Visual merchandising is the practice of displaying your product and organizing your store to drive sales and provide a stimulating and enjoyable shopping experience. It’s a crucial aspect of shaping customer experience, driving sales, and defining your brand. In this article, we will outline the 14 most important visual merchandising techniques and how implementing them can impact your business.
1. Create a Cohesive Visual Experience Using Color
Color helps create a cohesive visual experience in your shop. You can use a color scheme to tell your customers a story and attract them into your space, bringing life to your storefront. Adding color to your space is an essential part of your visual merchandising process and should speak to your brand, sales, and business goals.
When considering what colors you want to use for your store, selecting a palette will be your first step. You will want to limit the number of colors you work with in order to create a harmonious visual experience for your customers.
The palette you choose should match your brand, as well as your sales objectives. For example, let’s say you are a pet supply store, and you want your brand to be family-friendly and evoke images of animals and nature. You might want to stick with earth tones and greens, as these hues elicit associations with nature and comfort.
Another example of the power of color is Menchies, a small yogurt shop. It selected a bright and vibrant palette, giving its entire space an energized feel. Additionally, it utilized colors in the red and green families. Red tones because they’re associated with food, and can even stimulate hunger; and green tones because they are associated with relaxation, calm, and nature. The color merchandising choices that Menchies made not only create a cohesive and visually appealing storefront, but also promote its brand image and sales goals. Learn more about how specific color palettes impact customer response.
2. Draw Attention to Merchandise and Set Ambiance With Lighting
A lighting scheme is a crucial element for making your space complete. Your lighting choices will create an atmosphere and can help define the mood that you want your store, and by extension your brand, to inspire.
When creating your lighting scheme, keep these rules in mind:
- Be sure that your lighting works to light up your entire space. No corner should be unlit, as anything with low visibility will deter buyers.
- Make sure the lighting you select creates the mood that you want for your space and matches the type of business you are.
For example, a spa might want to create a mellow and calm mood, so it would choose sparse warm lighting for its space.
A medical supply store, on the other hand, might want to choose brighter and cooler lighting to maximize visibility and contribute to a more energized and sterile atmosphere.
In addition to keeping things lit and creating an ambiance for your space, smart lighting design can be used to highlight or draw attention away from certain products. Shining a light on an item that you want your customers to see, will help you to draw customers to that product, and drive sales. Conversely, if you have older product that you don’t want to draw specific attention to, you can use lower lighting to direct customers’ eyes elsewhere.
You can also use lighting to create bright visual displays that will catch your customers’ eyes. A lighting display works especially well as a business facade, as it will pack a visual punch, and offer a great opportunity to create an exclusively visual, as opposed to a shoppable display.
Design a lighting plan that not only keeps your store lit and visible, but also sets the mood you want, draws attention to the products you want your customers to see, and makes a statement.
3. Use Signage to Direct and Inform Customers
Effective signage can highlight products or features, guide your customers to specific items, or share information with your shoppers. It plays a significant role in defining what your customers see, interact with, and how they understand your store.
Choosing signage will come down to determining the goals of your signs. Are you using them to advertise deals? To spotlight certain product features? To give your store personality? Figuring out what you want your signs to accomplish, and how you want them to look before you start printing will save you both time and money.
In addition to determining your signage goals and look, there are a few major do’s and don’ts when it comes to designing and placing your signs.
Keep it concise and informative
Clutter with nonessential information
Create a call to action
Leave unanswered questions
Draw the eye and keep visible
Place low to the ground, out of the line of sight
Either inform, persuade, or promote
Use purposeless signage to fill space
Signage is also essential for your store’s exterior. Outside signs are a great opportunity to advertise deals, tell people about your business, or even share a piece of art, setting the tone, all before anyone even comes inside.
Exterior displays are all about capturing people’s attention and intrigue, and will often be the boldest visual display in your entire storefront. Think of your exterior signage as the greeting your business is giving out into the world. Is it inviting enough to beckon the passerby inside?
