Visual merchandising—the practice of using displays, lighting, color, and other elements to appeal to consumers—plays a significant role in the success of a retail business, whether you’re selling goods from a brick-and-mortar shop or from a small booth at a market. Through creative and strategic displays, you can increase the likelihood of attracting and retaining your target customer.
During Faire Summer Market 2021, Sydney White, co-founder of Vertical Ledge and visual merchandising expert, spoke about the importance of designing strategic visual displays in any space, and shared best practices for an exceptional customer experience.
Creating a memorable customer experience
“Visual merchandising can solve some of your deepest fears, like a customer walking away without buying a thing,” Sydney said. “But that will only happen if the space is not an enjoyable experience.” Creating an exceptional visual experience for the customer should be the ultimate goal of your visual merchandising strategy. It will not only increase the time a customer spends in your store, but it will also motivate them to spend more money, return in the future, and even bring in new shoppers. “In a world where you can buy everything with the click of a button, why would somebody go to your store? Because it’s an experience,” Sydney said.
We leveraged Sydney’s expertise to compile four key tips to help you utilize visual merchandising and attract your ideal customer.
Know your audience
The most successful stores, Sydney said, are selling a lifestyle, not just products. In order to sell a lifestyle, you need to know who your ideal customer is. Determine where your target audience shops, what their interests are, and where they spend their time. What aesthetics are they drawn to? What spaces do they avoid? Who do they follow on social media? These details will help you understand the lifestyle that most appeals to your audience, to better emulate that within your space.
Most importantly, narrow your scope so that you don’t overcommit to too many contrasting lifestyles and designs. “You might think you can talk to a lot of different people and play on a lot of different themes,” Sydney said. “But if you’re a small business, you should have one central theme, maybe two.” By narrowing down your niche, you’re more likely to attract customers who will love your store. These customers will enter your shop and be able to clearly visualize how your products will fit into their lives. “When a customer can already envision an item in their house, you’ve done the hard part. You’ve sold them,” Sydney said.
Build an attention-grabbing display
Your display is the first opportunity to communicate your brand to an audience.. Depending on your retail space, this could refer to your window display or the first display visible from the entrance to your shop. No matter the size or scale of your retail space, the way you first showcase your products to the customer should stand out. “You only have six to nine seconds to grab the customer’s attention in any space,” Sydney said.
A good display draws on emotions and incorporates at least one of the five senses. Visually, color can be one of the most powerful elements to appeal to potential customers. Whether you use bold colors that pop, earthy tones, or play around with white space, your color palette should grab your target audience’s attention and prevent them from walking past your store.
You can also draw customers in by creating an interactive display that draws on the sense of touch, or use the sense of smell with candles or incense that pair well with the space. Regardless of the emotions and senses you wish to evoke, your display should quickly and clearly signal to your ideal audience that your space is for them. As a bonus, if your display impresses your customers enough, they may share it on social media and expose you to an even wider audience of potential consumers.
Group similar items together
Once you’ve successfully gotten your customer through the door, there are several strategies you can implement to maintain their interest. Create a display of three to five items that complement each other to depict a simple, yet powerful lifestyle story. You can group items together based on color, room, theme, and more.
A key pitfall to avoid is displaying too many products, thereby creating decision fatigue. For example, placing dozens of candles next to each other creates an overwhelming number of options that may prevent your customer from buying any of them. As Sydney advised, select things like a candle, earrings, perfume, and a catch-all dish with similar colors, styles, and smells. “By pairing these items together, you take a confused, decision-fatigued customer, and instead of giving them a thousand options of the same thing in one space, you give them a lifestyle.”
Highlight handmade products
Understanding where a product is coming from can also significantly add to a customer’s experience. Customers should be made aware when a product displayed was made locally by an artisan. When applicable, tell a story about your products and what makes them unique. You can put a small plaque next to the product that says “meet the maker” and includes a few sentences about who made the item and where. You can also designate an entire display or section to locally or handmade items.
Highlighting the origin story of unique products in your store lets the customer know that their money is going towards supporting small businesses or artists. “People want their dollar to mirror their ethics and morals,” Sydney said. “They want to know where their products are coming from.” By providing information behind the product up-front, you make it easier for customers to buy based on their values.
Read our blog on merchandising tips that maximize safety during the Covid-19 pandemic.