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Visual Merchandising: A Stage for Your Brand

Robin Flaherty knows a retail store’s window and merchandising displays are among the most important ways to draw in customers. As an interior stylists and co-founder of Chicago-based North & Madison, she focuses on creating spaces that are comfortable, welcoming, and reflects the owner's personal style, whether it’s a retail shop or their home.

“Visual merchandising is about more than just creating a pretty display,” says Flaherty. “When you show customers how the products fit into a lifestyle, the result is an increase in sales.”

While most shop owners think about the merchandise first, Flaherty suggests working backwards. Prior to creating a display, consider your customer’s aesthetic and goals as well as advancing your own store’s brand.

 

Work Backwards

By keeping your brand and customer in mind, the visual concepts will fall into place and be that much more effective, according to Flaherty.

“From there, we like to create store concepts that are constantly changing based on seasons and trends,” she adds. Creating a temporary over-arching theme (for example, back-to-school) will help give displays direction. Flaherty suggests retailers pull it all together by carrying that theme throughout the entire store: from your windows and product display to marketing and promotions.

Flaherty also recommends changing displays frequently, as in every time new product arrives.

“Move shelving, add shelving, move displays from one side of the room to the other,” she recommends. “You will have your best customers looking at things you have had in the store for a while as though they are brand new. Rearranging products help your store look like you always have fresh inventory without doing a full overhaul.”

 

Merchandising to Baby Boomers and Millennials

Retailers are noticing that baby-boomers and millennials are starting to eschew “stuff” so a store design should feel highly-curated and selective. In our last issue, Sean Slater, principal at Retail Design Collaborative, recommended it’s better to leave a good bit of the merchandise unseen and have it presented to the customer rather than overwhelm them with an array of choices in a small space. How can retailers put this recommendation to practice?

“You don't want to overwhelm your customer with products,” Flaherty agrees. “You want each product to feel special and to be able to shine. The idea of leaving some merchandise unseen and having it presented is a great way to help convey the uniqueness of the product. I love the idea of placing a ‘teaser’ product in your merchandised display.”

 

Merchandising as Experiential

Slater also noticed that we are seeing an unprecedented effort to create value-added experiences in retail spaces. Shinola offers customers branded cola as soon as they enter. The manager at one of my favorite boutiques often greets me with hot tea in a handmade ceramic mug (both of which they sell, of course). I feel like the owner is saying, “I’m happy you’ve arrived. Come, relax, browse,” he said.

How can retailers approach their merchandising and offer value-added experiences while also telling a story through their displays?

“Visual merchandising is about showing a lifestyle and how your products fit into it,” says Flaherty. “A value-added experience is just another part of your visual concept.”

Start by setting a theme for your visual displays that fits into your store's concept for that season. If your store sells higher-end gift and housewares, you could create a French theme by creating a French-inspired window and highlighting products that fit into that theme such as lotions, dishware, and candles, in a display at the front of your store.

“Then, offer a French wine tasting and macaroons to help draw attention to your spotlighted product offerings,” suggests Flaherty. “You don't have to take a lot of valuable display space to add an experience. Think of the experience as an interactive aspect to your visual concept.”

 

Encourage Social Interaction

Instagram and other social media avenues are a great way to showcase your visual brand.

If you want your store photographed, let your customers know. “Instagram users are always looking for great scenes or backgrounds to take pictures for their profiles,” Flaherty shares. “You can add tongue-in-cheek signage that encourages your customers to take pictures.

For example: If you are a clothing and/or accessories store, give your customers a space to pose in your clothes. Take a small wall or corner of your store, have it wallpapered in a bright colored print, add a small shelf of accessories next to it, and add a sign that says, “Selfie Wall” or “You look great, but don't take our word for it, ask your Instagram followers!"

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Megy Karydes

Megy Karydes is a marketing and communications consultant. She’s also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and working on a book about how businesses can better market themselves. Sign up to get her marketing tips every monthly at MegyKarydes.com.