Folding sidewalk and lit window signs are great examples of eye-catching signage that work great for exterior displays. They are especially effective if your store is located close to competitors or off the beaten path, as they will make your store stand out to customers who might otherwise have passed over you. Both folding sidewalk signs and lit window signs also indicate to customers that you are open for business, and draw people toward your entrance during off-hours or holidays.
4. Highlight Products With Point of Purchase Displays (POP)
Point of purchase displays are temporary digital or physical displays located around products that you want to draw attention to or advertise. They can promote product features, showcase deals, or draw attention to a, particularly exciting item. Think of your POP displays as one-dimensional employees—while they are confined to one product area, they are the expert and key salesperson for that product, and they will help you sell that product faster and easier.
Did You Know?
Eight out of 10 shoppers make most impulse buys inside a retail store. POP displays are a great way to inspire the customer to purchase something they may not have thought of when they entered the store.
When choosing the POP displays that are best for your business, you will want to think about what your best products are, or what items have exciting features that you think your customers will love. Figuring out just what those pieces are comes down to merchandising science–or the use of analysis to drive your merchandising decisions. Using sales data, monitoring what items are moving, and what items need a push are all a part of merchandising science. You can use this type of information to make informed, numbers-driven decisions about how to implement the most effective merchandising strategies in your store. This article goes into more detail about merchandising science, and how you can use it in your business.
In addition to determining what products you want your POP displays to highlight, you will also want to think about exactly what you want your POP displays to look like. The possibilities here are endless, but the POP aesthetic that you choose should be eye-catching and draw customers in, and should also speak to your brand voice and fit into the rest of your store.
Did You Know?
Most people have an attention span of eight seconds. Some 65% of people learn about something visually and showing visuals can help a customer retain the information by 42%. (Source: Intelligence Node)
For more information on how POP displays can work for you as well as other pop-up display options, check out our article on different display options.
POP displays should also be incorporated into your store layout. They are great for breaking up clutter in high product volume areas, filling open space, and guiding customers through your store. Think about what areas of your store have monotonous shelving or little diversity in product. These might be great places to feature POP displays to help create visual interest and break up repetitive visual areas. For more on setting up your store layout, check out our guide to creating your store layout.
POP displays are great merchandising tools for almost any business as they break up monotonous visuals, promote customer engagement, and create visual interest.
5. Guide Customers Through the Store With Focal Points
One of the best ways you can break up your store and help guide customers through your space is by creating focal points. These are specific points of interest that will draw your customers’ eyes and move them toward the things you want them to see.
When considering how you want to place your focal points, and what you want them to be, you will need to think about a few things. First, focal points will draw customers in and will make them engage with that area of your store. You will want to consider what areas of your store you want customers to engage with, avoiding areas that can accommodate less traffic or direct customers out of your store. Additionally, focal points promote your products by making them visually appealing and interesting. You will want to consider what products you want to draw this attention to as well as how you want to display them. Remember, your displays should be engaging, but not distracting—they should fit into the rest of your space without creating an intrusive visual.
While POP displays are a type of focal point, focal points do not necessarily have to be overt ads. They can also be design features that brand your store and create a narrative for your customer. A cluster of mannequins, a piece of wall art, or a table display all act as focal points, and will work to create visual interest and promote customer involvement, without actually creating a new shoppable space.
When considering your own focal points, you will want to figure out the kind you want to create. Will it be an ad or something exclusively aesthetic? Will it be a shoppable display or one to only engage with visually? This will largely come down to how much space you have to give to unshoppable or aesthetic areas, as well as whether you want to create a more overt ad or a display geared toward just visual appeal.
You will also need to think about how your focal points fit into the rest of your store and your brand as a whole. Does this display improve the shopping experience, or does it impede on your space? All in all, you will want to determine the utility of your display as well as how they work with the rest of your merchandising and branding.
