What Is Visual Merchandising?

By Sam Iontton17/04/2018

Every brand with a brick and mortar presence, whether that be high street, corner boutique or retail park, will tell you just how critically important their store environment and store front is. We can see in retail at the moment that it’s not only important to get it right but how difficult it is to keep up with the pace of changing consumer tastes and what their expectations are of a brand in the digital age.

In it’s simplest form, visual merchandising is a way of planning and designing a retail store environment, including the shop window, to attract people in and drive sales. Reading that out loud, it’s obviously not that simple to do or get right all the time, especially as the personality and values of the brand are also being put on show to the wandering masses of the high street; wandering masses who can be fickle at the best of times. Over the past 5-10 years however, there has been a rapidly changing trend in reduced footfall on the high street, partly down to stagnant wages and rising inflation but also because of the role the internet and technology is having on consumer expectations. According to data released by the British Retail Consortium “Online sales of non-food items have soared over the period between Dec 2012 and Dec 2018 to 24.1% of the total UK market”. Businesses up and down the country are having to adapt themselves to meet this change in behaviour and that too means that visual merchandising as we know it has to change in line, leading to “online visual merchandiser” type jobs being introduced to tackle the online shop window.

We can see with the introduction of Amazon Go, advances in the likes of augmented reality apps for in store browsing and even the oh so familiar click and collect, that retail environments are moving away from selling product to selling experiences. These aren’t just experiences that entertain us, these need to be experiences that make the life of a consumer easier and not just easy to purchase more products. The idea of giving a consumer a more well rounded experience isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a necessity in order to entice customers out from behind their desks and head in store to purchase. The purchase is of course important but brands with a high street presence have a chance to create a greater personal connection with customers, improving retention and grow market share.

Many retailers of course understand that it’s not a simple case of online vs offline and those that have a high street presence are rapidly looking at ways to create an experience by bringing the internet, technology and additional customer focused services in store. Staff empowered with tablets or self service checkouts were the first attempts at freshening up the traditional in store model but they don’t go far enough, resulting in a lot of brands joining forces or being acquired in order to maintain, grow and tap into broader new audiences. Patisserie Valerie basing itself inside some Debenhams stores and the likes of the acquisition of Argos by Sainsburys, are just examples of brands looking to bring people in through the door and keep them spell bound with food, secondary services and other bolt-ons that make life easier; something that is behind the success of online companies to date, as we are all looking for an easier life.

With more and more companies collaborating, it’s not just big brands and flashy gadgets however that are drawing in the crowds. House of Fraser have been offering pop-up concession stands in their Manchester store so that the likes of local start ups, which are popular with a mix of older and “millennial” demographics, are given the opportunity to showcase their stock. Utilising their own data, an understanding of it’s customers and support from Irish tech company Popertee, HOF are taking an interesting approach to not only using digital data to change it’s in store environments but are also catering to the differences in their customers local interests.

With all this in mind, where does that leave visual merchandising? The definition mentioned earlier is still true, however the success of each store is reliant now more than ever on a forward thinking brand that can not only empower each member of staff with the right tools but more importantly, the flexibility to bring each individual store to life.

Source – For more information regarding popup shops in House of Fraser https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/business/debenhams-house-of-fraser-kendals-14476950

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