EVEN PEOPLE WHO don’t like to shop know the sensory immersion of walking into a brilliantly merchandised store. Window displays draw you in; the shop’s visual theme is a continuation of the windows, enveloping you in an experience that started outside and continues inside; and everywhere you look, the store design is delightful.
This is visual merchandising: The marketing practice of using every visual element at your disposal — window displays, floor plans, lighting, technology, color, and point-of-purchase collateral to use the retail space to engage the customer and drive more sales. Part of the power of this merchandising strategy is repetition. By repeating a theme from window to store, and from place to place within the store, you reinforce the message that called the visitor into the store in the first place.
Repetition is the persuasive heart of successful marketing.
Products are central to the theme, with mini-islands and scenarios creating emotional engagement between product and shopper. This is called staging, and like its reference to theater, it’s all about presenting product in an appealing light. On Broadway, if you want the audience to know they are witnessing a happy moment, the lighting crew beams a combination of blue and yellow lights on the scene. In a store, lighting is just as powerful. High-end car dealerships use lighting to feature cars on the show floor. Dazzling diamond treasures can be specially lit in a feature tower. Consumers respond well to these buying experiences because the visual awe and emotional response contribute to the pleasure of the purchase.
There is nothing new about visual merchandising, but as retail experts continuously talk about reinventing retail, visual merchandising takes on more importance than ever. This is an area in which physical shops can create experiences that cannot be replicated online.
Seasonal marketing is the focus of most visual merchandising, which makes sense. Holidays have powerful, recognizable visual elements that are broadly used across all product sectors as cues for consumption. Consumers have been exposed to these cues their entire lives, so it’s easy for retailers to connect those cues to their own products. From the red-and-white hearts of Valentine’s Day, to the pastel hues of Easter, to the flowers of Mother’s Day, mortarboards of graduation season, autumnal displays of Halloween and Thanksgiving, and sparkling reds and vanilla spice of Christmas, the receptive minds of consumers have been trained to connect these cues to the desire to shop.
But seasonal visual merchandising also begins to feel a bit stale, as anyone who has complained about Christmas merchandising happening earlier and earlier each year knows.
Most jewelry businesses use part — but not all — of the visual merchandising oeuvre. Of course, jewelry presents more challenges to display than less security-challenged products. But great challenges present great opportunities.
There is tremendous opportunity for individual retailers to create their own visual merchandising strategies, based on their brands and values, and featuring their curated (and ideally, differentiated) product selections.
Those retailers who successfully imagine and implement powerful store experiences using the whole visual merchandising toolkit will attract more shoppers and turn them into loyal customers.