A view of the industry through the
eyes of independent and chain retailers.
Visual Merchandising, Pt. I
Taking the mystery out of a well designed store.
by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (May 20, 2013)
Visual Merchandising -- the fine art of
presentation and display -- is one of the most important pieces in
running a retail store, yet it is often one of the most neglected.
Visual Merchandising is an art, but it is also a science with
specific, easy-to-implement formulas to help you sell more
merchandise. Here, we start a discussion of the basics used in the
savviest retail stores. Next issue, we'll continue with such
elements as color, fixtures, cross-merchandising, and more.
A Little Store Planning
Your first mission is to set your fixtures in a
pattern that allows for maximum traffic flow. Your store layout will
determine how customers will shop the store, and very often it is
affected by the shape and size of your sales floor. Three of the
most popular are the Grid layout, the Loop or Race Track layout, and
the Free Flow layout.
Grid layouts are commonly used in grocery
stores and big box stores. In a Grid layout the fixtures run
parallel to the walls, so customers typically grab a shopping cart,
start in a front corner and walk each and every aisle. Grid layouts
are easy to shop because they offer clean sight lines throughout the
entire store. Another advantage of the Grid layout is that it allows
for maximum End Cap exposure. And we all know that the job of an end
cap is to encourage impulse purchases. Use your ends to display
promotional and high impulse items -- never to house basic
You will find Loop - or Race Track - layouts in
a variety of stores including Target and Best Buy. This layout
offers a clearly defined main aisle which circles through the store
like a race track. Fixture placement in a Loop layout differs in
different parts of the store: The perimeter fixtures run
perpendicular to the wall, and the fixtures in the center of the
loop run parallel to the side walls. In a Loop layout customers
typically flow to the right and move up and down the aisles in a
In a Loop layout, perimeter walls are just as
important as end caps because the layout leads customers to the wall
each time they go down an aisle. This means that walls need to be
merchandised with particular care.
A favorite choice of specialty and boutique
retailers is the Free Flow layout. This layout offers multiple
opportunities to highlight merchandise and create display vignettes
that make the merchandise more romantic. Unlike the Grid and Loop
layouts, the Free Flow does not allow you to maximize inventory per
In a Free Flow layout, there are no set aisles,
so customers roam the store freely. Fixtures are not placed in
straight lines, rather they are angled to easily move customers
throughout the store, exposing them to merchandise displays at every
You may already have a blueprint that will help
you visualize the entire store to determine choice of layout and
appropriate locations for merchandise departments. If you don't,
measure your store and draw a rough blueprint of your own. Add in
all the columns, doors, bathrooms, and other nuances, and hire an
architectural student from your local college to create a blueprint
In either case, make a copy of your blueprint,
mount it to a piece of foam core board, and overlay it with tissue
paper. This will allow you to merchandise and re-merchandise your
sales floor on paper before you ever touch a fixture. This will save
you loads of time and aggravation when contemplating floor moves.
Check Out Counter
Regardless of the layout you choose, where you
place your checkout counter will have a big impact on business.
People tend to shop the way we drive - on the right side of the
road. Watch your customers -- you'll find that 90% of them look or
turn to the right when they enter a store. This makes the front
right of your store prime real estate, definitely not the place for
the checkout counter. A better choice is to place the checkout
counter on the front left side of the store, at the natural end of
the shopping experience.
A few more tips: First, make sure that they
provide enough space for customers to complete their transaction.
There is nothing more annoying than having to juggle change, keys,
purchase, and kids with one hand while trying to get out of the way
of the next customer.
Second, stock your checkout counters with fun
items customers can pick up on impulse; "shut-up toys" mom can buy
to keep the kids quiet; and those items customers most frequently
forget. And make sure that you set interesting displays behind the
checkout counters so that customers are constantly thinking about
the merchandise that you sell in your store.
Outside Looking In
Even with the perfect floor plan, it's
important to note that visual merchandising begins even before the
customer enters your front door. Stand outside your front door --
are your windows a good representation of what the customer will
find inside? We once sent a group of women into what we considered
to be a beautifully merchandised store. We asked them to take a look
around and report back on what they saw. We anticipated that we
would hear only good things. Boy, were we wrong.
One woman was particularly annoyed by the dead
flies she saw in the front window. Now, dead bugs in your windows
are a fact of life; every store window in the world has a few, but
this woman equated the fly carcasses as poor attention to detail.
She felt that if the store didn't sweat the small stuff, then it
probably wouldn't go the extra mile for its customers. We thought
that was a stretch, yet we couldn't disagree, because this was her
opinion -- her perception -- and perception is what counts with
Front windows must be clean, uncluttered, and
have a simple message. They are not meant to be an historical museum
of signs for community events that have already taken place.
Customers will typically take just a five-second glance at what's in
your windows, so if yours are filled with complicated displays, or
too many signs, most customers will never see your message.
First 10 Seconds
First impressions -- first perceptions -- are
formed within the customer's first 10 seconds inside your store. How
does yours stack up? What does it say to customers? Customers enter
the store at the same speed they had in the parking lot. This means
that many customers are rushed and distracted when they walk in your
door, so you need to offer them the opportunity to slow down from
walking speed to shopping speed. That's the job of the Decompression
The Decompression Zone is generally the first
5' to 15' (the amount of space depends on the size of your store)
just inside the store. This area needs to be uncluttered, inviting,
and easy to navigate. This means that shopping carts and baskets and
floor signs need to be placed at the end of the Decompression Zone
or customers will walk right by them.
Why not station a Greeter, ala Wal-Mart, in
your Decompression Zone on busy days? The mere presence of the
Greeter will delight most customers. The Greeter can offer a cart or
a basket -- a good thing because studies show that customers with
shopping carts spend 25% more in the store, and up to 15 minutes
longer. The Greeter can also tell customers about things in the
store that they won't want to miss.
The Decompression Zone refocuses customers to a
shopping pace, but strategically placed Speed Bump displays get them
shopping. Speed bumps displays work much the same way as speed bumps
in parking lots work: they slow customers down so that they do not
miss important merchandise in the front of the store. Your Speed
Bumps can be merchandise displayed on tables, dumped in bins, or
stacked on pallets. As long as the product is interesting or a good
value, then it will make for a perfect Speed Bump.
Just inside the store and to the right is a key
wall. It's one of the first things customers see as they turn right,
and in too many stores, it's just another wall used to house basic
merchandise. Use this highly visible space to showcase new items; to
tell product stories; and to display high-demand, high-profit items.
You may even want to use this area for demonstrations during events
and other high-traffic times.
Have you ever noticed tables of product near
the aisles in stores? These are called Merchandise Outposts and
their purpose is to entice customers to pick up product on impulse.
You may recall walking through the deli department of your favorite
grocery store on your way to the butcher shop only to pass display
after display of items that make you think, "I need that, too."
That's the power of a Merchandise Outpost: present customers with a
cross-section of merchandise while they are in a buying mood.
Use Outposts throughout your store to cross
merchandise; as a magnet to draw customers through the store; to
introduce a new department or merchandise story; and to feature
top-sellers and other highly profitable merchandise.
If you want to make changes in your store but
aren't sure what to do first, e-mail photos of your visual
merchandising challenges to
firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll email back ideas to help get you
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