How to Boost Retail Sales with Visual Merchandising

Reece Collingwood
Guest Contributor

Shopping continues to transform, moving towards experiences rather than simple transacts, but with visual merchandising, you can ensure your shop engages shoppers and help all parties reach their objectives.

Despite many major retail chains showing signs of difficulty — including Marks & Spencer and House of Fraser — there is still opportunity for retail stores to maximise their sales revenue.

Visual merchandising has been a major selling process for many years. However, the problems dominating retail in 2018 make executing a successful visual merchandising strategy especially important if you want your retail brand to survive and prosper.

To help, this visual merchandising guide for retail brands in 2018 is your step-by-step guide to designing and launching a successful visual merchandising strategy to boost your brand’s profit margin and help you sail through the tough times ahead for the industry.

Why visual merchandising is important for the retail sector

The process of visual merchandising involves strategically designing the layout of an entire shop floor — including shelves and product displays — to provide a more engaging, exciting and ultimately profitable consumer experience.

But there’s more to visual merchandising than just putting products in a certain place because they look nice. There’s a science behind why certain presentations, structures and even colours deliver a better experience than alternative arrangements, and it’s been established that a strong visual display can raise turnover and strengthen your brand; even inspiring customer loyalty in the process.

According to Bob Phibbs, chief executive officer of The Retail Doctor retail consultancy in New York, “Visual merchandising is everything a shopper sees at your store that hopefully leads to a remarkable shopping experience. It is the unspoken language retailers use to communicate with their customers.”

So, how do you maximise the potential of visual merchandising at your retail store and avoid falling into the difficulties that the likes of Toys R Us and Maplin have suffered?

Highlight the wants, not the needs

By 2020, global retail sales are anticipated to hit USD 27.73 trillion, so there’s clearly scope for your brand to maximise its profits and get a share of this growth in the next few years.

The first step to achieving effective visual merchandising is determining what products you will use to attract consumers. A tip here is to go for what you think your customer wants — not needs. According to a study by Raj Raghunathan and Szu-Chi Huang, emotional responses are influential in our purchasing choices — which is why you should focus on giving shoppers something to desire.

Place your newest, most high-end products in your focal visual merchandising displays to attract shoppers looking for a treat purchase and enhance your chances of high-revenue conversions. You could also use banners alongside these displays to present promotional offers for luxury items that you want the consumer to take notice of — and buy!

Group displays

How you group products is critical to the success or failure of your visual marketing strategy. A recent report found that exposing your shopper to the maximum number of products is a tactical method when carrying out visual merchandising. However, don’t make your displays look crowded. Utilise different display furniture, such as mannequins, racks and shelves — whichever suits the product you’re merchandising — and bear in mind that focal points boost sales by a reported 229 percent, so ensure you effectively direct your shoppers when they enter your store.

You should also incorporate the ‘Pyramid Principle’ or ‘Rule of Three’ method when grouping products for a display. The Pyramid Principle dictates that you create a triangular display, with the biggest item in the middle and the smallest on the outside, ensuring your display doesn’t look flat and boring. Instead, it will catch the eye, as the products seem to ‘fall’ down towards the viewer. Equally effective is the Rule of Three. Within this, you create attractive asymmetry that shoppers will find engaging. The human eye is trained to see asymmetry more noticeably, in comparison to anything symmetrical – this means we are more likely to not pay as much attention to products placed equally, for example. By placing product in groups of three, you can create a noticeable imbalance that forces the eye to take in each product individually, as opposed to the display in its entirety — excellent for effectively advertising each item.

Curate colours

According to Jessica Clarke, a retail merchandiser and stylist, “Things that are easy to look at will be passed over, and things that are too outlandish will be offensive to the eye.” And this goes for colour. Contrasting colours at the opposite side of the colour wheel can help grab attention — think black and white or scarlet and jade — but creating a multi-coloured display of uncoordinated colours may turn people away.

Create a ‘decompression zone’

Another tip for creating an idyllic shopping experience for your visiting customers is to deliver the perfect decompression zone. This area of a shop is found just a few feet inside the main entrance and is believed by psychologists to elevate shoppers’ moods, acclimatise them to the store’s surroundings and get them ready for the shopping experience.

It’s all about the experience — who wants to browse and shop when they’re feeling negative or distracted? An effective decompression zone will help transport your shopper from the hustle and bustle of outside to a calmer, more focused environment that encourages browsing. Here are decompression zone tips:

  • Minimum of 10-15 feet
  • Based at shop entry with a full view of store
  • Created using contrasting furnishings and colours from outside area to signal new atmosphere
  • Use mannequins, attractive stands and specialised lighting to highlight your newest ranges

Are you aware that 98 percent of people turn right after entering a shop? Why not use your decompression zone to create a ‘circulation route’ from the right side that leads around your store for a smoother customer journey? Or, try placing your best products at the right of your decompression zone, if this is the most likely route consumers take.

Target all five senses

Although this guide is about visual merchandising, that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore the other four senses. Reportedly, 75 percent of emotions come from smell and our mood is meant to enhance 40 percent when we detect pleasant aromas. If you run a fragrance, soap or food retail establishment, are you harnessing the power of smell when it comes to merchandising?

Different types of smells can help consumers identify and recall a specific emotion or memory. If you run a bakery and want to evoke a feeling of warmth, cosiness and home-cooking; ensure your customers can distinctly smell your products baking from the kitchen by setting up the area to waft aromas into the main shop. Similarly, if your brand specialises in soaps and toiletries, place these strategically around your shop floor to avoid clashing aromas. For example, put all the citrus products together to evoke a sense of energy and rejuvenation and keep these far away from lavender and camomile scents, which are more relaxing.

Consider frequency and rotation

Just because you finally have the shop floor how you like it doesn’t mean you should let it stay that way. A major part of tactical visual merchandising is moving your presentations as new stock comes in. Don’t let customers get bored of visiting you — keep changing things up and you can make it look like you’re constantly replenishing your stock and bringing in new and wonderful items (even if you’re not).

Similarly, promotions and seasonal goods only last so long — don’t give people the impression your brand is behind the times or lazy. Change your visual merchandising displays every month and retain the perception of innovation.

According to predictions, shopping is expected to transform, leaning more towards ‘the experience’ rather than simply buying. With visual merchandising, you can ensure your shop offers something engaging to keep consumers interested — so why not start planning out your shop’s next visual merchandising campaign today?

About the writer: Reece Collingwood is a digital marketer with a keen eye for detail when it comes to retailing. His passion for business promotion has helped him run multiple e-Commerce shops, and has heightened his understanding of how the human mind can be engaged and appealed to in order to increase sales and revenue.

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