Shop Talk - November 2007

By Jim Dion

Visual merchandising is the art and science of displaying products on the sales floor and in windows to increase store traffic and sales volume. Along with basic store design, it’s a key component of your store’s unique identity and your best form of advertising. It communicates your brand and shows what’s special about your offerings and what makes your store better than others.

Of course, as in advertising, the message has to be clear and consistent. If it isn’t, you’ll attract the wrong customers or deliver the wrong product and experience to them. If your store looks and feels high end but your products aren’t, you might discourage your mid to low income customers from checking you out.

At the same time, more affluent customers won’t buy because your selection doesn’t include pricier, more luxurious products. Whatever your brand’s unique identity is, you must create an environment where everything from the shopping bags to the displays in the windows convey the same clear and consistent message. This is the art of branding, and it’s as necessary for how you display your products as it is for the products themselves.

Visual merchandising is also a key component of your store’s customer service. When planning for your store’s look and feel, you must do several things.

Make your customers feel good. If they’re happy you know they’re going to buy. You also want to build loyalty and repeat purchases by creating a good experience.

Make it a feast for the senses. Shopping isn’t just about picking up a product. It’s about temptation, attraction, and creating a memorable impression that will encourage the customer to come back. A memorable impression can be created by light, color, texture, and sound, or by being engaged in a totally interactive environment where customers get to “test drive” a product and see what it can do for them. Thuy T. Tranthi, former president of Thomas Pink USA, a British clothing retailer, said, “I want to make sure that the customer has a wonderful feeling of being transported to a different place when they enter one of our stores.”

Make it easy for your customer to buy a lot. While you want the customer to have a good time in your store, you also want them to buy easily and efficiently. A good floor plan makes it easier for a customer to purchase by having the merchandise readily accessible, and it guides them efficiently through the store.

Make it easy and exciting for your sales associates. Logical merchandise displays make it very easy for sales associates to give customers exactly what they need. Through a proper display of similar and complementary items in one place, sales associates can easily offer alternative products and suggest complementary or additional items.

I believe that a great merchandise presentation can mean up to 40% more business. Here are some of the reasons.

• If flooring choices are presented in an attractive manner, customers are more likely to find what they want and buy. 

• It can increase your stock turn rates. Proper fixtures and display techniques will often require less stock to look full. This can increase the number of times you replace your inventory by reducing your inventory requirements. Rug stores are a good example. Very expensive rugs often sit underneath a pile of 20 or 30 rugs, each weighing an average of 30 pounds. If you want to show the customer your rugs at the bottom of the pile, you need move about 600 to 900 pounds. Rug retailers don’t mind this, but customers feel bad about it and are usually content to see the first few at the top of the pile. How many more rugs could be sold if customers could actually see them?

• It can increase your sales per square foot. The highest sales-per-foot stores are designed so sales associates can sell and service more customers in a shorter time. Bigger isn’t always better, so size your store to your concept.

• It can decrease your markdown rates. In a well organized store, slower moving items become apparent much earlier and can be marked down faster. Early markdowns are much less expensive because customers expect greater markdowns at the end of the season.

• It can drive traffic and it may get shoppers to come back. If your store has dramatic windows and an impressive entrance it will encourage passers-by to stop and look. If it then has fabulous displays and products, the shopper will not only buy but will come back for more. Think of Starbucks and its “third place” strategy. First place for most people is their home. The second place is their work place. And third place is……you got it! And it’s not just the coffee. It’s the ambience that delivers an experience and drives repeat business. 

Now that you know why good visual presentation and store design matter, you need to learn how to achieve them.  

Visual presentation begins with the image that you want to convey to the customer. The image is reinforced in your store layout. You then present the merchandise the best possible way on different fixtures, with different lights and signs. Also look at colors, music and video, odor and cleanliness—to make sure they promote the desired image and provide the right experience.

Effective merchandise presentation starts with a proper departmentalization of your inventory. If you put all of the same categories in one area it’s easier and more logical for customers to find what they’re looking for. For example, one department in a tile store could be bathroom tiles, and within that could be contemporary tiles.

Then you need to position your store fixtures based on traffic flow and sight lines. Fixtures, however, should never impede the traffic flow. Even if you have limited space, leave enough area to properly display your products so your customers can see them. By all means, avoid “butt brush,” when a customer’s examining a product and someone walks by and brushes her from behind because the aisle is too narrow. This is death to a deliberation buy. The recommended aisle width is 36” minimum.

Fixtures should also not block sight lines to other parts of the store. Chairs or benches must be comfortable, easily accessible and there should be enough of them for busy times.

Now that your fixtures are in place, you need to present the merchandise so customers will want to buy it. Here are some ideas.

Display the right amount of merchandise. There’s a very fine line between too much and too little merchandise. Your shelves should never look bare, nor crammed with merchandise. If there aren’t enough styles in the assortment, then duplication of product may be in order.

Display at the optimum buying height. This is at eye and hand level. Customers visually scan at eye level, at about 5 feet, the height at which most merchandise is noticed. This, of course, is a little different in a tile store where your tiles are on the floor or on the walls. However, if you have a wall display with different tiles, carpet swatches or wood samples, make sure to display your high profit ones at eye level.

Change merchandise frequently. While some of your displays are more permanent—tiles on the floor, walls or in theme rooms—others can be changed more frequently. Presentations should be changed according to your store marketing/promotions plan. Traditionally, you have seasonal changes every four to six weeks and mid-season changes every two to three weeks, as well as changes to include new arrivals. You also have products in the front of the store, which is where you want to generate most of the excitement and where changes should take place more frequently. Change your displays frequently and you’ll see how sales will improve. 

Display the proper shelf tag and description. It’s amazing how much easier it is to find product information online than in a store. To compete with your online competitors, you need to address this issue. Simply create effective, easy to read cards that describe the benefits of your products. Anecdotes and stories about the products also work very well (customers love stories and to learn new things). Stay away from long lists of technical features that only a few customers would care about. 

Displays should be clean, tidy and dramatic. Have you ever noticed how oranges and bananas are stacked at Whole Foods and how shimmery the apples are? Taking special care in the way you present your flooring samples dramatically contributes to a positive impression and a great experience. It also shows respect for the customer.

Less is more. Simple, linear and uncluttered displays go a long way in delivering a clear message. The more merchandise in a display (or window) the less value and impact it has.

Keep related products close. This can create a total look or total solution for the customer and is one of your most powerful tools because customers can see how one product would look or function so much better with complementary items.



Copyright 2007 Floor Focus Inc