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8 visual merchandising strategies for your business.

If you’ve ever stopped to check out a window display or pick up a free food sample while shopping for groceries, you’ve seen visual merchandising at work.

Merchandising is any activity that promotes the retail sales of goods or services. Visual merchandising, on the other hand, is any activity that has to do with product placement, displays, signage, and anything seen.

Although its exact origins aren’t clear, visual merchandising has long been used to draw in customers — from market vendors arranging their wares to attract buyers to department stores commissioning well-known artists, like David Lynch and Andy Warhol, to create window displays.

Although visual merchandising is still very much an art form, it has evolved to incorporate customer data and analytics.

Today, visual merchandising is a necessity for all retailers, whether in a physical retail space or in the ecommerce space. Here's a look at proven visual merchandising techniques and how to apply them in your store.

Why use visual merchandising?

There are few ways a business can convey its vision and values to the public. One of the most effective — aside from branding and ad placements — is how the business presents itself. This is referred to as visual merchandising.

In fact, studies show a retail store’s atmosphere, layout, and design are the top environmental factors that impact customer behavior — even more than customer service or promotions.

When done well, visual merchandising can be enough to attract a customer’s attention and entice them to make a purchase. Visual merchandising also helps create a distinct look and feel for your brand, setting it apart from competitors in the industry.

From the exterior of a store to the interior design, all visual elements come together to paint an overall picture of your brand. Examples of visual merchandising include signage, store layout, lighting, color schemes, product positioning, digital displays, and almost anything your customers can see.

While visual merchandising does make your store and products look better, its end goal is to build the brand, grow market share, and increase sales. The most successful businesses incorporate visual merchandising as part of their overall strategy.

Visual merchandising in retail spaces.

It’s easy to think all it takes to pull off visual merchandising is a nice display and some decorations. While this is a start, there’s much more you can do to optimize a retail space for foot traffic and sales. Below are tips to keep in mind when applying visual merchandising.

Attract customers from outside of the store.

Good visual merchandising should work even outside of your store's doors. If you have a window, make the most of it by giving people a peek at what you have to offer. A window display is like a billboard, and it can be the difference between someone becoming a new customer or walking on by.

Creating a window display doesn’t require a big budget, either — just a good theme and some thought. For example, instead of a basic Christmas theme, go a step further and use a home for the holidays or Nutcracker window installation instead. Select something that makes sense with your product selection and stands out from other store windows.

It’s better to stick with a few bold elements rather than including several small pieces that might get lost in the mix. Remember, your window should grab the attention of those across the street as well. Keep the main elements at a person’s eye level from the street (this may not be the same eye level as inside the store), and make sure the window is well lit to show off your products.

Group products together.

Grouping products together is not only a good way to point customers in the direction of what they’re looking for, it’s also aesthetically pleasing. Large retail establishments usually have a clear layout and defined sections. But even a smaller store can group products together by use, type, or even color scheme.

Product grouping works well for items that are frequently used together. For example, a clothing store typically has mannequins wearing complete outfits and places all tops, bottoms, and accessories on separate shelves. A furniture store, on the other hand, often displays living room, bedroom, and kitchen arrangements.

Help your product groupings stand out by adding an unexpected element, such as a faux garden setup for a spring clothing collection, or a few personal books and accessories to make your furniture setup more inviting.

Another easy, yet effective, tactic is to group all your same-color products into a series of attractive product displays. For example, a store that sells bath and body care products can group all their towels, robes, and soaps by color (i.e., all blues on one table, all peach on another table) to draw the eye to favorite color palettes.

Maximize exposure to merchandise.

This type of visual merchandising is naturally found in grocery stores and food markets. From the moment you step into the store until you reach the checkout counter, you're faced with all sorts of food and drink.

In the same manner, a good visual merchandiser should look for ways to expose customers to as much product as possible as tastefully possible. An effective way to do this is to create store displays with focal points and varying heights so customers can view many products at once.

To keep the space from becoming too cluttered, consider applying the “Rule of Three,” which maintains that groups of three are more eye-catching and memorable than any other number. The “Pyramid Principle” takes this even further by using a triangular formation with the largest item in the center surrounded by other smaller items.

Refresh displays and layouts.

Even the most effective visual merchandising will eventually lose its appeal. Rather than spending all your time and effort on one amazing display and keeping it well past its prime, it’s better to plan a quarterly or yearly strategy. Update your visual merchandising once a month to highlight specific products, special holidays, or seasonal trends. You may even want to experiment with different store designs or floor plans to see which traffic flow works best for sales.

Online visual merchandising for ecommerce.

With ecommerce sales rising each year, retailers are finding it increasingly important to focus their efforts online. Rather than a physical presentation of products, however, online visual merchandising is meant to guide customers through the website. It creates engaging, tailored shopping experiences, no matter what page the customer lands on. Below are some effective ways to take your visual merchandising from physical stores to digital screens.

Create a seamless shopping experience.

When applying visual merchandising strategies to an online store, think of your homepage as a window display, a site layout as a store layout, and your checkout process as a retail checkout line. The homepage is usually the first page a customer lands on, and should grab their attention with beautiful imagery and dynamic banners. This is also the best space to launch any new products or campaigns.

The site layout or structure should be optimized for easy navigation — similar to how a store layout should be easy to move around in — and it should help customers find what they’re looking for in the smallest number of clicks. Make menus and search bars prominent on every page, implement an autocomplete feature, and allow products to be filtered according to type, price, size, color, and rating.    

Finally, the checkout process is a great opportunity to suggest other complementary products to add to cart, as well as invite customers to sign up for newsletters or future promotions.

Present your products in the best light.

Since online shoppers aren’t able to physically hold the products, it’s crucial to have high-quality photography to showcase the key features. Take photos from different angles, as well as a few lifestyle shots of the product in use (i.e., clothes being worn, food items on a plate). Pair the visuals with a compelling description and important information, such as colors, dimensions, and other specifications.

Another good idea is to include photos from customers using the product. User-generated content is social proof of a good product and helps foster a sense of community among customers.

Personalize the shopping experience.

A key advantage of ecommerce is that it allows you to customize each customer experience. Unlike a fixed physical space, you can use digital tools to recommend products based on personal information or previous purchases. It’s also advisable to invite customers to sign in and continuously refine their experience each time they visit your store.

In addition to having all their information on hand and simplifying the checkout process, return customers should also be able to access saved products, and receive personalized communication and exclusive promotions.

Optimize your store for mobile.

People aren’t just shopping online, they’re shopping on their phones. While mobile is mostly used for window shopping (purchases are still done on desktop), it’s still an important part of the customer journey. Optimize your online store by testing for readability and loading speeds on different screen sizes. Simplify mobile interactions by removing any unnecessary spaces and form fields, and keeping call-to-action buttons where they can be easily accessed.

If you find a lot of customers visiting your site through mobile, you can enhance their experience by integrating with mobile payment apps, adding the ability to scan product barcodes, or offering mobile-only discounts.

What’s in store.

No matter what you’re selling or where you’re selling it, having the right visual merchandising strategy plays a big role in retail success. Instead of just placing products in front of customers, implementing some merchandising techniques can enhance your product and encourage customer purchases. Simply apply some of the above tips to see how visual merchandising can effectively boost your business.

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