Business Glossary

What is an visual merchandising?

This article is for educational purposes and does not constitute financial, legal, or tax advice. For specific advice applicable to your business, please contact a professional.

Competition in today’s retail market is tough with retailers looking for all sorts of ways to gain a competitive advantage. Designing an inviting window display is one way of doing this, as is creating a stand-out shopper experience in-store with clever signage, lighting and merchandise. Collectively, this is known as visual merchandising, visual display or retail display, and it’s a key way that retail stores attract customers and maximize sales.

The definition of visual merchandising

The importance of designing a visual experience for your shoppers can’t be underestimated. Whether it’s an eye-catching window display, some attractively dressed mannequins or interactive displays, turning an empty space into a visually pleasing, well-designed retail environment will attract more customers.

Visual merchandising is essentially a marketing practice which involves actively planning product and store displays to encourage shoppers and increase sales by making a retailer stand out.

What are the objectives of visual merchandising?

Merchandising can include the space you put products in, floor plans, signage, lighting, store layout, use of mannequins, point-of-sale, props, pop-ups, product placement, window displays and anything related to the overall in-store experience. This can also carry over to the content you display online and how it appears on people’s devices.

The aim of visual merchandising is to create an effective visual display long before any shoppers set foot in your store and is an important element of your overall marketing strategy. You want to build displays so enticing your target audience will be drawn towards your brick-and-mortar business over your competitors.

It starts with the window display and signage you use outside but continues inside your retail store – how you arrange your in-store layout, your merchandise and your lighting is really important to create a visual display that appeals to the senses and ultimately encourages greater customer spend.

The pros of visual merchandising

When done right, merchandising can lead to more sales and, most importantly, sales of products you want to sell. A clever visual display can further promote a best-seller or you can use merchandising to make a slow-moving product more eye-catching.

Visual merchandising tends to be cyclical with displays changing seasonally as well as promoting specific products. For example, if you have a special offer coming up, a quick change to your visual displays can increase sales and make that promotion financially worthwhile.

The effectiveness of visual merchandising in retail can be further enhanced by pairing it with an inventory management system to help you keep tabs on stock and re-ordering.

Other benefits of good retail display include:

  • Making your brand more visual and attractive in a crowded retail market

  • Helping you sell more big ticket merchandise and therefore boost retail sales and profits

  • Creating a better retail experience for shoppers – this boosts brand identity and makes for a positive first impression

  • Helping to sell seasonal products more quickly

  • Encouraging customers to buy more high-end items

  • Encouraging passers-by to visit a retailer they might ordinarily ignore

  • Enabling you to tell your brand story, build brand loyalty – an important part of the retail marketing mix

Employing a visual merchandiser

There’s nothing stopping you organizing your own visual merchandising, however, a visual merchandiser can give you a competitive edge and design a unique customer experience. They have an eye for layout and graphics as well as a knowledge of visual merchandising techniques which they can use to design a focal point that ultimately leads to more sales.

Employing a visual merchandiser is common in retail. A visual merchandiser will have experience with proven merchandising strategies and will understand what works best in-store.

However, what works for one retailer might be a disaster for another. The beauty of a visual merchandiser is they will be able to work within your retail business to really understand the visual aspects and align with your marketing goals.

Larger retailers will employ full-time visual merchandisers for all visual aspects and may split this into specific areas e.g., floor plans, product displays, retail space, store design, shopping experience and so on. A merchandiser will also suggest things you might not think of, such as putting products at eye level or making a life-sized, three-dimensional display for maximum impact.

But if you’re just starting out, hiring a freelance visual merchandiser can be a great way to kickstart your retail business without the expense of a full-time expert.

Taking an omnichannel approach to visual merchandising

Visual merchandising is heavily focused on brick-and-mortar stores with a physical retail presence, but the e-commerce aspect of retail is just as important. Whatever visual merchandising displays you have in your retail store, you should consider bringing them to life digitally to ensure your marketing is consistent.

Online retail merchandising should reflect in-store displays, so merchandise appeals to shoppers who are unlikely to physically visit. Content should be available across multiple devices, attractive and easily accessible.

Consider also cross-merchandising. This is a merchandising technique which involves displaying complementary products near each other to encourage retail sales in both. It applies to physical display units as well as e-commerce.

Visual Merchandising FAQs

What are the four elements of visual merchandising?

Broadly speaking, the four elements of merchandising cover the store exterior, store layout, store interior and interior display. These four elements combine to showcase the features and benefits of your merchandise.

How does visual merchandising increase sales?

In retail, visual merchandising makes a store stand out and promotes brand image with effective graphic design, signs, layout, use of mannequins etc. It makes the most of the available space to build a visual display which increases foot traffic and, in turn, sales.

Why is visual merchandising still important for non-store retailers?

E-commerce retail still requires the aid of visual merchandising even if it’s on a screen rather than in-store. What shoppers see on-screen is just as important for creating a positive customer experience and landing a sale. A site’s layout and content will influence whether shoppers click to buy or click off to a competitor’s website instead.

Relevant Articles & Resources

What is Merchandising?
Retail Definitions, Terms & Abbreviations

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