6. Play Music to Set the Store Mood
In addition to engaging your customers visually, merchandising is not complete without engaging your shoppers’ auditory sense. Similarly to lighting, the music you select enhances your space’s ambiance and impacts how customers perceive your brand.
There are two major items to consider when selecting music for your store. First, you will want to evaluate the mood you want your music choice to create, and how that speaks to your overall brand. Second, you will want to think about how your music choice aligns with your product, as a strong alignment can drive your sales according to some retail studies.
Music should not be disruptive, and should speak to the way you want customers to feel when experiencing your business—elevator music versus pop is going to evoke very different atmospheres and emotions from your customers. Your music choices can even go so far as to impact how long customers stay in your store and how your staff feels when working there.
Additionally, your music choice can become a sales driver when it aligns with your product. In a study from The Journal of Retailing, psychologists found that music that correlates with your product increases sales. In the example that they used, playing French music in a wine store correlated with higher French wine sales, and lower Italian and American wine sales. In other words, choosing music that speaks to your brand and product will help you create a more pleasant shopping experience, and can even drive your sales.
7. Direct Customer Traffic With Your Store Layout
A store layout refers to how shelving and furniture pieces are arranged in your store and the way that this arrangement impacts traffic flow, customer movement, and shopping experience. How customers move through your space will largely depend on the store layout you choose. Store layout can even affect what customers are drawn to, how long they choose to stay in your store, the sales you are able to acquire, and the story your store is telling.
There are many store layouts that you can choose from, and each one will provide different opportunities for your merchandising. When deciding what layout is best for your store, you will want to consider the volume of product, the space you have, how you want to showcase your merchandise, and traffic flow in your store.
Choosing the best store layout for you will be a defining part of your visual merchandising process. There are many plans to choose from, and each will create different flows and opportunities for your space. For more detailed information and guidance on how to plan your store layout, check out our article on planning your store layout.
Alternatively, download our free 7-step guide for creating a store layout to learn about the types of floor plans and how to design your floor plan.
8. Define Customer Impressions Using Storytelling
At the end of the day, you want your business to tell a story about who you are, what you stand for, and what people can expect from you. Customers crave this narrative—they want to understand and assign meaning to the places they shop. This is where storytelling comes in. Think of your business’s story as the way you would want your customers to describe your store if they were telling a friend about it. For example, if you were starting a gardening store, you might want customers to walk away feeling like they just left a quaint English country garden; or you might want them to feel as though they were leaving luxurious chateau estate. Both of these stories would require different merchandising to make them clear, but, if merchandised effectively, would leave customers with a clear picture of who you are and the story you are telling.
- Choose a story that fits your products and appeals to the consumer
- Think of ways to tell that story through our visual merchandising tools such as color, music, and displays
- Your space should match your story
Example: If you decided to create the English garden story, you would want to ensure that everything—from the music, to the lighting, to the decor—fits into this narrative. If you walked into this garden store and they were playing heavy metal music, using a cool gray color palette, and selling English roses, would you have any idea what to make of that business? No. The store owner would most likely choose soft natural colors that resemble beautiful flowers and classical music instead.
To tell your story, you will want to ensure that each element of your merchandising makes sense as part of a complete visual narrative. This will allow customers to understand your brand and store and they will remember it.
A great example of effective merchandising storytelling is the brand Free People. When customers walk away from a Free People storefront, they are left feeling like they just experienced a girly, bohemian escape. This is perfect for a store like Free People. Its customer demographic is primarily young girls, and its clothing leans toward bohemian style. Thus, its story is in line with both its customer base and product.
Additionally, Free People has made every one of its visual merchandising decisions reflects this girly, bohemian storyline. Pale colors, soft lighting, whimsical decor—everything fits into its desired narrative. The intentionality of Free People’s merchandising decisions means that, at the end day, customers understand the Free People narrative and retain this impression beyond the store doors.
Making cohesive merchandising decisions that speak to your business’s story will allow customers to see and absorb your narrative, ultimately allowing them to assign meaning to their shopping experience.
