The Art and Sci­ence of Vis­ual Mer­chan­dis­ing


Make the daily sales goal. Re­duce loss of in­ven­tory. In­crease cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion and de­crease re­turns. To­day’s re­tail­ers must con­sis­tently hit am­bi­tious, crit­i­cal marks in or­der to suc­ceed. The bench­marks above don’t even touch upon pay­roll, train­ing, op­er­at­ing costs and mar­ket­ing—or vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing. Too of­ten, vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing be­comes an af­ter­thought or a “nice to have” when look­ing for cost sav­ings. Af­ter all, couldn’t one sim­ply hang a ban­ner in the win­dow and call it done? How does one be­gin to quan­tify the re­turn on in­vest­ment for money spent on vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ers, sig­nage, props and man­nequins? The cus­tomer is com­ing to make a pur­chase—the ex­pe­ri­ence is sec­ondary, right? Wrong. In fact, stud­ies show that it’s ac­tu­ally the mer­chan­dise that’s sec­ondary. First and fore­most is the shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence, so much so that the prod­uct is al­most a sou­venir of an en­joy­able time. Ex­pe­ri­en­tial de­sign isn’t re­stricted to mu­se­ums and theme parks— shop­pers want an im­mer­sive, en­ter­tain­ing and ed­u­ca­tional re­tail en­vi­ron­ment as well.

Let’s break this down. . .

Am I sur­rounded by con­sis­tent brand mes­sag­ing and VM com­po­nents whose aes­thet­ics align with the mer­chan­dise style and price point? There is a cer­tain re­tailer I fre­quent be­cause of the com­pre­hen­sive, im­mer­sive en­vi­ron­ment in their stores. I am con­vinced that my meals would taste bet­ter, my life would be bet­ter, etc., if I owned the hand-painted Por­tuguese nested mea­sur­ing spoons they sell. Do I re­ally need an­other set of mea­sur­ing spoons? No. But I hap­pily buy into (lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively) this as­pi­ra­tional


no­tion. Ideally, you will be able to al­lo­cate 1015 per cent of your op­er­at­ing budget to vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing com­po­nents: man­nequins, sig­nage, light­ing, floor­ing, props and more (don’t over­look the dress­ing room!). Vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing is both an art and a sci­ence— the thought­ful, cre­ative, con­sis­tent use of all of the vis­ual stim­uli seen by the cus­tomer. This dis­ci­pline is steeped in tra­di­tion. One need only watch “Mr. Sel­fridge” for a glimpse of the im­por­tant role VM played in the early-mid 1900s (as a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive with Mar­shall Field’s, I am duty-bound to men­tion that Gor­don Sel­fridge’s “in­no­va­tions” in Bri­tish re­tail were an in­te­gral part of Mar­shall Field’s lead­er­ship and legacy. In other words, Sel­fridge packed up those pri­or­i­ties along with his steamer trunk and pass­port).

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