Brick-and-mortar retailers have just a few seconds to attract—and hold—a buyer’s eye with a window display. In New York City, 10,000 people pass the Macy’s window every hour. That’s nearly 1.7 million people each week!
Your shop doesn’t have to be world famous or located in the middle of busy Manhattan to benefit from a well-designed store window. According to NPD Group research, window displays influence purchases an average of 24% of the time.
The right window display design can engage shoppers enough to cause them to stop, look back, and walk into your store, where your floor staff can help close the sale. Not only do attractive window displays help bring in customers, they also let you display new products, highlight promotions, enhance your brand image, and differentiate your store from the competition.
The landscape is shifting; people don’t shop in stores [like they used to].
With increasing competition from ecommerce, and the COVID-19 pandemic keeping shoppers at home, store windows are more valuable than ever. In order for window displays to benefit brick-and-mortar retailers, Mujica says, “it’s important they have a very specific vision for the people they are pandering to.”
So, what’s the secret to turning heads and driving sales? This guide to window displays will reveal that and much more.
Table of Contents
Benefits of window displays
Window displays can help your store boost foot traffic and brand awareness, highlight products and promotions, and differentiate itself from the competition.
Increase foot traffic and brand awareness
Plus, they’re a great way to show off your brand, according to Nicole Haddad, co-owner and Designer of Philadelphia-based sustainable fashion brand Lobo Mau.
“Window displays are a way to engage the community and the neighborhood. [They’re] also marketing for our brand and for our aesthetic,” Haddad says.
“We painted a mural on the outside of the store that looks like we splashed paint splatter all over the building. It’s our way to draw in the customer—to get them to take a closer look so that they want to check out the store on the inside.”
Window displays preview what’s inside your shop. You can use them to entice customers with products they’ll like and to highlight new arrivals, limited-edition products, or even holiday gifts.
Promote offers or sales
Leverage windows to let customers know about sales. If you’ve ever entered a store after seeing a huge “SALE” sign in its window, then you understand how effective this tactic can be. Synchronize in-store offers with online promotions to increase the impact of your displays.
Stand out from the competition
Let’s say there are two shoe stores in your neighborhood that feature the same shoes in their window. Store A displays the shoes in a creative way, while Store B unimaginatively places each pair on top of its box.
Which store do you think attracts more customers? Most likely Store A. Making an effort with your window displays will help you stand out from the local competition.
Types of window displays
Here are the most common types of window displays you’ll encounter and the benefits and challenges of each.
- Open-back window display
- Closed-back window display
- Semi-closed-back window display
Open window displays
In an open display, there’s nothing separating the window from the rest of the shop.
They’re great for exhibiting clothes on mannequins and body forms and showing off your store’s interior design. However, open window displays are revealing, making it difficult to hide fixture accessories, like wires.
Closed window displays
Closed window displays have a wall or backdrop separating them from the store floor. These displays emphasize the products on view by eliminating distractions from inside the shop. Yet, they block natural light from entering your shop, so you’ll have to compensate with ample lighting on the floor.
Shadowbox window displays
Shadowboxes are small, box-like, and most often used to display petite, detailed items, like jewelry, shoes, or makeup. They’re usually only big enough for one or two people to look at at once.
Corner window displays
As the name implies, you get a corner window display when two windows come together in a corner, creating a large, box-like display. Corners are optimal for attracting shoppers approaching from any direction and showing off products from more than one side. But, it can be difficult to arrange products in these displays, since they need to look attractive from multiple viewpoints.
How to create window displays in 8 steps
Setting up your first retail window display may sound a little daunting. Luckily, you don’t need to have a design background to create a compelling store window display. Even if you don’t have the budget to hire a visual merchandising professional, it’s possible to DIY your own display.
Here, we’ll help you set your fears aside so you can master the art of putting together unforgettable window displays. We’ll guide you through the process of assembling your store window display, as well as offer some window display ideas to get you started.
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1. Assemble your retail window display tool box
Before you start brainstorming complex ideas for your first retail window display, let’s start by making sure we've got the necessary tools to set you up for success. In other words, you don’t want to be halfway through the process only to notice you don’t have a tape measure or another essential tool.
So, here are most of the basic components you’ll need to get started:
- Tape measure
- Two-sided tape
- Hammer and nails
- Utility knife
- Glue gun and hot glue sticks
- Screwdriver and screws
- Pen, pencil, marker, and notepad
- Props (any non-merchandise items)
Depending on the design of your store window display, you may need other materials to complete your project. However, these tools will keep the ball rolling and can serve as a skeletal shopping list to start your display design.