9. Use Product Placement to Drive Sales
While lighting and displays are great for drawing customers to specific items, product placement can also help you manipulate customer focus and drive them to certain items. Product placement is a merchandising technique in which products are placed thoughtfully throughout the store in an effort to draw attention to them so that, ultimately, customers will be more likely to purchase them.
Product placement can look many different ways. It can be as elaborate as a focal point display, or as simple as placing key items on eye-level shelves as opposed to knee-level ones. The biggest question you will want to ask yourself when considering how you want to implement product placement will be what products you want to feature. Will that be your bestseller, or a product that isn’t a star but could use some extra attention? Choosing products that you think will benefit most from increased engagement should take center stage in your product placement initiatives.
In addition to choosing products that will benefit from more attention, you can also use product placement to increase your sales margins by placing high-margin items in key places. To drive the sale of high-margin items, you will want to feature them in places with good visibility for your customers. Place your most expensive items in your customers’ line of sight, and they will be more likely to pick them up and take them home. Any way you can feature your high-margin items—through displays, thoughtful placement, or effective grouping—will help you move these items faster and, ultimately, drive your sales.
This also works in the inverse—consider placing items that are less desirable or have a lower margin on lower shelves or away from display pieces. These products are not a priority for you, so they should not take up priority space.
Additionally, it is wise to place your most in-demand items in the back of the store. This will force customers to walk through your entire space before reaching the item they want. This will lengthen their shopping experience and increase the likelihood that they see something else that they want to purchase.
Planogram: Many retailers utilize a tool called a planogram to plan out their store and figure out product placement. A planogram is a detailed drawing of the store layout and it will help you plan and decide where to display merchandise most effectively.
10. Avoid Empty Space to Increase Product Exposure
One of the keys to effective visual merchandising is utilizing your space. While you want to break up how you are displaying inventory and avoid clutter, there should seldom be unused space. The more you can maximize your customer’s exposure to product, the more likely they are to find something they want and, ultimately, make a purchase.
Avoiding unused space will also help to keep your customers visually interested. This, in turn, will also promote more engagement with your store and interaction with your products, ultimately helping to drive sales. While unused space decreases customer engagement, when filling your space, you should keep in mind that you want your store to be full and interesting, not cluttered and distracting. Going too far in the other direction, or overfilling your store, will not serve you, and will make customers averse to diving into what will be perceived as clutter.
11. Organize Your Space to Make Shopping Easy
Keeping your store organized is an essential aspect of visual merchandising. Having an organized store will allow your customers to find the items they are looking for with ease, and will limit shopping frustration. Additionally, keeping your storefront tidy and organized will contribute to a positive shopping experience, favorable customer sentiment, and will make running your store easier on your end.
Organizing your storefront starts with evaluating your product and the space you have to display it. Where a grocery store with lots of space and merchandise might want to use a categorical organization system, a clothing boutique with fewer items and less space might want to use color organization.
Your organization system will be determined by your product and your space, but should be consistent throughout the store. Additionally, using signage, labels, and bundling strategies will make your store more organized regardless of the organizational structure you choose.
12. Bundle Products to Increase Your Units Per Ticket (UPT)
Grouping or bundling products is the practice of placing products that can be purchased together in the same area with the goal of driving customers to purchase multiple items.
UPT means units per ticket and is a metric that measures the average number of items in each purchase.
For example, displaying a dress with a matching necklace might drive your customer to add the necklace to their purchase when they only intended to buy the dress. Bundling strategies will naturally incentivize customers to increase the purchase volume, as it will direct them from items that they are already purchasing to items that would enhance that purchase.
When using bundling strategies in your own store, you will want to consider what products logically go together, and how you can display them to make customers see their connection. For example, if you had a boutique, displaying the shoes and bags near each other or the hats and scarfs.
13. Connect With Customers Using Seasonal Displays
When considering your visual merchandising, seasonal factors should play a role. Ensuring that your store merchandising correlates with what customers are experiencing, whether that be a holiday or the time of year, will help your business feel relevant to your audience and seem more incorporated into their lives.
