Silent selling with Visual Merchandising

Visual Merchandising is the Design of the store both inside and outside.  It is a process from concept to completion. The main role is to attract more customers and keep them engaged when they are in the store and to utilize the space optimally. It defines how merchandising is placed on the retail floor with full intent to sell!

So, why you need to do visual merchandising?  Visual merchandising helps to communicate the brand identity, add visual impact, Display products appropriately, create advertising opportunities, draw customers into the store, simplify the shopping experience and thereby increase the sales!

Where does a retailer start from?  Before the visual merchandiser decides on the design considerations, they should be aware of the brand story, the target market and the available retail space.

First step would be to understand the fashion brand. The brand itself acts as a main factor for any direction and execution. It is equally important to consider the type of product along with its features and benefit.  The visual merchandising should create a point of visual differentiation for any brand. For example, numerous retailer sell white shirts, but how can one white shirt be represented differently from another shirt by another brand? The challenge lies with the visual merchandiser to create something totally enticing for the customer. Visual merchandising is nothing but designing the customer experience that encourages them to buy into the brand.

The second step would be to understand the target customer and its demographics. This would help you design for the catered customers so that you can connect visually to them.

Third step would be to carefully evaluate the available retail space. The role of visual merchandising begins with the exterior of the store. The facade or the building is the key for the entire footfall into the store. Study all the windows in the store that could be the potential retail windows.

Pic:  MRQT Boutique,Germany

A window is like the cover of the book. The design, style, content and narratives should entice the customer to enter inside. Window styles are determined by the store profile and nature of the brand. Once the window display captures the consumers attention, they step into the store and enter a very thought out floor plan.  A Visual Merchandiser is also in charge of laying out the full circulation of the store- In other worlds the traffic pattern. The space hierarchy has to be effectively planned to maximize sales, promote specific product and to manipulate customer flow.

Now that the Visual merchandiser knows the key elements of visual merchandising, he can now look into the design considerations.  There are few strategies to keep in mind to achieve impact-full Visual Merchandising displays.

  • Amp up Your Window Displays by creating harmonious and aesthetically pleasing displays. Work with composition, color, shape, format and pattern to achieve the best visual effect. When you walk into any lane, you would stop at a place that’s appealing for your eyes! You can use colors to catch the eye of your customers and draw them to your display.

Pic:  Prada, Paris
  • Stores should have multiple focal points to grab attention of customers. The consumer is usually confused where to look to when he enters the store. Focal points act like the hot spots. A focal point is usually a styled mannequin or display that grabs attention in store.

  • Stories make you feel things. They can also help convey information and even enable customers to retain it better. Story telling is an important part of visual merchandising. Story telling can be coupled with props, signage and products. It should be brief with short statements that could grab customers’ attention.
Pic:  Lush Store

  • Product Grouping is a way to cross sell. Items are grouped and displayed together depending of the color scheme, seasonal range or just random stuff that goes along well with each other. Customers today just don’t come to buy something specific, but something that new and looks different. Product grouping can help them with new styling and also showcase new lines of product.

Pic:  Modissa , Zurich

  • Create a Hierarchy for the merchandise to ensure a clutter free shopping. This way customer will be exposed to a systematically laid out merchandise to choose from.
Pic: Zara Store, NY

  • Work on the store layout to define the journey of the customer in-store so as to make the customer look at almost everything the store has to offer. If you see more, you tend to buy more!

In the process of learning more about Visual Merchandising, I spoke to Laura Schembri, Senior visual merchandiser with Adidas Group Dubai, who currently works in the Visual Merchandising execution team. This is an on-the-field job that requires her to travel around the GCC implementing visual directives in the stores!

Q. What is your career background?

A. I have always tried to be a Visual Merchandiser; since I was a child and I didn’t know what VM was. In fact; I have started creating displays in my parent’s pastry & confectionery shop in Italy. With my mum, I would display boxes of cookies, chocolates, cakes and so on. It was only after University, that I realized I could make this passion of mine into a real job. In 2012 I moved to London, where I took a course of VM at the Fashion Retail Academy and learned the basics of Visual Merchandising. I moved to Dubai the year after and started working as Visual Merchandiser for Michael Kors, where I looked after the displays of 13 shops in the UAE. In 2016, although I loved working in fashion retail, I decided to move to the street wear/sport industry with Adidas Group.

Q. What do you love about working in visual merchandising?

A. I love my current role because it allows me to be constantly on the move and training store teams on how to display the collections in the most appealing way (how to dress mannequins, how to merchandise colors together etc). It is a very “people oriented job”. As a VM you’re constantly communicating with different store teams/store managers/area managers as well as communicating with your potential customers through your visual displays and windows.

Q. What is the process from concept creation to the completion of your visual merchandising?

A. Globally, the seasonal stories are planned way in advance (even more one year before the actual launch of the collections in the store). Generally, the big fashion shows in Milan/Paris/NY set the trend for the season ahead. Different brands will interpret these trends and make them into own concepts. Even in the sport industry; colors, materials, cuts follow fashion trends even if the final products have to be tailored the specific sport needs. In Adidas Group we follow a Global direction that is cascaded from the headquarters seasonally. The “Brand” decides on the main stories (colors/silhouettes/window displays) and all the markets should represent this concepts in the best way possible. When working with such big global companies, respecting the brand image is essential: global brands must be “recognized” and “loved” in any city in the world. They set very high standards in terms of look and feel of a store and the VM role is to make sure that these standards are followed.

Q. How long does it take to install a new concept? And how often do you change it?

A. The seasonal stories vary from industries and brands. At Michael Kors, we used to change a window after every 2-3 months. In adidas, there is a big difference between sport concepts, which have a longer life and street wear (what we call adidas Originals) which are fast moving concepts and sometimes last in the window for a couple of weeks only. In retail, we always fight against time! Every window concept, or new seasonal display or installation in the store must be done in maximum one night (exactly from the time the store closes to when it re-opens the day after).

Q. What are the major challenges in Visual Merchandising?

A. “Time” – This is a very big challenge for VM’s. The nightmare of every VM is some Installation or floor move that goes wrong and takes more time than expected, because stores cannot open to the public in a messy state. Sometimes, after working during the day in the office, VM’s go straight to the store and work the whole night to support the store teams in changing the displays. It is a great challenge and physically draining. But the satisfaction in looking at a great installation-or a great store after working so hard is unplayable!

Q. What are some of the newest trends in Visual Merchandising?

A. Trends keep on changing, according to industry and seasonality and they vary with the fashion. I would say VM as a discipline doesn’t follow seasonal trends (this is more applicable to interior/fashion Design) VM exist to set specific rules on how to communicate these trends. In fact; even if the colors and materials change according to the season, we still follow the same display rules (for instance: never display clashing colors next to each other/always balance the prints and the plain in your displays/look at the balance of length of the apparel in display/follow a symmetry in your displays etc). The beauty of VM rules is that they can be applied in any industry (from fashion to sport) but they are also very fluid. They can be broken or completely re-invented when we want to create a very eye-catching display or communicate a specific message. A talented Visual Merchandiser can follow or break these rules according to the needs while creating amazing displays.

The bottom line is that with the advent of ever changing innovation in areas such as technology, the less traditional platforms are replaced with new retail concepts, alongside virtual and augmented reality to entertain the end user!