mannequin visual merchandising

What good retail merchandising is can be hard to lock down – but you know it when you see it. It’s the kind of window display you walk by that takes your breath away, or it’s a display stand that’s so well put together you want to buy everything on it.

It’s the traffic pattern of your store and the signage on your shelving. It’s across everything – and it’s so important in winning a customer over.

It’s obvious why: a brilliant display window will literally stop people in their tracks.

But just how do you go about creating brilliant retail merchandising if you don’t have a big budget to hire someone or a creative background to bring what’s in your head to life?

visual merchandising display window

A fall window display from Pointy retailer, beehive designer collective.

What is retail merchandising and why is it so important?

You could pick up all your products and put them on a shelf. You could do that – though you’d have a disorganized mess. You already know this. It’s why you’ve invested in signage and displays and went to the trouble of organizing your SKUs.

Retail merchandising (also known as visual merchandising) is how you draw your customers’ attention to products in your store. Essentially, it’s how your customer experiences your store and everything in it. Most retailers do a decent job of their retail merchandising, but you want to be better than just ‘decent’, right?

Getting people into your store is one thing; convincing them to buy is another. Wowing them so that they become long-term customers is the biggest challenge of all – and retail merchandising can play a huge part in that.

Do it right and your visual merchandising gives you the tools to influence how customers behave in your store. It’ll encourage them to buy – and that’s what it’s all about.

cluttered floorspace retail

If you have a lot of products in narrow shelving, you need to ensure that your products are easy to navigate and find.

At its most basic, you have several tools in your retail merchandising plan:

  • A store layout plan that considers how people move through your store. Do they go clockwise or anticlockwise? Should you put your big-ticket items to the front? How crowded should your POS be?
  • A seasonal display plan to track your merchandising across the year.
  • An inventory system to maximize forecasting and planning. The more data you have, the better prepared you can be throughout the year – from quiet lulls to the boom of the retail holiday rush.
  • A planogram that tracks what goes where.
  • Your window, displays, mannequins, shelves, etc.
pos marketing example

A common tactic with POS marketing is to stock the shelves with low-ticket, high-impulse buys like chips and candy.

Your visual merchandising questions answered

Retail merchandising is a vast area and it can be hard to get right, especially if you’re used to doing things a certain way.

With that in mind, we’re answering some of the most frequently asked questions of retail merchandising.

What are the elements of retail merchandising?

While all stores are different, many of the elements of the design will be the same, and will include:

  • Display windows. Arguably your first port of call for drawing attention to your shop. A good display window will stop passersby in their tracks.
  • The floor plan of your store. People naturally start to the left of a shop and move right, so a floor plan should cater to that.
  • Interior displays. Your shelving or product displays around your store.
holiday themed product display

A holiday themed display from Paperchase and Primark. Products are eye-catching, themed well and feel cohesive.

  • Point of purchase/sale display. The area around your POS – prime real estate for getting customers to purchase more product.
  • Lighting and color.
window display arnotts

Department store Arnotts uses color to suggest luxury and to set a scene.

  • Sound and scent. Anything you do to trigger two of the core senses.

What is cross merchandising in retail?

Cross merchandising is displaying products from different categories together to get people to buy them. It’s taking one thing and pairing it with something related so that a lightbulb goes off in your customer’s head and they make the snap decision to buy.

Beer and snacks, for example. Another popular pairing is a sandwich, potato chips, and bottled water – a classic quick-grab lunch.

In a now infamous case of cross merchandising, in the late 90s, U.K. chain store Tesco actually found that men who were buying diapers were more likely to buy beer as well – so the links between products might surprise you.

cross merchandising

An example of pairing related items – graphic novels and merchandise from pop culture TV shows and films.

Your cross merchandising strategy should involve several strategies:

  • Contrast – an “out there” item paired with something more regular. For example, supermarket chain Aldi is known for its ‘middle aisle’ – a compilation of random, everyday items that draws people over and drives sales. The aisle could include anything from a pet bed up to sports equipment, toys or clothing.
  • Complementary items – obvious pairings, such as beer and snacks.
  • Substitutes – items that are similar but that can be swapped in or out, e.g. diced vegetables near the whole equivalent.
  • Popular items/best-sellers/recommended – the age-old method of putting your high-sellers near each other to encourage more sales.
recommended product display

A ‘recommended’ display in Tower Records.

