Visual Merchandising: Luxury or Essential?

By Ani Nersessian

Maximizing profitability is on everyone’s minds, with increasing costs everywhere. While reducing expenses is the obvious step, this is when it is important to think critically about Return on Investments: When reducing the investments, is it at the cost of key returns?  

Visual Merchandising is a retail operations and marketing engine, yet it is often perceived as a luxury to those who may not be utilizing it to its true potential. 

Many people associate Visual Merchandising to purely window displays, causing the common misconception is that Visual Merchandising is all about artistic creativity and aesthetics. They are certainly integrated into Visual Merchandising work, particularly with creative displays both in windows and in-stores, as well as the retail design. After all, the display arts and general aesthetics are a part of increasing visibility and attracting customers into the space. But there is so much more to Visual Merchandising than display work, and this is where retailers cannot afford to sacrifice.

Let’s first dissect what Visual Merchandising is, and why it is important in retail: VM describes the presentation of merchandise to highlight its function and reason to buy to a consumer considering a purchase. It creates an engaging, enjoyable atmosphere which invites consumers to spend more time in the store and increases the turnover potential. The point of Visual Merchandising is to sell, increase sales, present the business as a showroom, bring categories to life, create an enjoyable shopping experience, connect with the target consumer, and bring consistency in the in-store consumer journey.

Let’s now break down the five key elements of Visual Merchandising work:

  • Displaying and grouping merchandise strategically to entice customers to explore, purchase items, purchase more items, and keep the state fresh and relevant.
  • Consciously placing furniture/fixtures and product groupings in a way that manipulates the customer’s path.
  • Taking advantage of easy-selling items in terms of business success, while helping slower-selling items.
  • Rotating in new arrivals and strategizing goods to sustain the inventory flow.
  • Organizing a store effectively to support customers to shop easily.

As a result, VM impacts the operations of a store, the potential to sell (more), the brand image, and the customer experience.

Just like anything else, Visual Merchandising has the potential of being unnecessarily costly, without careful consideration and planning, which is when it can seem like a luxury. A few ways to keep costs down are:

  • Designing displays that require minimal purchases, particularly avoiding too many disposable elements when sourcing props, and trying to re-purpose or upcycle props as a sustainable solution.
  • Planning larger Visual Merchandising updates for a seasonal or monthly basis, while daily or weekly updates may be smaller, easy-to-execute tweaks.
  • Investing in proper staff training and standards guideline creations, so that the amount of labour spend on execution, maintenance and refreshes are minimal yet effective. 
  • Simplifying execution plans to maximize cost-efficiency. 
  • Prioritizing where to put most efforts and investment based the most visible sections of the store.
  • Analyzing the impact of each VM change to identify successful strategies. Then, documenting these successful set-ups to repeat them for future set-ups in an efficient manner. Consider turning them into VM presentation guidelines for further impact.

It is easy to get carried away and spend excessively on VM in terms of sourcing displays items and labour for execution. However, mindful, strategic planning can reduce unnecessary spending, while ensuring that VM is still in place to maximize space vs. sales productivity; Visual Merchandising remains an essential part of retail businesses for branding, sales and operational purposes.

Ani Nersessian

After 15+ years of industry experience with various retailers and environments such as Holt Renfrew and Adidas Group Canada, VM ID Inc. was founded by Ani Nersessian to help retailers get set-up with a VM culture that is right for them.

VM ID Inc. is a Visual Merchandising service company which provides catered support for small businesses through consulting, designing and labour services. Email: [email protected]

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