Seasonal displays can take many forms—from POP displays to focal points, to window displays, to seasonal decor. The main thing is that you want to incorporate timely merchandising into your store in order to capitalize on seasonal sentiments and buying habits. Many businesses will even make their lives super easy and, rather than re-doing an entire section of their store, will let seasonal displays take the place of another display piece during their window of relevance.
There are a few things, however, to consider when using seasonal displays. First, while you want to maximize the time that seasonal displays are effective, you do not want to put them out too early. This can annoy customers and even drive them not to make a purchase with you.
Get a feel for when the community and other businesses bring out their seasonal displays, so you don’t pull yours out too far in advance. Additionally, don’t let your seasonal display exist in a vacuum. Adding more than one display or small decor pieces throughout your store will make the season displays feel less gimmicky and more celebratory. Take a look at our other article for many other tips and tricks to make your seasonal displays shine.
Your brand or market specifically might also benefit from highlighting a time of year. For example, for a health and wellness business, highlighting cold and flu season could help make their products more relevant to their customers and help people understand the importance of their business at that moment.
Seasonal displays help to connect your business to your customers’ reality and offer the opportunity for timely marketing narratives.
14. Attract Shoppers Inside With Window Displays
Windows present another opportunity to flex your visual merchandising and draw passing traffic into your store. Here, you have the opportunity to display products in a visually appealing way, advertise deals, or even put in an art installation that draws customer attention.
For your window displays, you will want to be sure you are focusing on creating something that will catch your customers’ eyes and will give them a glimpse into what they can expect once they are inside. Your window displays should not be misleading for the sake of creating a statement. Think of your window display as the cover of your business’s book. It should be attractive and make customers want to know more, but should also help them understand what is going on inside.
Window displays are one of the few places in visual merchandising where your display doesn’t have to be shoppable, and can entirely focus on visual appeal. Many businesses use this as an opportunity to create something super special for their business, so have fun with it.
The possibilities for what you can do with your window space are endless, but, at the end of the day, what you want is for your display to be eye-catching, to speak to your brand voice, and to create interest among your customers.
Factors That Impact Your Visual Merchandising Strategy
Certain customer behaviors are inevitable in retail. They aren’t always pretty, but if you keep them in mind, you can take steps to mitigate them in your merchandising process.
Theft is one of the great pitfalls of the retail industry. It just happens. There are, however, several merchandising strategies that you can use to mitigate this issue. For example, items closer to the front of the store or around the register are more likely to get stolen, so place your most expensive items toward the back of the store. Keeping an organized space will also help to prevent shoplifting. Additionally, well-placed mirrors and signage can help deter thefts.
While merchandising strategies provide a level of protection against theft, we suggest using an alarm system like SimpliSafe to keep your business secure.
Try as you might, there are certain customer behaviors that you cannot control—no matter how effective your visual merchandising. These are considerations you should work around, not work to undo when merchandising your store.
- Customers always turn right when entering a store, and will continue to travel counterclockwise until they exit on the left. A store oriented to move your customers clockwise through your space might feel awkward to your customers.
- Shoppers avoid upper or lower floors, and will generally stay on the floor they entered on. Your main floor will be the most trafficked and should feature your best merchandise.
- Shoppers avoid narrow aisles, and will not look around if they feel confined. Making your aisles wide enough for at least two people to pass comfortably will increase the likelihood the customers will shop your entire space.
- Shoppers like to orient themselves in the space before proceeding, so leaving open space at the entrance will allow them to feel comfortable before starting their shopping.
Visual merchandising affects every customer-facing aspect of your business. From your brand voice to customer experience, to sales—visual merchandising is much more than just arranging products in an aesthetically appealing way. Keeping all the techniques and tricks that this article reviewed in mind, you will be ready to create a storefront that is not just beautiful, but also is in line with what your business stands for and the experience you want to create for your customers.