The overall design and layout of your retail store will attract or repel new customers to your business.
That’s the secret at the heart of retail merchandising, which refers to the visual impression your store makes through its floor plan and layout, as well as the selection and presentation of products.
Let’s face it — You’re almost certainly using visual merchandising techniques in your store today. Even if you’ve treated it like a warehouse and left cartons of products and items on pallets (which we trust you haven’t done!), you’ve made a visual impression on your customers. You likely also put some thought into how you’ve grouped and arranged products together, even if it’s as simple as putting similar products near one another.
The question now is: Are you merchandising your store in the most intelligent way possible? Are you using a strategy that attracts the best possible potential customers and sells your highest-margin or most valuable products?
To begin to answer that question, before we talk about how to merchandise your store and the techniques you can use, we have to step back and ask a more fundamental question. Who is your ideal customer?
Who’s Your Target Audience?
Whether you run a bakery, an art supply shop, or a distillery, understanding your target customer is the key to growing and thriving. You can’t decide what inventory to stock and what products to sell until you know who will buy them. And you can’t design your store’s unique style and layout without knowing the colors, decorations, and visual style that’s likely to attract your audience.
Start with the basics of marketing by understanding a few key factors about your ideal customer:
- How old are they?
- Are they male, female, or nonbinary?
- How much disposable income do they have?
- Where do they work?
- What do they value?
- Where are they located?
- What do they do for fun?
- Do they care about price? Brand reputation? Quality?
- What kind of shopping experience do they expect?
All of these questions are vital. But even more important: What is your ideal customer’s most pressing problem? And how will your products solve that problem?
Once you know that, you’re ready to make every other decision involved with your store, including retail merchandising.
What Are You Selling, and Who Are You Selling to?
As you’re adding new products to your store’s offerings, understanding your target customer helps you make wise decisions. Customers get frustrated or confused if you’re selling too many products that don’t seem cohesive. If it takes too much work to figure out just what your store is all about, they’ll move on.
When you’re offering a coordinated set of merchandise that meets your target customer’s needs, they’ll see your store as the solution to their problem. Understanding what you’re selling and why your customers want your products helps you display merchandise in a way that makes it feel even more valuable to your shoppers.
Trends and Style: What You Need to Know
Customers want to be in on the latest trends. They want to look and feel fashionable while showing off their style on Instagram. Every retail shop has to be aware of the latest trends, no matter what you sell. If you’re a bakery, it might mean developing a unique stuffed pastry. If you’re a bar, your ever-changing rotation of signature craft cocktails could be what draws customers to you.
How do you keep on top of trends? Research. That means staying abreast of the latest offerings in your field — and it also means keeping up with what your competitors are doing. Whether it’s interactive technology, constantly changing store layouts, or dynamic lighting that directs customers through your store, you want to be on top of it all.
Catering to Your Target Audience
Another key way to research trends is to listen to your target audience. Train your sales staff to ask customers if there’s anything they’re looking for that they couldn’t find. Offer your best customers incentives to take short surveys or chat with you. Leverage your social media to ask customers what they want — and listen closely to the answers.
Everything goes back to the central question: What does your target customer need? Once you know what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, you’re ready to start designing your retail merchandising.
Visual Merchandising: Techniques That Work
When you enhance the aesthetic appeal of your retail store, you attract more customers and make more sales. Take a look at some of the top techniques designed to pull in your target audience.
Tell Your Story
Just like all human beings, your customers are hardwired to respond to stories. Stories captivate us. They make us pay attention. Understanding this and putting it to work is the key to succeeding in visual merchandising. Because, when you tell a visual story in your shop, your customers are bound to be intrigued.
To tell a visual story, try creating displays that lead your customer through an entire experience, beginning to end. Your story could take the form of displays that start with the basics of an outfit and pull everything together with accessories, shoes, and handbags. Your sales staff also become part of the customer’s personal story when they interact, helping the customer to envision themselves using the product in a specific situation.
Change Displays Frequently
When return customers come back to your store to find that everything is just the way they last saw it, you’ve sent a subtle message that there’s no reason to come back anymore. Refreshing your in-store displays with new items, color schemes, and new themes make a return visit to your store an adventure. Your customers don’t know exactly what they’ll find, but they know they’ll like it.
