays are timely and make sense with the current season or holiday. This will help your window’s story seem relevant to your shoppers and let them know that you are prepared with seasonally appropriate merchandise. It is also a great opportunity for you to capitalize on seasonal buying potential, like during the winter holiday season.
Did you know?
Over the last five years, according to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales made up an average of 19% of annual sales. In fact, 2021 holiday retail sales hit an all-time high of $886.7 billion in the US.
Use your window displays to advertise any relevant holidays, as well as seasonal merchandise. Seasonal window displays are a great opportunity to advertise products that will only be available during the season in question, so you aren’t left with extras.
For example, I am sure you have seen pictures of New York City department stores during the holiday season and the elaborate displays they create to evoke feelings of holiday cheer and promote holiday shopping. These displays are over the top for a reason. During the holiday season, there are huge profits to be made, and an elaborate window display will help you capitalize on those sales.
9. Use Adequate Lighting
Lighting can evoke an ambiance, highlight products, and create a dramatic setting for your store window display. Being strategic with lighting can pay dividends in directing onlookers’ eyes to where you want them and attracting attention to your display.
Consider using spotlights to create a dramatic lighting scheme around your focal point. You might also want to play with contrast or create areas of high and low exposure that will help guide customers’ eyes through your display and draw their attention to key areas.
Remember: Areas of bright lighting will attract the eye, while dimly lit spots will detract attention.
Your window displays are a great place to play with dramatic lighting schemes that may not work in other areas of your store. Use colorful or overly bright lights, or use your lighting as a prop in the display. Be bold with your lighting choices and watch the eyes (and foot traffic) follow.
Want to learn more about lighting your retail store? Check out our comprehensive guide on creating your store lighting plan.
10. Build Out Your Display by Creating Depth
In addition to the focal point, you want additional elements in your display to create depth. This includes a backdrop, props, or even interactive components. These features will help make your window more interesting to onlookers, promote greater engagement with your display, and ultimately drive more people into your store.
When assembling the different parts of your display, you will want to be sure you are creating balance. An unbalanced display will be displeasing to the eye, whereas one that is harmonious will be pleasing and make it easier for your story or emotional intent to translate to customers.
One tip is to place darker and heavier items near the bottom of your display and lighter and more colorful elements near the top. This will prevent your display from feeling top-heavy and will help draw the eye up.
Additionally, try to spread out your background elements evenly—do not leave one side full and busy and the other barren. Humans are more inclined to look at scenes that are symmetrical, as symmetrical objects and images are recognized more easily and mimic the world around us.
The best way to ensure you are achieving balance and a sense of symmetry in your display is to take a step outside and take a bird’s-eye view of what you are creating.
11. Limit the Number of Highlighted Products
It can be tempting to fill your display with all your best products so you can showcase as much as possible. At the end of the day, this strategy will drive eyes away from your display and can even leave the impression that your brand is cluttered and disorganized.
As a rule of thumb, it is best to choose one or two products or sets of products to highlight when creating your display. From there, seek to fill the rest of the space with decorative elements. This will create a spotlight on the featured products, and the decorative elements will promote visual engagement.
Another tip is to take a look at your display once it is assembled and ask yourself whether there is anything you can remove that would not take away from the overall impression. This will help you parse out unnecessary and distracting elements. Don’t be afraid of minimalism—sometimes it’s all you need to create something stunning.
12. Incorporate Interactive Elements
One of the best ways to promote engagement with your window display (and thus drive foot traffic) is through interactive elements. This might look like a QR code that people can scan to sign up for your emails, a screen-printed social media handle on the outside of your window, videos that customers can scroll through, or even augmented reality technologies.
For example, the home goods brand Clas Ohlson installed large screens in its store windows that customers could control with their phones. People could scroll through its product catalogs, see the latest deals, and even make purchases right there. Because its display was so innovative, it was able to attract new customers and create relationships with shoppers who didn’t even step foot in its store.
13. Change Your Displays Frequently
As a rule of thumb, update your window displays at least every six to eight weeks. This will ensure it stays timely and up to date with the seasons, continuing to engage repeat customers. Additionally, as we covered before, you should update your windows for pertinent holidays to capitalize on seasonal buying potential.
When evaluating how often to change your window displays, consider the frequency with which people are visiting your store. Retailers that see more frequent visits from shoppers—like convenience stores, grocers, and fast fashion shops—should consider changing their window displays more often.
If you are changing your window displays more frequently, this can look like weekly refreshes and biweekly overhauls. You do not have to do a complete revamp every time, but strive to keep things fresh so that customers always have something new to catch their eyes and strike interest.
14. Invest in Versatile Props
Window displays do not have to be overly costly, and one of the best ways to save money is to invest in props that can be used over and over again in different ways. For example, clothing retailers often invest in mannequins because they can put them into different outfits and use them in many different ways without any need for replacements.
Additional props to consider investing in are product stands, display screens, LED lights with color customization, pin boards or wall hangings, and large images that you can rotate in and out.
15. Continually Analyze Performance
Once your story is told and all the elements are in place, it is time to review your display and admire your handiwork. This is not, however, the end of your window display journey. You should continue to update your display and monitor its performance to keep customers engaged.
When you are analyzing how well your window display is performing, the main thing that you will want to look at is foot traffic. To start, you will want to track the number of people who enter your store before and after your display is installed. Then, you can track how that traffic increases or decreases as you try different display methods to determine which strategies are most effective.
Foot traffic counting methods include the manual click counter and infrared sensors. For the manual counter, you or an associate tracks the number of people who visit your store by clicking a button every time someone comes inside. Then, you use the hourly and daily tallies to determine if traffic has increased. Uline offers a great handheld option for manual tally tracking.
For an automated option, you can use people counter sensors. These sensors electronically track whenever someone passes through your entryway and transmit the tallies to your computer or point-of-sale (POS) system. Dōr is a popular people counting sensor for retailers.
Want to learn more about tracking foot traffic in your retail store? Check out our guide on how to measure foot traffic and drive sales.
16. Compete With Your Neighbors
If your store is in a large shopping center or around other shops, you are competing for attention with your neighbors. Say you decide to set your store window up with a few subdued mannequins and minimal decor, but your neighbors have chosen to go with a brightly lit display with interactive features and bright colors. In this scenario, your window display would fall into the background, and customers’ eyes would be too distracted by your neighbors to notice your store.
To avoid this issue and ensure you are the one catching eyes, you will want to walk around your neighborhood and take inventory of your competitors. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your customers. Would your display catch your eyes, or would another storefront be more enticing? Seek to be the best display on your street to capitalize on your local foot traffic.
Store window displays are one of the most important parts of your business. They are the first impression you give to customers, tell a story of who you are, and have the power to drive foot traffic, and ultimately, sales. Setting up your window display does not have to be intimidating, and you can make an effective display by focusing on the best practices outlined above.
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