The art and science of Visual Merchandising

Visual Merchandising is the art of presentation, which puts the merchandise in focus. It allures and educates the customers, creates desire and finally augments the selling process. Read on to more about this art.

For many years, businesses have tried to sell their products to buyers with limited merchandise options. It did not matter how the merchandise was displayed, how the store looked, or whether the sellers were polite. Just having merchandise available very often guaranteed a sale. Not any more though.   


Nowadays with an increase in the number of manufacturers and retailers, a buyer has many options available in terms of style, functionality and price points. In a market where buyers are now controlling the demand-supply chain, it has become an exercise for sellers to entice the audience via the art and science of Visual Merchandising (VM) and retail designingIt is the science and psychology of the retail and fashion world. VM involves the techniques to draw shoppers into a store and keep them there. It includes understanding buying habits and affects what you see — and how you see it. Three-dimensional displays, the use of colour and accessories and the placement of the season’s merchandise for maximum impact fall under the domain of VM.  


VM starts with the merchandise itself and not with the decoration. The main issue is to make the merchandise extremely attractive, exciting and enticing, stimulating the buyer’s appetite and finally resulting in the decision to buy. Effective visual merchandising can directly affect the bottom line of any retailer by: 

1. Maximising walk-ins

2. Increasing sales conversion

3. Increasing average customer billing amount

4. Insuring higher recall value in the mind of the consumer and hence creating a loyal and ever expanding base of customers. 


Here are four display basics to be considered for designing a visual presentation:

1. Colour and texture

2. Line and composition

3. Lights and lighting

4. Types of display and display settings 



Colour is the biggest motivation for shopping. People buy colour before they buy size, fit or price. People also react to the colours around the merchandise being considered. Colours are often selected for the amount of contrast they provide. The Colour Marketing Group (CMG) consists of colour specialists from most industries for which colour is a major factor in what is manufactured. The group serves as a guide, forecasts directions and indicated colour trends well enough in advance so that the information can be integrated into design and production schedules.  

Line is a direction. It is the second most important element after colour in creating a response to the merchandise in display. It is known that each line suggests something else and as letters are combined to form words, lines are arranged to make selling ‘pictures’. 

A straight line can be direct and forceful or rigid and precise. Long, low, wide, spreading lines suggest an easy going, restful quality. The diagonal line is the line of action; it is forceful, strong, and dynamic.   



Effective lighting can grab instant attention and facilitate the creation of that favourable first impression of the merchandise and its surroundings. Just as colour creates the emotional connection with the customer, light reinforces this emotional connection by bringing the desired colours to life. When manipulated rightly, light creates the desired emotion like the feeling of warmth, of clarity, of curiosity, of wonder, mystery and even amazement. Good lighting can guide the customers' eyes; reveal the colour and form of the merchandise.   


Types of display

The primary purposes of displays are to present and promote. A display is at its best when it simply shows a colour, an item, a collection or just an idea. Displays can be of the following four types:  


One-item display: The showing and advancement of a single garment or any single item. It might be a gown designed by a top designer, a one of a kind ceramic or jewellery or a new automobile.  


Line-of-goods display: Shows only one type of merchandise e.g. all skirts, all pants, all chairs; although they maybe in a variety of designs or colours.  


Related merchandise display: Separates, accessories or other items that go together may be displayed as they are meant to be together because either they are the same colour or they share an idea or a theme.   


Variety or assortment display: It is a mix of anything and everything. It is a collection of unrelated items that happen to be sold in the same store. 


Display settings

In the presentation of a display, there are some basic steps to set the scene for the merchandise or the concept to be sold. These display settings largely influence your perception and relation to the product and the brand displayed. They therefore directly influence the pricing and consequently the profitability of the product being sold. For example, similar products when displayed in large numbers diminish exclusivity and when displayed in lesser number increase the exclusivity and therefore the perceived value of the product. Hence, in the domain of display settings, less could mean more.  


For a visual merchandiser the challenge is to make the retail space highly customer friendly so that a client can spend maximum time in the given retail space, likely making a wise buying decision. In order to achieve these standards, the visual merchandiser has to look very deeply into the psychology of the customers as well as the walkers-by. Research on how customers move through a store and what they see, shows that there are certain hot spots and locations in a shop that catch the customer’s eye first. Putting up communications will help stimulate purchases, especially impulse sales.  As I see, VM is perched on this fine line between art and science. It demands the rigors and method of science and the inspired imagination of art. Both of these combined and when in harmony, give it the power to change our lives by changing what we buy, where we buy and why we buy.  


Still in it is infancy in India; visual merchandising is set to grow with the rapidly changing retail scenario. As more and more brands come into the country, the fight for the consumer’s mind-space is going to be like never before. Eventually, it is the visual merchandiser who is going to help win this battle for the consumer’s wallet. As brands learn to add value through product differentiation and thrive to give customers the perfect shopping experience, VM in India too, shall have its due.  


The author is the Chief Designer at Transform Design, New Delhi. He can be contacted at  



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