2. Start with a story based on a theme
When it comes to conceptualizing a store window display, it’s best to start with a pen and paper. Before sketching out your window display ideas, start with a story based on a theme. Yes, your window display design should tell at least a basic story. After all, it's proven that storytelling can serve as a strategic business tool.
It helps to begin with a theme, then use your storytelling prowess to turn it into something more sophisticated.
- Instead of “Christmas,” think “Nutcracker” (psst: here are some Christmas window display ideas if you’re looking for holiday inspiration!)
- Instead of “Halloween,” think “Sleepy Hollow”
- Instead of “Valentine,” think “Cupid’s Mischievousness”
- Instead of “Thanksgiving,” think “Dressing Up a Turkey”
3. Create a focal point for the store window display
Once you’ve got a rough sketch, including a story based on a theme, take a moment to step out onto the street and give your window a good look.
Doing so will help you determine where your focal point should be. The focal point is where you want your prospective customers to look first and concentrate their focus. The central point of your display should be big enough to catch a shopper's attention, even on the other side of the street.
Start thinking about the arrangement of products based around your focal point. Will you arrange your products on wires or shelves around the focal point? Or maybe set them up in a pyramid? Explore different configurations to see what would work best for your window display.
4. Be bold in every way
Let’s be honest: society’s attention span is shrinking to about less than a millisecond, and your buyers are no exception. You can bet that most people walking by your store will either be engaged in conversation with friends, texting, or walking their dogs. So, you’ll need to pull out all the stops to make sure you catch their attention. At the very least, you can create a store window display they’ll want to take photos of with their smartphone and share them with the world.
So, when creating your retail window display, don’t be bland. Be bold with colors, shapes, and props. Think outside of any cookie-cutter colors and opt for more eye-catching hues like fuchsia, orange, or electric blue. Just remember to exercise your best judgment and keep everything consistent with your brand.
Props are also a great way to think unconventionally, especially given that your local art store will be stocked with many different art materials. Think about cutting up foam boards, creating papier-mâché props, or anything else you think would be appropriate for your brand and store.
5. Keep your retail window displays simple
With all the window display ideas available for you to use as inspiration, it’s easy to get carried away and create an overly complicated display. However, too much clutter is likely to repel and overwhelm potential passersby, rather than draw their attention. Don’t try to do too much or you’ll just end up with a busy, unfocused display.
Always keep your goal in mind: ultimately, you want to draw attention to your products and help customers quickly understand why certain products are grouped with others. That also means keeping your display clutter-free and being able to justify why each component of your display is included.
6. Balance is key
When you’re creating a display, you’re going to have small and large objects, dark and light colors, lights and shadows, and so on. It’s important to balance the different elements you’ll be deploying in order to create a pleasing aesthetic.
Typically, you’ll want to place larger, darker items near the bottom, and items that are lighter and more colorful at the top. This arrangement will prevent your display from looking top heavy. Similarly, if you place all the large items to one side and all the small ones on the side, you’ve got an unbalanced window display. Imagine you’re balancing items on a scale, which means doing things like balancing a large item on one side with lots of smaller items on the other.
Trust your judgment and get a sense of what emotion your display is evoking. With a balanced display, you’re more likely to create feelings of happiness, excitement, and joy, whereas an unbalanced display may signal anxiety or instability.
7. Pay attention to lighting
When it comes to creating an effective window display, lighting is often an afterthought, or something to consider if you’ve got the budget for “extra costs.” But lighting can be a crucial component in getting people to stop and notice your display.
Lighting can create moods, highlight certain products over others, and establish a dramatic setting for your store window display. Being strategic with lighting can pay dividends in helping you get your focal point right on and directing onlooker’s eyes to where you want them.
We don’t recommend lighting displays directly from the top, as this can lead to unattractive, harsh shadows. Instead, consider lighting displays from the sides and front. This technique will bring out the 3D quality of the display. Plus, you can really have some fun when you have light coming at it from different angles.
8. Take a final look at your retail window display
Once you’ve got all the pieces where you want them, make sure to take a look at your window display from every possible angle. Very rarely is a person going to only notice a display when they’re standing right in front of it. Walk up to it from different directions and check things like your focal point, how visible your signage or calls to action are, and if it all appears balanced.
If you’re satisfied with the results, congratulations, your store window display is ready to go!
Window display tips
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork for your display, here are several tips for taking it to the next level.
