Argo Light­ing

VMRD - - Contents - By Tim Radley

There’s al­ways much talk about the fu­ture of vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing but sur­pris­ingly lit­tle about the evo­lu­tion of the role of the vis­ual mer­chan­diser. And that mis­con­cep­tion is cer­tainly one that still holds back the VM pro­fes­sion, its recog­ni­tion and re­wards. Let’s look at some key re­tail trends and see what the threats and op­por­tu­ni­ties are for vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ers.

There’s al­ways much talk about the fu­ture of vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing but sur­pris­ingly lit­tle about the evo­lu­tion of the role of the vis­ual mer­chan­diser. It’s al­most as though beau­ti­ful stores hap­pen by magic. And that mis­con­cep­tion is cer­tainly one that still holds back the VM pro­fes­sion, its recog­ni­tion and re­wards.

How­ever, all mar­kets and in­di­vid­ual re­tail­ers are on a re­tail jour­ney. The seas are choppy and rapidly chang­ing and the flags of VM are firmly tied to this ship. So, let’s look at some key re­tail trends and see what the threats and op­por­tu­ni­ties are for vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ers.

Ul­ti­mately there will be less stores. Om­nichan­nel, eco­nomics and cus­tomer sen­ti­ment against mass con­sump­tion will en­sure that. Not good for VM. How­ever, the shops that evolve will be pure theatre and full of ex­pe­ri­ences and vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing. It means that for those in­volved the recog­ni­tion of their ef­forts should be greater.

On an­other pos­i­tive note, the mea­sures of store suc­cess are chang­ing. Shops are be­ing judged not only on com­mer­cial KPIs but in­creas­ingly on so­cial pop­u­lar­ity and re­views. Link­ing good dis­play to sales has al­ways been dif­fi­cult. A few thou­sand 5-star rat­ings, en­thu­si­as­tic cus­tomer feed­back and a pos­i­tive buzz for re­tail lead­ers about the store ex­pe­ri­ence are more likely to help in the renu­mer­a­tion stakes.

So, for VM cre­atives the op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­wards in a more the­atri­cal world should be real enough.

The rise in on­line re­tail may not be just a threat for VM, de­spite its im­pact on re­duc­ing shop num­bers. The vis­ual re­quire­ments of the cre­atively in­tense on­line world, with its vo­ra­cious ap­petite for im­agery is an op­por­tu­nity. Re­tail­ers need to co­or­di­nate brand vi­su­al­i­sa­tion across chan­nels with prod­uct dis­play at the cen­tre.

Whilst on­line VM is in its in­fancy and still largely re­stricted to man­ag­ing im­ages, the log­i­cal evo­lu­tion is for vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ers to be at the heart of a cre­ative om­nichan­nel process distributed across chan­nels. Vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ers should be at the core of the busi­ness pre­sent­ing sin­gle prod­ucts and cre­at­ing co­or­di­nated dis­plays, guid­ing pho­to­shoots and man­ag­ing the out­put to web­sites, so­cial me­dia, and to other vis­ual cre­atives in phys­i­cal stores.

More en­light­ened brands are al­ready putting VM at the be­gin­ning of the process and not at the end, as is tra­di­tional. This el­e­va­tion in the hi­er­ar­chy as well as the chronol­ogy will be good for the pres­tige as well as the pay packet of such VM spe­cial­ists. As with all vo­ca­tional oc­cu­pa­tions, from cre­atives to car­ers, there comes a time to choose between do­ing and man­ag­ing. In vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing there will be op­por­tu­ni­ties in the man­age­ment side as well as the con­cep­tual.

Chang­ing dy­nam­ics and ge­ogra­phies are play­ing an im­por­tant role in re­tail. Store num­bers may be­come less dense but their man­age­ment across grow­ing re­gional and na­tional bound­aries will re­quire vis­ual man­age­ment. The ad­vance­ment of dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions to stores, via tablets and dig­i­tal screens, con­trols vis­ual im­agery but also fa­cil­i­tates re­mote train­ing and dis­play im­ple­men­ta­tion. Al­ready cen­tral VM ex­perts can man­age store VM not only be re­gion but by store type, de­mo­graphic and by vis­ual strat­egy and in­ten­sity.

More re­spon­si­bil­ity and de­ci­sion mak­ing should also come the way of VM. Phys­i­cal stores in­creas­ingly need to keep pace with in­stant on­line trends and the whims of so­cial in­flu­ences. Vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ers who un­der­stand the as­sort­ment and can re­act and re­spond with spon­ta­neous cre­ative so­lu­tions distributed and im­ple­mented quickly across a myr­iad of shops will be worth their weight in gold.

Sub­sti­tute the te­dious hours of travel for the in­tense in­ter­ac­tion with dy­namic store ex­pe­ri­ences. Of course, pro­mo­tion and pay­ment are strongly linked to the ques­tion of “who cares about VM in a re­tail busi­ness?” The clas­sic or­gan­i­sa­tion and hi­er­ar­chy put sales and op­er­a­tions at the top ta­ble with the CEO. Its fair to say that VM is not in their daily con­ver­sa­tions.

But the chal­leng­ing re­tail land­scape is forc­ing or­gan­i­sa­tional changes.

Many more re­tail­ers will put mar­ket­ing at the heart and the head of their busi­nesses, with CMOs el­e­vated to places of se­ri­ous in­flu­ence. To­day’s en­light­ened CMO builds the com­pany around the cus­tomer and en­sures that the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence is pri­ori­tised in the board­room. It is to be hoped that ar­eas of the com­pany such as cus­tomer ser­vice and vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing, his­tor­i­cally over­looked, will reap the re­wards from this el­e­vated per­cep­tion.

Re­wards both fi­nan­cial and phil­an­thropic come from recog­ni­tion of value and worth. Re­tail mar­kets are mov­ing from mass­con­sump­tion to added-value. Roles that add value, from prod­uct de­sign to prod­uct dis­play, should be first in the new peck­ing or­der. Ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the shift from sales & op­er­a­tions to mar­ket­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence.

So, hang on tightly to the masts of those ships sail­ing in the right di­rec­tion. Maybe just maybe, vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing will find its way to a new place of recog­ni­tion and re­wards. •

About Tim Radley

Tim is a re­tail pro­fes­sional spe­cial­is­ing in the cre­ation and de­vel­op­ment of om­nichan­nel cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ences. He col­lab­o­rates with a wide va­ri­ety of re­tail­ers, brands and ser­vice providers across Europe. In 2007, he founded VM-un­leashed Ltd, to fo­cus on de­liv­er­ing store ex­pe­ri­ences.

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