By Ray Ko
As anyone who has ever stepped inside a retail store knows, there are a lot of products and advertising-related eye candy fighting for your attention. Visual merchandising is a store owner’s opportunity to blast through the sensory overload and focus a shopper’s eye on specific products, entice people to interact with items on display, get them moving around the space in a calculated way, and when they’re ready to check out, tempt them into one last impulse purchase.
Visual merchandising can be quite creative and a lot of fun, but there are several visual merchandising mistakes smart retailers should avoid.
Mistake #1: Overloading displays with too much merchandise
When it comes to showcasing merchandise, there is always the temptation to add “just one more thing” to a display. Don’t do it—this is a far-to-common visual merchandising mistake. The tried-and-true fashion tip “before you leave the house, remove one piece of jewelry” works for visual merchandising, too. Just because there are several items in a product line doesn’t mean you have to show them off all at once.
Choose a few items that really represent the brand overall and have the graphic punch to pull people in. Use beautifully designed signage in or around the display to direct shoppers to additional or complementary products.
Mistake #2: Assuming people know what to do with what they see
Even when how to use an item seems entirely obvious, such as a lipstick or motor oil, never miss the opportunity to add value to the consumers’ experience with visual or written content. You can choose to play up anything you’d like about the product—craftsmanship, sustainability, tensile strength, whatever is appropriate—in an eye-catching, informative way, while also educating people and even enticing them to buy more.
It goes without saying that if there’s any level of ambiguity about a product, you should counteract it right there at the display. Same goes for anything a customer may perceive as negative. Nip that in the bud. People don’t buy what they don’t understand.
Mistake #3: Using ALL the floor space available
Open floor space is your store’s breathing room. Experiencing a product properly requires adequate space to do so—think three-dimensionally. If you are merchandising on the walls, make sure people can step back from the item far enough for proper viewing without bumping into something. If you’re creating a tabletop display, leave ample room for shoppers to walk around it and to linger without blocking another customer’s path. If people need to read something, give them a comfortable way to do so (and no, this isn’t specific to bookstores). Ditto for trying something on—even jewelry, which requires people to turn about in front of a mirror.
And above all, don’t stack items where people can topple them onto the floor with one unfortunate touch. Before you say you’re done, put yourself in your customers’ shoes, interact with the display, and tweak it accordingly.
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Mistake #4: Only merchandising the expensive stuff
Of course you want to showcase the best items in your store. But people come into a store for all sorts of reasons—to buy something specific, to browse for a gift, to get advice, to look for a bargain, to waste time until their kid’s done at the arcade—and your visual merchandising should have a bit of something for everyone. If not, you stand to lose potential sales.
Group complementary items at a variety of price points. Add displays near entry and exit points. Put together irresistible point-of-purchase displays near the cash register and at places where people interact with your employees (who can nudge them toward a purchase). Use a pedestal to show off your store’s pièce de résistance, but use it wisely—not only can it draw attention to the item atop the pedestal itself, it can draw the eye down a path lined with other goodies.
Mistake #5: Showcasing what you don’t have available
Another common visual merchandising mistake is showcasing a product you don’t actually have available for purchase. This would seem obvious, yet “Sorry, we don’t have that item in stock” is said about 10 million times a day (okay, I don’t have a real stat for that, but you know what I mean). If you’re going to draw attention to a product, make sure it’s available to your shoppers then and there—or be ready to give them a plausible reason why it’s not (and there aren’t many of those), an ETA on when they can get it, and a way to let them know when it’s available. Then, make it really, really easy on them by offering to deliver it for free, if possible.
Stockout risks are quite real. About 30% of consumers put stockouts on the list of reasons their shopping experience wasn’t up to par—a concern for your brand and a threat to your customer relationships. When it does happen, the same percentage will either leave the store without purchasing anything or buy the same item elsewhere.
Mistake #6: Waiting until the end of the day to tidy up
Visual merchandising is all about capturing attention. When you’re successful at it, that means people are looking at and interacting with your display all day long. They’re picking items up and putting them back down again. They’re joggling past tables and countertops. They’re leaving fingerprints all over display cases. All types of inadvertent mayhem can ensue—spilled drinks, tumbled about items, opened boxes, breakage and more (shudder).
It’s absolutely imperative that you dispatch an employee at regular intervals to straighten up every visual display in your store. ServiceChannel reports that 70% of shoppers reported a recent negative experience, and a messy store tops the list of “ick” factors. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Plus, when you have a roving employee moving about, that’s an extra opportunity to interact with customers or observe their behavior, both of which open up avenues to more sales.
Stop making these common visual merchandising mistakes
Visual merchandising is an effective way to increase in-store sales if it’s done right. And that boils down to one thing, really—enabling shoppers to browse easily and find the items they want in a pleasant environment.
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