Define your target audience
Your audience will impact the products you choose to display, colors you use in it, and the stories you tell in your windows. Keep your ideal customer at the forefront of your strategy.
When you design your windows with a target audience in mind, you’ll draw those people in and make them excited to shop with you. If you try to create a display that appeals to everyone, you’ll end up watering down your design and appealing to no one.
Consider eyelines and vantage points
It’s a well known fact that grocery stores display cereals for kids on lower shelves and cereals for adults on higher shelves. Why? Because this is where these customers’ eyelines land, and therefore, where their attention will be.
Keep window shoppers’ eyelines in mind while building external-facing displays. If you own a children’s clothing boutique, for example, you could display products that would appeal to kids, like toys, low enough for children to see, and more practical products at parents’ eye level.
Beyond considering eyelines, it’s important to remember that you’re designing a 3D display and not a flat one. Make sure that products and props can easily be seen—and look good—from various angles.
Keep window displays fresh
Change your displays often to signal to customers who pass by regularly that it’s time for them to stop in again.
We try to change up the windows every two to three weeks to keep it fresh for the commuters walking by on a daily basis.
According to McKinsey, technology will help retail double its profitability. Interactive technologies like augmented reality, touchscreens, and QR codes help give a new meaning to the term “window shopping.” Embrace them to engage passersby and influence purchasing decisions.
Augmented reality (AR) technology enhances real-world objects and settings by placing virtual objects over them. AR lets shoppers try on products, like makeup and jewelry, virtually. This technology helps customers make purchasing decisions, even when your store is closed.
When placed within a window, touchscreens help customers learn more about the products on and off display. They also make it easy to entice window shoppers with coupons in exchange for contact information, which opts them into your email marketing efforts.
Touchscreens are best for stores that sell valuable, high-consideration items (i.e., electronics, furniture, or vehicles) since they can be used to share product specifications and details. They’re also commonly used in the real estate industry to show listings that aren’t featured in the main display.
Quick response (QR) codes are bar codes that open up a link, share a phone number, send an SMS, or share a plain text message when people scan them with a smartphone. Follow the example of Rose City Goods and put them in your window display to link to your ecommerce website, product pages, and more.
QR codes make it easy for window shoppers to make purchases even when your store isn’t open. They’re also cheap and easy to implement through a QR code generator.
12 inspiring window display ideas and examples
Need some inspiration before you tackle your own window display? Here are some eye-catching examples to help stir those creative juices.
Retailers are increasingly using augmented reality (AR) to enhance the shopping experience and expand their brand’s reach.
For its Hallucination campaign, Gucci extended the technology to its window displays by installing classic artworks reimagined with characters dressed in designer clothing. What makes this display unusual is that most of the mannequins are facing away from the window, as if they were visiting an art gallery.
A scannable QR code on the glass breaks the fourth wall by inviting passersby to download the Gucci app and experience an animated version of the art.
It’s always to your benefit as a retailer to create an experience. You want to create a moment that will show up well in an [Instagram Story], a Snap, or a video.
For Gucci, this approach was very effective at engaging younger buyers through targeted marketing.
“This is really next-level innovation. Now that [buyers] have the app, they will continue to receive Gucci ads and emails,” Mujica says.
What you should steal
An experiential window brings products to life and attracts passersby to immediately interact with your brand. Inviting buyers to download an app on the spot encourages in-store sales and future online purchases, while giving you access to these engaged customers for marketing purposes.
2. Leaves of Trees
Toronto apothecary Leaves of Trees unveiled a window display featuring oversized tubes of its skin care products suspended upside down, with cascades of dried roses, grapefruit, and lavender “pouring” out.
The display is striking not only because of the scale of the props, but also because it explicitly highlights the natural ingredients the retailer uses in its products.
Leaves of Trees’ unique window displays attract a lot of walk-ins, but this wasn’t always the case. When the shop opened in 2014, its displays featured colorful florals made from paper, but none of the brand’s actual products.
Founder Roohi Quereshi soon discovered that people were stopping to look but didn’t know what she was selling. The shop was mistaken for a restaurant, a juice bar, and even a pot dispensary.
Since we started incorporating our products into the window and aligning that branding with promotions and social media strategy, we’ve seen an increase in walk-ins from our target customer. And, almost every walk-in has led to a sale.
What you should steal
Creativity in any window display is important, but for smaller retailers, it’s crucial that products be clearly presented, not only so passersby know what you’re selling, but to target the right buyer.