At the very least, you should refresh your displays monthly — and in most cases, you’ll want to make changes at least to the front of your store more often than that. Regular rejuvenation of displays sends the message that you’re on top of the trends and that customers might miss something if they don’t head your way.
Showcase Your Very Best
Your store windows are where you want to feature your very best merchandise. Maybe that means a jaw-dropping prom dress even though most of your teenage customers are looking for shorts and tops. Your bakery might highlight a 10-layer coconut cake in all its glory — leaving hungry customers to think, “If they can do that, they can certainly bake a great scone.” When you showcase your best products, customers are more likely to stop their forward motion and come into your store.
Use your showcase area to show that you’re keeping up with current trends as well. This is where to show off your most recent merchandise as previous displays move toward the interior of the store. Creative displays that grab attention can help your shop to become truly memorable.
You can also pair your window displays with signage that promotes new items you have in stock or any current promotions you’re running. This kind of signage can stop passersby in their tracks and direct them into your store and onto the sales floor.
The Rule of Three: Visual Merchandising Basics
The rule of three appears to be another attractor that’s hardwired into the human brain. Eye movement tracking studies show that people are more attracted to groups of three, probably because of the asymmetry involved, with the eye stopping to take in more details. By attracting customers to spend more time looking, you’re likely to see them finding items they’d like to purchase.
You can take advantage of the rule of three in any type of retail display. A tie, a handkerchief, and a belt. A coffee grinder, an espresso maker, and a bag of coffee beans. A hot dog, a bag of chips, and a drink. Three mannequins posed together in coordinating outfits.
Make sure your groups of three all belong together thematically (your display of a hot dog, a coffee grinder, and a belt isn’t going to attract more than quizzical expressions). Also, vary the sizes and shapes of the items while keeping them in related colors when possible.
Store layout is one of the key visual elements involved in retail merchandising. Your layout can direct your customer through your store in a way that guides them toward products and invites them to purchase. Take a look at some of the techniques you can use to create a store layout that provides an inspiring customer experience.
Your Layout Options
Studies have shown that customers are more likely to look to the left when they walk into your store, then turn to the right. At that point, you have a few basic options for your store layout:
- The Grid. Think of a supermarket: Rows of displays that take your customer up one aisle and down the next. All the products are easy to see, and traffic flow is predictable. This is a good layout choice if you have a vast number of products, though its rigid nature can frustrate some customers. Use the end caps of each row to highlight items you’re promoting.
- The Loop. If you’ve been to Ikea, you’ve experienced its endless loop. Customers know exactly where to go with this layout, which is a good choice if you’re selling items that require some consideration (like, say, furniture). Employ your storytelling techniques to get the most out of this layout, and pack the area near checkout with possible impulse purchases.
- The Freeform. When you wander into, say, a women’s clothing store that features one little island filled with jeans, another island filled with accessories, and so on, with no seeming order to the layout, you’re experiencing the freeform layout. This creative layout is easy to change frequently (a big plus), and it’s ideal if you have limited space. Customers can enjoy exploring the shop without bumping into each other (though some may be frustrated at the seeming lack of order), and the extra space it creates makes your store feel high-end.
Planning your space is one of the critical elements that can invite your customers to purchase. Start by providing a welcoming empty zone as customers enter so that they can fully experience your store. Eye-catching displays here can lead customers forward — usually to the right, since most customers are right-handed.
You can also design your space to slow customers down, so they have time to ponder purchases. Use signage to attract attention, and sprinkle your most popular items throughout the store so that your customers get to make discoveries along the way. Placing your most profitable and popular items at the back of your store is a great way to make sure shoppers see the entire store.
Also, consider how you use shelves to organize your items. You can group items by brand, product type, color, style, etc. based on the shopping preferences of your target customer. Put some thought into how you use shelves to display items as well. For example, are you trying to fit as many items on your shelves as possible, or are you trying to create a more curated experience where products have more room to breathe on when on display? A strong understanding of your inventory is critical to doing this well.
Your retail merchandising strategy brings together your in-depth knowledge of your customers and their needs with the physical design of your store. By understanding how to merchandise your store, you can connect your customers with the products that will meet their needs and grow your store’s sales in the process.