Match Game

Learn how to cross-merchandise for displays that work harder and sell more.
by : 

Kim Perkins

January 1, 2010

You see it all the time at the grocery store: Instead of simply having a display of pumpkin pies, containers of whipped cream are placed among and around the pies, creating a need for both. If the whipped cream is shelved only in the dairy section, it might get overlooked or forgotten. Or you might see shampoo displayed with conditioner near the hairbrushes or a nylon “scrubbie” hanging beside body wash. The idea is to draw attention to related items and have the customer “cross over” and purchase additional merchandise. This is classic cross merchandising.

Another way to do this more artfully is to display seemingly unrelated merchandise together to create a visual story. This type of merchandising casts a wider net and educates your customers about products they might not even know you offer.

From an aesthetic point of view, cross merchandising makes your displays more enticing to the buyer. The vignette that you create tells a story at a glance. It only takes a split second to comprehend the intended message because it is offered in visual form.

Cross merchandising encourages people to think outside the box as far as purchasing goes. Customers are often on a time schedule, and they appreciate merchandise presented in a way that sparks their interest and plants a seed. Visually exciting presentations also add to the overall image and impression of your store. Customers return again and again to stores offering creative and appealing displays, and they enjoy groupings that save them time and brain space.

We can take some cues from larger retail stores that spend hefty sums of money for visual merchandisers to create beautiful displays to be used nationwide. Williams-Sonoma featured a window display that started with an eye-catching graphic of large bushels of berries serving as a backdrop for a decorative pie plate, measuring spoons, a pastry board, striped towels, and a food processor. Their collection made it look easy to get everything you need to make great pies! If you walk into a Pottery Barn, you might see a wicker love seat and chairs for a patio displayed with a hanging lantern, outdoor dinnerware, and comfy cushions. All you need is a bottle of wine and a few friends and voilà!—you have everything you need for a fun, relaxing evening outside. The idea is to give your customers a complete picture or snapshot of possibilities.

Buy the book

One great way to sell books is to place them on the shelves that normally house gift items. The books you choose have to look good visually, blending colors and textures to be pleasing to the eye.

How do you choose the right book for your display? A book can work with gift items when the content matches, such as a book about relaxing in the tub displayed with bath oil. Or you can choose a book because the color looks great and the subject matter is not radically different. If customers see a book and a candle together that complement each other, such as an inspirational book about attracting money into your life and a prosperity candle, it’s very possible they will buy them both.

“You might place the purple children’s book, What Is God? [by Etan Boritzer] with bronze plaques that are religious or inspirational in nature and then pull it all together with pretty gift boxes of purple incense,” my business partner Lea Semple explained when I asked her how she creates such great displays. “The colors will make the merchandise pop, and customers may purchase more than one item because they blend well together and make a great presentation as a gift.

“You can also arrange candles of certain color families beside and around other gift merchandise,” she added, “to give a shelf more texture and create a more interesting venue. This will sell the product faster because customers see merchandise that they would never have put together on their own.”

One thing is for certain—carefully chosen books placed in the gift section sell very well. In our store, books placed in gift displays outsell the same title in the book section four times over and more! Taking extra time to search for just the right match is worth the effort.

If you already purchase books from distributors or publishers, you have access to catalogs and websites where you can see the books and check out their color and content.

If your store inventory is primarily gifts, you might ask your reps if they carry book lines. Many publishers, such as Chronicle, Abrams, and Compendium, have a gift division in which they offer a selection of books, available through gift reps, specifically for the purpose of cross merchandising. The terms for these books may not be the same as from book distributors—you might pay a little more or they might not be returnable—but you also don’t have to buy as many. And having a few gift-type coffee table books in and among your gift merchandise will create diversity and visual interest.

It might also be beneficial to visit a mainstream bookstore for ideas—it’s always better to see a book in person. If you find one you’d like to carry, write down the publisher information and contact them directly. They might very well have a rep who will visit you or a website you can peruse.

I recently saw a photo of a store display that incorporated Native American drums and flutes with CDs of similar music, a DVD on learning the art of drumming, and a book on Native American tradition. A wand of sage and a smudge fan completed the picture, which made drumming look easy and enticing.

Remember to make your displays clean and to the point. If you create a busy vignette, it will be harder to get your message across. The average customer views a shelf for about a second. Often, less is more. You want them to grasp the dream or idea you set forth in an instant.

During this current economic slump, cross merchandising can be just the boost your store needs to thrive. Move your merchandise often. Find some great books. Think outside the box about what products might complement each other and display well together. And then watch your customers get excited, and your sales increase. Happy merchandising!

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living ( and an avid reader, spinner, knitter, and lover of all things fiber. Thank you to Wanda Ferrin ( for the use of her pottery: tea pot, mortar and pestle, and soup mug. Photography: Charlie Hagan