The face of retail

It is rightly said that first impression is the last impression. Visual merchandising is all about creating a good and lasting ‘first impression’ in the mind of the customer about the store and its merchandise.

Visual merchandising, to put in simpler terms, is presenting a store’s merchandise to the customer through its window display, in-store display, advertising and sales promotion. An effective display for a store and its merchandise is like a crisp trailer of an interesting movie which allures the audience to want more. A customer devotes only a few seconds to any store window or its display. If the display is able to arouse interest and attract attention within this time, it can convert any passer-by into a potential or actual client. Visual merchandising is an on going process and contributes significantly to the brand building exercise for any retail store.

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Better visual merchandising and window display helps in attracting consumers to the retail stores (especially in malls), also better display helps sales as consumers get to experience the product in a better environment rather than just as stacks of garments kept in a neat pile. The consumer now demands state of the art service, global standard of the product, and international level of shopping experience.


In-store displays

In-store displays promote individual products and lines, and make use of those priceless 'hot spots' within your store. It is always easier to sell additional items to existing customers than to encourage new ones into the store. Store layout, a plan designating the use of all space in the store, including aisles, fixtures, merchandise displays, and selling areas, is a major aspect of retail design because of its powerful influence on customer traffic patterns and purchasing behaviour. A successful layout guides customers through the store, strategically revealing various types of merchandise. Productivity, operational needs, and personnel requirements also must be factored into layout decisions.


Display concepts

A good display is usually planned around a theme. Themes are usually thought of by merchandisers at least a season in advance. Intervals can differ from establishment to establishment. International standards support a 30-45 day cycle. The reason is that repeat customers usually visit an establishment after a gap of about that many days. Stores follow a VM calendar which gives a date wise schedule of themes a store will follow through the year as per events, festivals, product launches etc. Regional trends and preferences play an important role in deciding themes for any store, e.g. lohri is an important festival in the north especially Punjab and Durga puja in the east.

Good Visual Merchandising also helps to show the merchandise in use giving the customer ideas about usage of the merchandise. This approach is very effective in interior based display especially in home décor items. In terms of display, the stores can either follow a concept of similar product merchandising where one can show the customer the depth of merchandise the store has on offer or cross mix merchandising wherein a number of unrelated products are displayed to create an interesting visual story.

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In case of chain stores or stores which have multiple branches in different parts of the country, it is imperative for the store to follow a VM manual to maintain a similar look in all the stores at any time. The VM manual has all the details of signage, VM checklists, mannequin maintenance, fixtures, hanger details and VM calendar.

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Retail stores are increasingly spending on both the atmospherics and the fixtures and fittings. Atmospherics is the creation of an ideal environment through a mix of elements of sight, smell, touch and sound. In addition to the visual excitement provided by the displays, the right music coupled with a light scent in the form of perfume or potpourri can give a very inviting look to the store. At the right places the customer should also be encouraged to touch and experience the merchandise.

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Fixtures are furniture items that hold and display the majority of the store’s merchandise. Basic types of fixtures that any retail store can consider are wall shelves, floor standing shelves, pedestals, tables, glass showcases for precious merchandise like jewellery and watches, hanging fixtures, faceouts, roundracks and so on and so forth. Cramped shop floors are giving way to large uncluttered spaces. The stores are aiming at giving the customer an international look and feel through stylish and unique fittings, accent lighting and digital graphics and signage. The idea is to let the customer spend maximum time inside the store and browse through the entire merchandise. Budgets per store have gone up considerably with Rs 20-25 lakh being considered an average amount spend on a 1000sq. feet store.

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Visual Merchandising: A vital link

Professional visual merchandising is not just putting dressed-up mannequins in the windows; it is planning and conceptualizing appealing displays which promote the store and its merchandise. Planning a good display needs creativity and ability to visualise designs and displays three dimensionally. One needs to have a good eye for colour and composition.  In addition to this, a visual merchandiser needs to have excellent merchandising skills, which means understanding the nature of the stores merchandise and its consumers profile and buying behaviour.

Window shopping, every woman’s favourite pass time would cease to exist without effective window displays. Good VM can not only affect immediate sales in a positive way but also helps to create a unique store identity and ambience that helps to build a loyal customer base. It gives the business an edge over competition and is an essential tool of retail business.  It is high time that we in India give this profession its due respect and importance and understand the entire thought process which goes behind the implementation of any display.

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