Creating retail success stories – 5 tips to effective visual merchandising


Are you thinking of the competitive aspects of your retail business now and in the future? Or perhaps you are keen on taking the visual experience of your retail locations to a new level?

We gathered five interesting tips how to raise the bar in retail marketing, visual merchandising and overall customer experience.

1. Inspired by themes

The needs and wants of a modern consumer have changed drastically in the last decade, which has increased the expectations of in-store experiences tenfold. When the psychology of buying is becoming more and more experience driven, storytelling and thematics have really taken the driver’s seat in creating memorable retail experiences.

“Just stuff” and “things” have significantly lost their luster for many customers. In-depth stories relying on the brands value structure have taken their place in creating more emotional contexts in the customers minds. Through these seasonally changing stories, experienced in multiple channels from physical retail locations to online and social media, the customers will relate more on the brand itself and the focus will shift from mere product-encounters to true brand-encounters. Well executed storytelling can awaken the customers natural imagination and will also lower the threshold to share that experience. 

A strong central theme and storyline is meant to work as a red thread for the entire store and visual experience. A red thread that is clear, concise and meticulously executed all the way from windows, to POS materials, visual merchandising, styling, product categories and service. 

2. Plan to perform

Probably one of the most powerful tools for effective visual merchandising are VM guidelines and merchandise planning. Especially for larger retail organizations, clear and relevant visual guidelines bring tremendous added value to the field teams and support the continuation of the brand experience regardless of the location.

Especially for larger retail organizations, clear and relevant visual guidelines bring tremendous added value to the field teams and support the continuation of the brand experience regardless of the location.

Visual guidelines and VM planning also serve the smaller retailer alike. Keep in mind before you rush to roll your sleeves and get started with instore updates – even the smallest store can turn into quite a tangled mess without proper planning. Spend a few more minutes with a pen and paper and let the preplanned customer routing and VM plan help you towards a better end result.

Create a strong customer routing and a flow through the store, where the campaign items and other product highlights get a worthy spot. Design each area or single fixture by color themes, use-cases or perhaps by e-commerce’s top wanted items – the options are limitless! Ask yourself which product categorization would bring the most value to your customer?

Your goal is to create an alternating customer that sparks curiosity in your clientele. Make sure the customer and the product meet in a smart order and that there is a balance between the placement of different product categories, seasonal trends and basics. At the end you want to have a customer experience flow where each part of the store is relevant for the customer.

3. The WOW-moment

Before you can actually start showing off your amazing in-store experience, you first have to try to catch the customers attention. For this you have a whopping 2 second to spare. In those passing seconds when the customer either notices you or not, your store facade and windows do the real heavy lifting.

More traditional, pure product-driven window displays rarely catch the eye of a busy digital native consumer anymore and the most successful executions are often more conceptual installations. A window display is like an invite to a world created by the brand, a mood and an experience. It’s the element to awaken interest, curiosity and at its best create that stopping wow-effect.

These types of wow-effects can also be built inside the store, often around the entrance area. The base of it being for example highly noticeable and extravagant group of mannequins, digital installations and interactive elements.

A good example of this is the concept of an “Instagrammable Shop”. This concept refers directly to a moment in-store that is somehow specifically attention-awakening, possess extraordinary visual and storytelling qualities, is most definitely worth taking a photo of, and sharing it in social media.

This element or perhaps part of the in-store design that a customer would want to see, experience and definitely share with their social media network. Especially for the younger audience of Gen-Z consumers, this can be crucial thing in grabbing their attention, creating a relationship and sealing the deal.

4. Alert all senses  

When talking about retail marketing, the focus is often put only on the visual aspects of the in-store experience rather than a holistic sensory experience. Even though majority of how we experience a store environment is visual, it’s valuable to remind yourself that a human being experiences his or her surrounding with all senses – sound, scent and touch.

The right type of sound landscape can transport the customer to a very specific mood and mindset and reinforce the overall brand and seasonal storyline. At its best music makes people really enjoy themselves and naturally gets them to stay longer in your store.

The power of scents can be found deep in our subconsciousness. They have the ability to evoke strong emotions and bring back even the older memories. Appropriate in-store scents can for example take us back to the loveliest childhood memories and help reinforce positive associations for the instore experience the customers minds.

Always make sure that correct window and in-store lighting is up and running to finish up the visual experience. Insufficient and incorrectly positioned lighting can have a direct negative impact on sales and the customer experience. People simply do not get drawn to items that they cannot really see.

5. Result-driven visual merchandising

Visual merchandising has historically been described as merely the creation of aesthetics and decorations, hense the slightly dusty terms such as “window dressing”. But in order to keep up with the competition it is crucial to shake off these dusty relics that might come with the VM’s job description and take on the workflows and techniques of result-driven visual merchandising as part of the daily in-store operations.

Objectively observing the visual instore set-ups, analyzing the sales data and dynamically reacting to these results is top priority for reaching the sales targets. VM-tools such as Money Mapping and in-store imaging software such as Snapshop, are priceless additions when it comes to following up and constantly developing result-driven visual merchandising.

Sharing of good experiences and successful in-store set-ups in the field between VM teams is a vital part really raising the bar of visual merchandising and a major part of creating those extra-special retail encounters for your customers. Snapshop enables quick and agile sharing of the most successful execution photos with the field teams and increases the awareness of result-driven visual merchandising and the amazing results it has the ability of creating.

Ilona Oksanen

The writer is the founder of WERK, a Retail Consultant and Visual Merchandising Specialist, with a passion to help retailers towards memorable in-store experiences, omnichannel strategies and result-driven visual merchandising practices.

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