  • Themed items – products that go together in a particular setting. Most stores will run themed displays around key events – the holidays, back to school, etc.
  • Impulse buys – usually near your POS, to encourage people to pick them up. Generally, this includes items that you sell a lot of, because it’s easy to get shoppers to think they want/need them.
  • Priority items – products that are important to push. This could be a particular brand you’re trying, or something as simple as displaying loyalty card sign-ups at your POS.

What is a (Planogram) POG? (And do I need one?)

Planogram merchandising is a visual plan (or digital drawing) that shows where your products are going to go.

It’s super-useful for plotting out how a shelf might look. It’s the basics of shelving and display units as you’ll use it to plot out which products go where.

A planogram will let you consider the placement and design of your store so that your customers can fully appreciate your entire product line.

It’s also useful for tracking stocktaking and inventory.

To answer part two of this FAQ: do I need one? It’s helpful, absolutely, but everything isn’t about to go terribly wrong if you don’t have one either.

That’s the basics of visual merchandising – so on to the tips!

mannequin visual display

GAP sets a scene with its mannequins and product staging so that shoppers are more likely to cross purchase.

13 quick tips to drive more sales with retail merchandising

✅ The entire purpose of retail merchandising is to get shoppers to come inside, or to come closer to have a look – so don’t put a display table just inside/outside of your entrance. Shoppers are more likely to idly browse, make a quick decision about your wares and leave.

✅ Bring a family member or friend in-store who has never been there before and ask them where they might find certain items. Get them to try everything and to see if there’s a logical flow. Ask them if they feel they can find the information they need or if some things might be distracting. Set them tasks – and see how they fare. Your store layout and displays should be explanatory enough so as to avoid confusion.

✅ Interrogate every product you have, and where you’ve placed it. Even if something is selling well, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t be performing better. Your display products should be high profit. Products on the shelf should be more regular – your stalwarts that will keep selling. Think of your displays as the stars of the show.

endcap visual merchandising example

Examples of effective endcaps.

✅ Test out different endcaps and consider the messaging. Endcaps will draw attention to whatever is on them, especially when paired with sales messaging – so be sure to maximize it.

✅ Avoid using the word ‘no’ because it creates a feeling of negativity. Instead of saying ‘no returns after 30 days’, spin it so it’s: ‘hassle-free refunds are available for 30 days’.

✅ If you go for digital display signage or more detailed signage, use it efficiently. For example, a convenience store could create a display of food products and use their signage to showcase recipes that could be made with them.

✅ While sometimes considered ‘fluffy’, mannequins give you the opportunity to set the tone. Consider the difference between these sets of mannequins – one targeting urban young women, and one targeting sporty young men. The styling and posing is very different and sets two completely different moods:

✅ New arrivals and best-sellers should go to the front, while sale items should be at the back to draw attention to lesser-viewed products.

✅ Don’t give in to the urge to clutter your displays. Keep it reasonably simple, don’t over-bundle, make sure each display has a purpose and that every product is there for a reason. Try rotating your displays and testing how they perform. A poor product may not actually be a poor product – it could just be that shoppers couldn’t find it.

✅ You can never have too much light – especially if you don’t get good light through your window. Light can also be used to add drama, or to draw the eye as in this shoe store example.

✅ Vary the heights of your displays and add one piece of interest. Ensure that all your displays are a logical height – you don’t want shoppers stretching to reach something.

✅ Set the scene with color. Color can suggest a certain atmosphere – rich colors suggest a feeling of luxury, while pops of color can feel fresh and young. In the example below, the retailer uses color to draw the eye with a display aimed at young people in the target audience.

An example of using bold color to draw the eye.

✅ Track what you can. Examine your inventory levels and your sales. Know what’s selling and what isn’t. Don’t be afraid to experiment or to bundle different products together. As long as it makes logical sense to shoppers, you can’t go too far wrong – and you never know, you might stumble onto a new, winning combination.

Ultimately, the more data you have the better prepared you’ll be. Good retail merchandising takes time, but it’s worth making the investment to get it right.

Your store has one chance to make a good first impression; you don’t want that impression to be confusion

Instead, aim to impress and to get the shopper in-store and spending their hard-earned money on your products. 

Lisa Sills
Lisa Sills

Lisa is a content strategist at Pointy. She’s passionate about the world of digital, books, and all things retail. When not in work, you’ll find her on her bike (probably in the rain because it’s Ireland) or carefully curating her cat’s Instagram.

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