Visual merchandising refers to anything that can be seen by the customer inside and outside a store, with the overall purpose of getting customers into the store.
“It really is much more comprehensive than that. The goal is to get customers to come into your store and spend money.”
How can retailers go look beyond product displays and score some visual merchandising ideas that will pack a punch? Here are 10 steal-worthy ideas you might not have thought of on your own.
1. Turn Your Products Into Art
Have you ever stepped into a store where the products were also the artwork? It’s quirky, but memorable. And while it may not always be functional, it can be a new way to position your products.
“I love when there are artful displays of products, because it shows true mastery of the principles of design,” says Guillot. “It’s almost conceptual art, or conceptual retail.”
The striking art of the nose makes passersby stop to take a closer look — which will reveal the perfumes beneath the nose. The marriage of art and product strikes a great balance that’s tasteful yet effective in attracting customers.
“In [retailers’] ability to create an artful piece, they’re also showcasing that this is an important piece for the customer to have it. It’s an artful version of a spotlight and I love it,” says Guillot.
PRO TIP: “Denim is so easy to do something like that with. A product like denim hangs well, molds well, it’s visually appealing, there are a variety of ways to hang and fold denim.”
2. Take Advantage of Technology
Image Credit: Afar.com
There are so many possibilities when it comes to technology — you just have to find the right way that works for you.
For retailers like Apple and Verizon, hands-on experiences with their technology products, as well as touchscreen walls and interactive displays in their flagship stores, technology is so close to their product. But it can work for other industries, too.
Guillot points to Ada’s Technical Books and Café in Seattle as the perfect example of a not-so-tech-centric retailer that has found a way to incorporate technology in a way that makes sense.
“They were able to reclaim a fireplace mantel piece, and above it they have a huge flat-screen TV,” Guillot describes. “They use it to advertise events in the store, new products, café menus, and other things like that.”
PRO TIP: You don’t have to make a huge investment. “Something like an iPad you can use to customize playlists that are for the benefit of the customer in the way that enhances the brand.”
3. Flower Power
Image Credit: Macy's
There’s actually scientific proof behind the benefits of fresh flowers — they’ve been found to make people feel “comfortable, relaxed and natural.” And what retailer wouldn’t want an easy-going and happy customer to step foot in their store?
Macy’s caught on to this more than 70 years ago, with its annual Macy’s Flower Show, which now attracts about a half-million people to its participating New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago stores.
There’s a reason we give flowers as gifts to the special people in our lives, and they’re a major expense for most weddings. And to see these flowers in such a large, artful display is an experience most retailers don’t offer.
And it’s not just the visual of the flowers, it’s the scent that contributes to the visual merchandising as well. “Part of the comprehensive experience of visual merchandising — even though it’s called visual — is how things smell and how things sound,” Guillot points out.
PRO TIP: A massive event the size of Macy’s Flower Show isn’t feasible for most retailers, and you don’t have to be a florist to take advantage of flowers.
Place fresh flowers outside your storefront to greet customers, and sprinkle them throughout your store and near the cash registers. Look for ways to thoughtfully integrate them with your product — maybe you use a pitcher as a vase, or you could create fresh flower headpiece for your mannequins.
4. Upcycled Product Displays
Image Credit: Pinterest
Instead of dime-a-dozen display cases, stands, and racks, opt for a less traditional — and more environmentally friendly — way to put your products on show.
The Trina Turk Boutique in New York City did exactly that with old logs. Rather than displaying her fashion apparel and accessories on standard product stands, she took a rustic, creative approach with trees.
It adds a different visual appeal and speaks to your brand identity when you use outside-the-box product displays. And if you upcycle smartly, it can also save you some serious room in your budget.
PRO TIP: Logs aren’t the only way to be creative. Find something that suits your store: Music shops could use refurbished record players, wind chimes, or necklaces could be displayed on a vintage coat rack, or a wheelbarrow can hold flower seeds at a home and garden shop.
5. Use Real Humans in Lieu of Mannequins
Image Credit: Alibaba
Especially relevant for apparel and accessory retailers, using real humans in your store in place of mannequins can be a powerful visual merchandising tactic.
Abercrombie & Fitch and sister stores abercrombie and Hollister have mastered this. As teenage girls and boys, their target market, walk past the storefront, they’re attracted to this real-life manifestation of what they aspire to be.
“I am a huge advocate for this notion … being this living embodiment of wearing the apparel,” Guillot says. “That personalized experience, whether it's visual or not, is so critical. But I love it when it's visual because then you are weaving seamlessly in it around the space.”
This is extremely effective for these stores because of the lifestyle they sell and their strong brand image, and the models are tangible proof that the Abercrombie & Fitch image is attainable.
They’ll want to buy the clothes those models are wearing so they can live this lifestyle, too — not to mention the photos with the models they’ll share all over social media.
PRO TIP: If your store is starkly different from Abercrombie & Fitch, you can still find ways to use real people instead of mannequins to merchandise your products. Make your products part of the employee uniform, host a fashion show, or host demos where your employees show how they use your products in real life.
