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What is Visual Merchandising?

Written on 7/11/13

What is Visual Merchandising?

Visual merchandising plays a crucial part in the intricate commercial strategy of a retail location. It involves working at an advertising, marketing and retail level, to maximise the potential of a store to sell its products to customers. Successful visual merchandisers can use their role to directly improve sales of certain products or to enhance the reputation of a store on a much wider scale.

Creativity and imagination are important qualities in a successful visual merchandiser: the role extends beyond merely setting up window displays - to controlling the layout and appearance of an entire store. A working knowledge of popular commercial trends and patterns is a crucial characteristic.

Retail psychology

Visual merchandising is a technique which can be applied universally - from the smallest independent premises to the largest, sprawling department store. While at its most basic level, visual merchandising could be a well-placed discount sign, at its most sophisticated, it involves detailed psychological strategies which rely on an understanding of customer behaviour and decision making.

Branding: one of the most basic strategies in visual marketing is simply the use of eye-catching labelling and branding on products. Images and logos are powerful signals to customers - they can be incorporated into adverts and displays in ways which maintain a product's presence even in environments where it isn't stocked. Use of branding can have an adverse effect - its use should be moderated.

Layout: the physical shape and layout of a store is crucial in guiding customers to the products you want them to buy. Small details can make all the difference: high value products shouldn't be at the back of the store where they can't be found, nor should they be on too high a shelf. Beyond guiding customers to target products, you'll want your store to facilitate easy travel by eliminating congestion areas, or channelling traffic towards popular items.

Product placement: when customers successfully locate products, you'll want to make sure they make the final decision to purchase. This decision can be affected by a range of factors, such as lighting, display setting and product combination: putting a meat product right next to an electronic item is self-evidently confusing and unappealing - and would likely have a detrimental effect on both items.

Behind the scenes

Visual merchandising is an imaginative and logical discipline - but also involves a significant administrative component. Behind the scenes, visual merchandisers need to be able to keep track of products and maintain inventories. If a product is selling in one store, but performing poorly in another, it may be necessary to research the problem or transfer stock between different branches. Additionally, the role requires extensive knowledge of background information - you'll need to have a comprehensive understanding of a product before you can go about selling it to the public.

The presence of visual merchandising in the retail sector is growing - and the profession lends itself to a variety of environments: supermarkets, boutiques, independent labels and shopping centres. Visual merchandising is about helping a retail environment make 'visual sense' and encouraging customers to return time and again.