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Take 5: Visual Merchandising

Five strategies to help you achieve impactful and memorable visual merchandising.

From floors plans and window displays to pleasing scents and music choice, the sensory aspect that comes with shopping brick-and-mortar has become more critical than ever in a retail environment saturated by online commerce. Through effective visual merchandising, retailers can pull more visitors into the store, encourage customers to shop longer and even increase how much each customer spends. After speaking with several retail experts, we’ve compiled five simple strategies to optimize a store’s sensory experience and maximize sales overall.

1. Take advantage of technology.

For many customers, it’s about the personalized experience. They don’t just want convenience; they want to be “wowed,” explains Meg Lefeld, global project manager and marketing coordinator for ZenGenius, Inc. This is a key way to set your store apart from other businesses, especially digital media, whether it’s through pop-ups, events or taking advantage of the latest technology. While at a Hershey’s store in Las Vegas, Lefeld was invited to send a customizable “kiss” note from a digital touch screen in the Hershey’s Kiss section of the store. “This was a great way to attract customers and keep them engaged, while also reaching out to another potential customer (the receiver of the message),” she says.

2. Think like a customer.

Customers certainly aren’t enemies, but Sun Tzu was onto something when he suggested the key to success was knowing your enemies and knowing yourself. In the retail world, that means doing research to become familiar with your target market. What attracts them? When do they shop? Remember that customers are people, so they all walk the same, turn their heads the same and display certain shopping habits, says Eve Reid, visual merchandising specialist at Metamorphosis. “A smart store should be designed to embrace our natural movements and unconscious behaviors,” Reid adds. “Think wide loads for double pushchairs, easy opening doors, no stairs and comfy seating areas.” And for a children’s boutique, remember that while the end buyer is the parent, the child still wants to feel welcome and excited about getting something new. Create moments in the store to engage younger customers and encourage them to interact with the products.

3. Use displays effectively. 

The first thing people see when walking past a store is the window display. It’s the key to turning a passerby into a customer, so it should be engaging and unique, doing more than simply displaying merchandise. Items in the window should be proportional to the window and capture the story you’re trying to tell by adding a pop of color or seasonal item, according to Marin Kreiger, owner of Shabby Addy. “It has to be something I want people to look at and then decide to come in and visit, so it needs to have pizazz to draw their attention but not be overwhelming,” Kreiger advises. “You want them to shop there and spend time there.” Once inside the store, table displays should continue that story, while highlighting one or two products at a time. When Krieger doesn’t have a mannequin available, she posts a lifestyle photo by the brand to show how it can be worn.

4. Keep it simple.

While it may be tempting to want to show potential customers everything the store has to offer, Krieger cautions against overcrowding displays. Customers need enough room to navigate the boutique without becoming overwhelmed by too much merchandise. This becomes particularly important in children’s boutiques that offer knickknack items and toys as well as clothing. Displays are meant to showcase one item, not offer customers toys haphazardly strewn across tables where there’s room. “Parents are already overwhelmed trying to focus on everything they have to do in the day, so when they come to shop it should be a relaxing environment,” Kreiger says. “They want to avoid all that clutter.”

5. Change it up.

Once a customer has stepped into the store and potentially purchases something, retailers want them to keep coming back. It’s important to stay up to date with seasonal trends customers will want to see and continue to engage with them, Reid says. “Use key areas of your store and change them regularly,” she says. “Show color and vibrancy, but make sure that you are being relevant.” If done cleverly, even little changes can be effective for stores with smaller stock. Kreiger changes her window displays six to eight times a year and her store displays about once a month, even if she just changes the focus from one piece of merchandise to another.

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