3. Saks Fifth Avenue x Vetements
Known for its elaborate window displays, Saks’ collaboration with French design collective Vetements did a complete about-turn by featuring nothing but a pile of old clothes.
An overt statement about sustainable retail and the rise of fast fashion, the pile was made up of donated clothes, out-of-season stock, and loose hangers. It grew bigger each day, representing excess and consumerism in fashion.
“It was something vastly different than [Saks] had ever done,” says Mujica. “No one has ever put trash in a window and made a statement, and it was all about a good cause.”
While many walking by did a double take assuming the display was a work in progress or even a mistake, it enhanced Saks’ image as a retailer with a conscience.
What you should steal
Highlighting a good cause in your window display can help boost your brand image. Also, putting something in your window that is unexpected will grab the attention of passersby.
4. Alice + Olivia
Fashion retailer Alice + Olivia highlighted its playful side in New York by setting mannequins in front of a giant backdrop of sugary cereals and salty snacks.
The goal of this window display wasn’t so much to attract a new audience to the brand, but to tap into the nostalgia of its existing young buyers who grew up eating Frosted Flakes and Corn Pops.
According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people are more likely to spend more when they’re feeling nostalgic. To tie in the product with the display, the clothes were carefully curated to match the color grading of the boxes behind.
It’s definitely not high fashion, but Alice + Olivia knows its [customers]. This window display makes them think of childhood.
By combining nostalgia with bright colors, the Alice + Olivia window invokes a positive emotional experience for buyers. The overall effect is poppy, fresh, and fun.
What you should steal
A bright and well-lit window display is always eye catching, especially at night. “By lighting it properly, you avoid negative shadows that can make garments look small or dowdy,” Mujica advises.
5. Bergdorf Goodman
In order to woo and impress its wealthy buyers during the holiday season, luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman spends upward of six figures on its window displays.
One of Bergdorf’s most spectacular concepts featured one million hand-glued Swarovski crystals and took nine months to build. There was a genuine crystal ball and the fortune-teller mannequin wore custom-made, one-of-a-kind couture pieces that were later sold at auction.
While Bergdorf’s resources exceed the budget of most high-street retailers, this window display makes a very strong statement about its brand and the high-end products it sells.
“You would never see fast fashion in a Bergdorf window. It’s not their customer,” says Mujica. “No one has done anything like this before or since. It took everyone’s breath away.”
What you should steal
Putting extra resources into your window display at certain times of year can really pay off. Holiday windows attract extra foot traffic, and, according to NRF research, holiday spending has reached an all-time high.
6. Tiffany & Co.
Tiffany & Co. has been famous for its window displays ever since the brand was immortalized in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. So iconic is the retailer’s window that several people have chosen the location to pop the question.
“No one does a window better than Tiffany,” says Mujica. “They are true storytellers, and their windows literally dazzle.”
The retailer’s window displays are most notable for their simplicity. Unlike Bergdorf Goodman, whose windows are a targeted celebration of decadence, Tiffany’s creative is often quite minimal.
One recent window featured nothing but seven mousetraps and a mouse holding a canary yellow diamond. Set against the brand’s signature blue background, it showcased just a single item.
What you should steal
While it can be tempting to fill up a window to maximize the space, cramming too many items into a display can devalue your products by making them look cluttered. Focusing only on one item communicates to passersby that it’s special.
7. Barneys New York
Vying for attention among many other glitzy holiday windows, Barneys once chose to feature live humans instead of mannequins.
Carvers from Japan’s Okamato Studio sculpted holiday-themed blocks of ice while wearing designer jumpsuits, gloves, and scarves. The live-action demonstration set to music not only highlighted products found in-store, but also grabbed shoppers’ attention for an extended period of time.
This window created exclusive content that people then uploaded to Snapchat and Facebook Live. Putting people in a window is risky, but by creating a one-of-a-kind experience, it created huge engagement.
What you should steal
A creative window display that is completely different from what your competitors are doing not only attracts eyeballs on the street, but also extends the reach of your content through social media sharing.
Taking high-value items and putting them out of context in a window display can really amplify a product.
This was the approach taken by iconic Italian fashion house Fendi when it placed expensive leather handbags inside custom vending machines at its downtown New York store. The buttons on the machines spelled “Fendi” and featured the year the company was founded.
The juxtaposition of high with low end “made the brand seem more approachable to passersby,” says Mujica. “It drew shoppers into the store like a carnival game.”
