10 Tips for a Visual Merchandiser

Customers quite often come to our store with a purpose – be that to buy their evening dinner, or browse the latest Autograph collection. But when they walk in store, we only have limited time to win them over. We want to create the inspirational store spaces where people long to shop and ultimately, turn browsers into buyers. There’s a lot of work goes in to make sure our stores look good. Here are our team’s tips for creating the ultimate store display: 

1.    Have a plan

Always have a plan. At M&S we look at the store layout and pinpoint the key points where customers will look first. Your plan can be bullet points or a detailed description of what you will do. But it is crucial to allocate some time to planning, and writing down your thoughts and ideas taking into account space, lighting, and entry and exit points.

2.    Think like a designer

Visual merchandisers, like all creative people, understand the principles and elements of design. Elements can be summed up as direction, line, shape, size, colour, tone and texture. Translated to a retail environment, elements are all things that make up your shop: windows, floors, walls, fitting rooms, fixtures and signage. Principles of design are repetition, unity, contrast, rhythm, balance and harmony. Essentially, the visual organisation of our products. It's simply what you do with all your store elements to create an overall pleasing display for customers.

3.    Think about themes

We’ll always have seasonal themes for our collections, but it’s always worthwhile thinking about other themes that can be used to draw a customer’s eye – sports tournaments and public holidays are good starting points. 

4.    Use your display/merchandising/layouts to tell a story

Humans process information much easier in the form of a story. So think about what you want your display to say. Does it touch the aspirations of our customers? How does it make them feel? To create a story, consider the environment and the product on which you’re focusing and why our customers would consider buying it. Is it for a special occasion? A birthday, picnic, wedding? Then let your display bring this story to life. 

5.    Think about colour

Colour is a powerful tool when it comes to non-verbal communication. It can also make a space come alive. By choosing the right colours you can literally stop people in their tracks. Using colours that coordinate together is a visual merchandiser’s way to encourage customers to be more experimental. Using this technique can offer them quick and easy solutions to ļ¬nding items that work well together – in fashion as well as home furnishings.

6.    A note about techniques

Every visual merchandiser will look at using a range of merchandising techniques. These include:

  • Horizontal merchandising – placing products horizontally, at or near the customers’ line of sight.
  • Vertical merchandising – placing merchandise in vertical columns instead of horizontal rows to expose more product options to shoppers.
  • Pyramid merchandising – creating a stepped effect that draws the customer's eye downwards.
  • Live merchandising – setting up a scene as if it was in real life e.g. a picnic to show off picnic food and summer wine, or a dressed table to display Christmas homewares.
  • Hero merchandising – focusing on one single product in your window display.

7.    Block it out

There are times when it’s really effective to put one type of product in the same place. This is normally done when you know customers will be looking for a product type rather than a specific thing e.g. they’re looking for jeans or a handbag. Grouping them together not only helps customers to make a decision, it can have a huge impact visually.

8.    Keep it simple

Try and make your display orderly and neat. At M&S we try and make our items the stars because we know our customers haven’t got time to waste when it comes to choosing the perfect product.

9.    Symmetry and balance

Always look to create a harmonious look. Balance things out. It doesn't need to be perfectly symmetrical, but mirroring can give you a pleasant overall effect. Don’t forget to stand back and see it through a customer’s eyes. 

10.    Explore the world outside your store

For a creative mind, inspiration can come from anywhere. Competitor shopping is more than just walking to the store across the road. It’s the local coffee shop, hotel, deli and independent fashion store. Keep your eyes open and look at the world around you – art galleries, restaurants and architecture really stimulate your senses and it’s where the next big VM idea will come from. Take your camera to snap the things that speak to you, make notes and gather as many ideas as you can! Use social media to learn as well as share.

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