6. Guide Your Customers Through Your Store
Image Credit: BuzzNation
If ever a retailer mastered how to direct customers through the store, it’s IKEA. The Sweden-headquartered furniture retailer has laid out their brick-and-mortar locations so well that they practically guide every step their customers take.
This works so well, because when you know how your customers are traveling through the space, you also know where they’re likely to look and they’re likely to see. Using that knowledge, IKEA can place promos, new products, and other priorities in those high-trafficked, visible spots.
Essentially, they can dictate where their customers spend the most time. And that’s valuable for guiding consumer behaviors.
PRO TIP: Often when retailers are setting their floor plan or thinking about a refresh, they’ll go to inspirational resources, but it doesn't always translate to what a revenue-driving retail experience is. And so, one of the things that I encourage all my clients to do is to consider customer line of sight,” Guillot says.
What she’s talking about is the concept of the 45-degree customer sight line. “Customers scan and view the store at about 45 degrees from their own path of walking. So, oftentimes when merchants or owners or even employees are setting or fixing the visual merchandising display, they’re doing it right in front, head on, without respecting how customers are walking around.”
Guillot has advice for breaking out of that habit: “After you merchandise, or when you're merchandising, actually physically walk around your space and scan the customer’s line of sight to make sure they’re seeing and approaching the product from this 45-degree angle.”
7. Use Your Customers
Image Credit: Merchant Method Facebook
Guillot recently hosted an event at The Carrot Flower Company, a local floral shop. “The owner had the windows open, a bench outside, and we were using that — not only the inside, but the whole front of the store, too.”
Pedestrians walking by see that there’s a group of people at this store — social proof that this is a place worth checking out. And though no products were part of this display, it’s visual merchandising for your brand and the experience you provide.
PRO TIP: Welcome your customers to spend time in your store, even if they’re not shopping. Provide a cozy space for customers to hang out. Things like offering free water, tea and coffee can make customers more at ease in posting up for a while.
The word “interactive” has this technology feel, but you can use interactive visual merchandising sans tech.
WILDFANG, a store in Portland, has an entire interactive wall — which is made of wood with no touchscreens involved.
Customers interact with the space by carving their initials and names into the wood,” Guillot says. “It’s a pretty irreverent, modern type of store, but I loved that they invited customers to leave their mark.
Not only does this create a memorable in-store experience, but customers also feel a sense of ownership and community after leaving their mark. It’s like claiming their territory and joining a tribe at the same time.
These unique fixtures draw customers in, even if they don’t know much about your products. Plus, it’s conveniently placed at the back of the store, so customers must walk past product displays to get there (that’s why milk and eggs are always at the back corner of the grocery store!)
PRO TIP: To further capitalize on the real-life traffic, promote a branded hashtag along with your interactive display. Broadcast this hashtag near the display to entice customers to share on social media, build buzz, and drive more foot traffic.
9. Do Your Customers a Service
Image Credit: Mast General Store
Any retailer who gives their customers something in return is on their way to lots of loyal customers. And when you consider the in-store experience, there a few retailers who have done this with their visual merchandising.
Asheville, North Carolina’s Mast General Store sells rocking chairs, but they also have them littered throughout the store and near the storefront. Customers are more than welcome to sit, while their companions browse the vast selection of souvenirs and trinkets.
This is thoughtful, because Asheville is a tourist destination, meaning there are lots of pedestrians walking around downtown — eating, drinking and shopping. All that sightseeing is tiring, and some people in the store are uninterested; they’re there solely because their travel mates want to be.
By providing relief and relaxation to the shopping wingmen and women, they’re less likely to rush the customers who are interesting in buying Mast General Store products. This gives them more time to shop — and more time to spend more money.
Plus, the store has a chance to turn that reluctant customer into a loyal one after they see how comfortable those rocking chairs truly are.
PRO TIP: Even if you don’t sell rocking chairs, or any type of seating for that matter, find out ways that you can make your product useful during the shopping experience.
Grocery stores can provide customers with a free in-store snack, while baby stores can offer free use of a baby carrier for new moms.
Image Credit: Downtown Boulder
The famous Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado is a top tourist shopping and dining destination. The pedestrian mall spans a few blocks and is lined with quaint shops, restaurants, and drinking holes.
Just a block off the main mall is Salon Liquid, along with its vintage bicycles adorned with flower pots. You might wonder what bicycles have to do with hair, and the connections really are limited. The impact it makes, though, is standing out from the crowd.
“Walking up and down boutique streets, I see really typical signage, like A-frame signs, blade signs, signage painted on windows and awnings,” Guillot says. “People think that’s the fastest way to attract customers.”
PRO TIP: Ditch the standard folding chalkboard and go for something more unique for your storefront. Inspiration can be found almost anywhere — check out Craigslist, yard sales and second-hand shops to see what gems you can uncover.
Creative Visual Merchandising in Your Store
Though it’s possible that the examples above aren’t directly related to your industry or your products, there are still ways you can creatively apply the same concepts to your approach to visual merchandising in your own store.
When it comes to being unique, be authentic to your brand and keep your customers in mind. Your visual merchandising should always enhance the experience, and never take away from it.
Want to learn more about visual merchandising? Check out Visual Merchandising 101: How to Create Designs With High-Converting Displays >