The “Fendi-ing machine” concept appeared in its stores around the world. The result? Photos were widely shared by fashion bloggers, and it helped the luxury brand appeal to a younger demographic.
What you should steal
Knowing exactly who you want to attract into your store can help a retailer target its creative specifically to that buyer.
“If you’re too vague, people won’t understand,” says Mujica.
9. TYPE Books
Independent bookstore TYPE has become famous in Toronto for its charming and poppy window displays.
Themes have included under the sea, typography, and an entire window dedicated to a single children’s book. Each theme is the brainchild of “craftician” Kalpna Patel, who creates much of her work using simply paper and glue.
One winter window display paid homage to hygge, the Danish word for comfort, and featured books on crafting and cooking, with each nestled inside Nordic-style houses.
Created on a modest budget, TYPE’s unique window displays consistently lead to an increase in foot traffic. There’s no couture or Swarovski crystals, but by honing in on a specific theme, TYPE Books attracts the attention of both new and existing customers.
In fact, so many people enter the store asking about a specific title that the retailer set up a special display inside featuring all the books found in the window.
What you should steal
An innovative window display doesn’t have to cost a lot to create, nor does it need to be complicated.
I’ve seen stunning windows that come in at $300. Paper is the best medium to work with because it’s so cheap and versatile.
When designing a window display around small accessories, most retailers make the product the focus.
Hermès did the exact opposite in one of its stores, perching silk scarves around an oversized juice cup with a giant straw. By making the art the central point of this window, Hermès ensured an eye-grabbing experience in which the product was almost an afterthought.
The prominence of the color orange ties in well with the brand’s signature color. In fact, WindowsWear was so impressed with this display that it named it Best Orange Window of 2017.
What you should steal
Color is a key component of visual merchandising and can help influence buyer behavior. If you’re looking primarily to attract customers, using red and orange in your window display will draw the attention of passersby.
11. Lobo Mau
Philadelphia-based sustainable fashion brand Lobo Mau could teach a master class on how to ensure passersby don’t just browse window displays, but shop them.
“When the pandemic caused all non-essential businesses in Philadelphia to close, we had to think of a way to keep people engaged with our brand and to also make it easy for people to shop the store,” says co-owner and Designer Nicole Haddad. Co-owner and CEO Jordan Haddad “came up with the idea of using QR codes in our windows to allow customers to view the products and then order them straight from our website.
I pushed all the products in the store to the four windows and created small QR codes stuck directly onto the inside of the glass. Customers only had to scan the QR codes and they could purchase the product in the window and also schedule a local pick up or free shipping.
Lobo Mau’s strategic corner location means it captures foot traffic on two streets, resulting in more window space.
“Our boutique is situated on a corner, and it has four big windows. It’s prime real estate for window displays,” says Nicole. “When building out the store we asked our architects to create modular displays that we could constantly update and change around. One week we could have a sweatshirt hanging in the window, and then the next week the same window can be all shelves to display our ceramics.”
What you should steal
Create a QR code label for every item in your display. Link the QR codes to corresponding product pages to drive sales at all times of day.
UrbanGlass is a non-profit organization in Brooklyn dedicated to the glass arts. Its window displays serve two purposes.
The first is to educate the public about the art on display.
“We start[ed] using QR codes [in our windows] to provide visitors with context to our exhibitions,” says Art Center Program Manager Meg Wachs. “We want to allow any passerby on the sidewalk a chance to learn about the work on display, even if our space isn’t open in the hours that they may be passing.”
The second purpose is to drive shop sales.
“Due to COVID-19, we had a gap in our Window Gallery exhibition calendar at the holidays that seemed best optimized by adjusting the work on display to products from our retail space” that are featured in the organization’s holiday gift guide, Wachs explains. Wachs also configured “the QR [code] to lead to our [digital] Holiday Gift Guide. Even within a retail space, we try to educate the public beyond what their experience with glass is.”
What you should steal
Take a page out of UrbanGlass’ book and use your window display to educate customers, in addition to selling products. For example, you could link your QR codes to landing pages that explain the process behind how you create your products.
Draw in customers with eye-catching window displays
Window displays are a powerful sales tool. They draw customers in, keep them engaged, and help initiate sales. By getting creative with your displays, and enhancing them with technology, you’ll convert passersby into customers.
What are the elements of a good window display?
- Moving/interactive pieces
- Various props
- Graphics/window decals
- Cardboard display pieces
- Marketing messaging
This post was originally written by Marianne Wisenthal and has been updated by Ana Cvetkovic.
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