Everyone knows that making a great first impression is important. But in retail appearances often take a backseat to more pressing day-to-day duties. And when stores are chaotic and don’t look their best, sales ultimately suffer due to improper merchandising execution.
But visual merchandising, when executed correctly and creatively, not only improves the customer experience and boosts sales, but echoes the overall brand narrative and story to a consumer through a visual language that’s unrivaled in physical retail.
That’s why implementing the right visual merchandising techniques, and ensuring stores are following directives is integral to the success of any store.
But executing great visual merchandising begins with a strong understanding of the fundamentals.
So if you’re looking to turn displays from dull to delightful, you’ve come to the right place. Look below to find a few tips for better all-around merchandising execution.
👚 11 Tips for Better Merchandising Execution 🛍️
1. Tell a Story with Your Window Displays
Eyes are often described as the windows into the soul. Windows, similarly, act as a store’s visual entry point, extolling a company’s product focus, brand vision, and differentiators with a passing glance.
To make sure you’re always putting your best foot forward, pay extra attention to what’s in your window displays. Ensure products on display reflect current campaigns and are in good condition. Place products at eye level so passing pedestrians get a clear look at what’s on display from their vantage point. And make sure window displays stand out by implementing creative merchandising concepts and bold imagery that draws people’s attention. (If you’re looking for some inspiration, HW Visual’s Creative Director Holly Wadsworth has some great tips on how to have some fun with your window displays while projecting a brand’s overall vision and history).
2. Switch Things Up
Black turtlenecks, blue jeans, and dad shoes may be fine for the would-be Steve Jobs’s of the world. But most customers aren’t content with being sold monochromatic wardrobes and other straightforward essentials, or seeing the same fixtures and displays visit after visit.
That’s why it’s important to consistently freshen up displays to keep customers on their toes and coming back to see what’s new in-store.
Experiment with in-store lighting to grab customers’ attention. Upcycle older, unexpected material (like furniture with beautiful patinas or the arms of mannequins) in place of predictable fixtures and staid shelving. Use props like plants and other materials to craft new environments or tell a story. And move displays around so stores look different even when the merchandise is the same.
3. Get Creative with Cross Merchandising
Cross merchandising is retail marketing 101.
What is cross merchandising? It’s the practice of displaying products from different retail categories together in creative or complementary ways to increase sales. It’s also sometimes referred to as add-on sales or secondary product placement.
Essentially, cross merchandising helps create connections in consumers’ minds between two distinct products that often go together. (For example, ketchup and mustard placed alongside BBQ supplies like lighter fluid and briquettes at a grocery store, or baseball bats and other equipment with team tees at a sporting goods store.)
When improving your cross merchandising efforts, keep convenience in mind. Pair products that save customers time when shopping around your store or in combinations that make it easy for customers to understand how they go together.
4. Color Block for Greater Visual Impact
Color blocking is a merchandising technique that involves matching multiple products that are a similar shade (or different groupings of products together of varying complementary colors) to gain a customer’s attention. Some go bright with their displays, using vivid combinations or tones to stand out from similar store windows. Others go more muted or monochrome with displays to make a statement and encourage multiple purchases of matching products. Either way, color blocking is an eye-grabbing effort worth trying.
5. Use (Un)common Sense
Merchandising isn’t only about the visuals. Increasingly, retailers and brands are experimenting with smells, textures (think high-quality items that are luxe to the touch), sounds (like push-button or motion-activated shelf talkers), and tastes (think free samples at Whole Foods and other like-minded stores). So think outside the box with your merchandising techniques to engage customers in a holistic sensory experience.
6. Try Before You Buy In the 21st Century
If the rise of ecommerce has taught us anything, it’s that customers crave convenience, especially when it comes to testing out new items.
Of course, receiving returned items is a pain, which is why many retailers—for instance, the forward-thinking b8ta, who Toys’R’Us recently tapped for their return—are giving customers hands-on opportunities to try items before hitting the checkout line, helping them understand a product’s full capabilities and use cases.
Take a page from beauty and electronics stores by finding ways to help customers test out merchandise in stores before buying them.
7. Follow the Rule of Three
If you’re an amateur photographer, you’ve probably heard of the Rule of Thirds. But if you work in retail, have you heard about the Rule of Three?
In visual merchandising, the rule of three means that customers are more engaged when they see items grouped in threes. And once you know that, you’ll begin to notice that displays, mannequins, and windows are more visually attractive when there are three elements (or three items) grouped within or amongst them.
It all has to do with our brains’ ability to see and comprehend what’s in front of us. Keep things simple and stick to the rule of three to make navigating your merchandise easy and engaging for customers.
8. Move Beyond Mannequins
Not only are mannequins a pain to set up (resulting in many a pinched fingertip), but they’re no replacement for the human body.
That’s why smart apparel retailers have dressed employees in clothes that match the garments sold in stores for years. Requiring sales staff to wear the clothes they’re selling isn’t only smart business sense, but savvy marketing.
Think about ways to promote your merchandise that helps customers envision product usage and goes beyond traditional fixtures to make shopping experiences more memorable.
And now, for the nitty-gritty stuff…
9. Focus on the Right KPIs
Sales per category or square foot are obviously important stats to take into account when assessing the overall health of your stores and their ability to deliver great customer experiences. But if you focus strictly on numbers that affect your bottom line, you’ll likely miss what’s really happening in your stores when it comes to visual merchandising execution and compliance.
Try tracking employee engagement, task approval rates, the average time to complete tasks, and compliance levels to see how consistent your visual merchandising team is with their in-store execution and how engaged they are while completing duties.
While less immediately trackable, understanding the essential retail KPIs to keep an eye on, and how to track them, is integral to providing the best possible in-store experiences with your merchandising execution.
10. Tailor Visual Merchandising Guidelines and Messages to Individual Stores and Users
While the end goal of any major retailer is to create brand-consistent experiences across the board, no two stores operate the same, and directions that may be easily digestible to one employee may be confusing to another.
That’s why, rather than sending blank directions and visual merchandising guidelines through top-down communication tools, it’s more beneficial for retailers to open up the lines of communication and allow store-level staff to send messages back up the chain to clarify directives.
11. Track and Measure Compliance
Finally, let’s talk about making sure your merchandising efforts comply with company standards or any contractual agreements a brand or vendor may have with your store.
Monitoring compliance at each of your stores is integral to ensuring visual merchandising directives get carried out effectively and efficiently, and studies show that retailers and brands who don’t hold stores accountable are missing out on some serious sales opportunities.
Of course, if you don’t have the right software, it can be hard to communicate visual merchandising directives down to stores, ensure brand consistency, and compile meaningful data to know how well they’re doing.
That’s why retailers worldwide use Foko Retail to streamline their visual merchandising efforts and guarantee compliance.