Planning and execution of V M programmes

The art of ‘visual merchandising’ in India is still in its infancy.  Visual merchandising (VM) can be defined in many ways viz. from the point of view of brand experience, creation of purchase triggers or overall store planning.  The definition of VM that I like best is a simple outcome statement – ‘convert the passerby to a browser, the browser to a spender, the spender to a bigger spender and build customer loyalty’.  This definition has a business objective clearly stated.  Translation of this definition into a well thought out and planned VM program is the key to success.

The essential question that one has to put to store planners is ‘Are you providing, in your entire store design, a methodology of continuously providing both space and physical approach towards customer interaction points.  This clearly implies, in terms of the decision to buy, the very precise plotting of customer traffic movements and behaviour.  Planograms, aesthetics, aisle widths etc. are parts of VM process. But, the first step is to understand, anticipate and locate points within the store, which can be earmarked for VM programme of the brand.  Although visual merchandising is wider in perspective, the quick common understanding is of doing up window displays.  I will restrict myself to this aspect of the programme. What are the difficulties commonly experienced by brands and retailers alike in carrying out a VM programme?  Let me enumerate them:

  1. Lack of identification of physical points within the store – individually for each store – from windows to hot spots and zones.
  2. Inability to adapt a common theme or design across 30/ 35 stores or more.  Many brands resort to making out a common kit and dispatching it with an installation instruction and then hope for the best.  This is not effective enough.  This approach usually covers only the window. Many a time, I have come across brands and retailers who do not have a system of       identifying the sizes of windows or their multiple numbers across pan-India. A lot of them are franchisee windows and get a differential treatment.  Hot spots and zones are rarely identified.
  3. Ineffective planning of timing in getting the VM programme installed across 100 stores or more in time for the theme or occasion.  This is mainly because of the lack of two fundamentals:

(a)      The planning of a annual VM calendar in detail with budgets

(b)      The lack of a clear organisation structure with accountability for the programme 

         A lot of knee-jerk reactions do happen because of this.


  1. Decentralising a store VM programme and giving the responsibility to the store manager often leads to inconsistency of customer experience across company-owned stores and franchisee stores.
  2. As the chain goes larger and the number of multiple formats increases, execution becomes a nightmare. I find it surprising that enough experience in this logistical nightmare still has not taught a many of us in developing an organised approach. The aesthetics may be exceptional and the triggers might be world class but the execution is usually pathetic.


Let me make it clear that the points enumerated above are general in nature and are based on my experience with brands.  I must also add that there have been definite changes in brands and, over the last one / two years, retailers have been going about this in a more professional manner.

     The state of affairs will change if the followings are observed and made  

     to happen:

  1. Brands and retailers quickly realise the importance of VM as a continuous communication to the customer of their broad brand objectives.
  2. They work on an annual VM calendar with clear budgets and responsibility.
  3. They really carry out planning in advance.
  4. If there is a differentiation in budgets, use the criteria of store sales whether the store is company owned or franchised.
  5. Ensure that the design and the material used relate to costs – short-term windows or long-terms window.  Complete a prototype store and tweak it until satisfied before going national.
  6. Try not involving store managers in deciding on the way the installation pans out.  Centralise it or appoint an agency.
  7. Today’s retailers are expanding rapidly. Invest in a separate organisation structure to control this very important communication.  Do not let it be only at store opening.
  8. Develop an outside agency for design and execution – unless you are prepared to invest long terms in your own people. The advantage of an agency is that the designs are more varied and exciting.  An internal team tends to produce similar stuff within a period of time.

Here are two case studies, works done by RAMMS – Westside (a theme) and Landmark (an occasion).


Case Study


1) Westside:

Theme: Diwali 2007

Story: Elegant depiction of Diwali showcasing the richness of Indian culture

Materials used: Use of high impact and low cost materials without compromising on the aspiration

Execution: Twenty eight stores across the country in a record time of 10 days


  1.  Indian fabric: Fabric drape, texture, patterns, colour and surface treatment like appliqué and cutwork
  2. Warmth: Glow and luminance of the festive season through lamps and lights
  3. Richness: Gold and silver through shimmer and glitter


Look: Complete amalgamation of the above three concepts where exhibiting the richness of the festive through silk fabric with gold paisley print, glow of paper lamps in earthly colours, innovative kandils, rich gold glaze with a filigree of intricate paisley design, podiums in matt gold colour for merchandise display and shiny sparklers all around



2) Landmark:

Occasion: Launch of a new Harry Porter book 2007 -

                        ‘Harry Porter & the Deathly Hallows’


Materials used: Use of high impact and low cost materials without compromising on the aspiration. We used thick paper (400 GSM) for the creation of elements like the owl, dangler and others for short-term use, easy to transport and implement in multiple locations and flex for the castle and window.

Execution: Nine stores across the country in a record time of two days

Design task

  • To signal off arrival of the new book from the series of Harry Potter
  • To create a mystery around the last book in the series
  • Build a hype around the character and the complete series, urging book lovers to pick up the new as well as others in the series
  • Create excitement in the character for the non Harry Potter readers

Design approach

  • Cues for props taken from the movies of the Harry Potter series in the absence of imagery
  • Highlighting of the key elements from the storyline that would bring in quick recall and connect to build on the hype

Design cues

  • The scar on Potter’s forehead
  • Messenger owls
  • Flying broom
  • Architectural motifs

VM zones

  • Façade
  • Windows
  • New arrivals area
  • Hot spot
  • Ceiling
  • Cash area

VM elements

  • Graphics on façade and windows
  • Danglers
  • Way finders
  • Floor graphics
  • Staircase branding
  • Hot spot treatment
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