Tuesday, May 15, 2012: 08:58:34 PM


In the Eyes of the Beholder

Thomas Johan from @home, throws light on visual merchandising as an effective tool for marketing

A successful retailing business requires that a distinct and consistent image be created in the customerís mindñan identity that permeates all product and service offerings. Visual merchandising can help to create a positive customer image that leads to successful sales. It not only communicates the storeís image, but also reinforces the storeís advertising efforts and encourages impulse buying by the customer.

The Need for Visual Merchandising
Visual merchandising is a vital, but often overlooked factor, that determines the success or failure of a retail store. It is second only to effective customer relations.

Visual merchandising can be defined as everything the customer sees, both exterior and interior; that which creates a positive image of a business and results in begetting attention, interest, desire and action on the part of the customer. A story can be told that communicates to the prospective customer what the store is all about. It includes dramatic presentation of the merchandise, as well as other important, subtle features that create the storeís overall atmosphere.

Eighty percent of our impressions are created by sight; that is why, one picture is worth a thousand words. Each customer has a mental image of a store and its merchandise. A store should have an inviting appearance that makes the customer feel comfortable and eager to buy. Some businesses maintain minimal staff to reduce costs, which means it is even more important for the merchandise to sell itself. Greater effort must be spent on merchandise displays that make it easier for the customer to find and purchase the items they want or need. The basic objective for visual merchandising is a desire to attract customers to a place of business in order to sell the merchandise. Visual merchandising is offered to the customer through exterior and interior presentation. One should be coordinated with the other using the storeís overall theme.

Creating and maintaining a storeís visual merchandising plan, however, is not a simple task. It is necessary to continually determine what the customer sees. This evaluation from the customerís perspective should start on the exterior and work completely through the interior of the store.

Exterior Design
The quality of a store front is a major determinant for a customer, particularly a new customer, and should not be underestimated. The exterior appearance of one store, a block of businesses or a cluster, silently announces to the customers what they can expect inside. Good exterior visual merchandising attracts attention, creates interest and invites the customer into the business establishment. The exterior presentation can offer a conservative, progressive, lavish or discount image to the customer.

How a store visually welcomes customers plays a major role in determining whether or not they enter the store. Although good prices and positive word-of-mouth advertising are important, it is hard to overcome the negative image of a poor store exterior.

Interior Design
Selling space is the most important part of a store and, therefore, efforts to utilise each square foot will help maximise sales. One proven way to do this is through interior displays that effectively showcase merchandise to the customer. When planning interior displays, remember that the theme and image presented on the exterior must be carried throughout the interior of the store to maintain consistency. The purpose of interior display is to develop desire for the merchandise, show what is available, and encourage both impulse and planned buying. Three major goals of a store should be to motivate the customer to spend money, project the image of the store and keep expenses to a minimum. Promotion and advertising dollars are less effective or even wasted when efforts are not made within the store to effectively merchandise the products. Well-designed displays and in-store promotions are essential for a consistent theme and to help the customer find advertised items.

Display Design
An effective way of attracting customers to a store is by having good displays, both exterior and interior. A customer will be attracted to a display within three to eight seconds; that is the time period within which a customer determines whether or not he is interested in a product. This is why it is critical to have a properly-designed display. Every display should be planned and have a theme. Good design makes a visual presentation come together. This means the design attracts attention in a way that strengthens the store image, as well as introduces merchandise to the customer.

Colour and Lighting
Colour contributes significantly to peopleís impression of a display, as well as a storeís overall appearance. Colour in a display can catch the eye and make people pause and look. The colour combinations of the ceiling, walls, floor covering and the overall decor can affect the atmosphere of a store. Changing the colour scheme can change peopleís attitudes and perceptions of a store, and can increase (or decrease) business. Colour can change the shape and add interest to a dull room, and can direct attention toward a specific object or away from problem areas. People tend to respond in a certain way to different colours; these responses are outlined in colour charts. A colour wheel is a handy tool to use in developing a colour scheme for a store. Several colour schemes are possible by choosing different combinations.

Warm colours (red, yellow, orange and colours with red or yellow hues such as yellow-green, beige, peach, brown and orange-red) are stimulating and cheery. They make a room feel warm and intimate. Warm colours make a room seem smaller, while making objects in the room appear larger. A warm colour on the end walls of a long narrow room will appear to shorten the room. Blue, green, violet, and colours containing blue such as blue-green and violet-blue, are cool colours. These help to create a relaxing atmosphere. Rooms decorated primarily in cool colours tend to appear larger and more spacious. Cool colours are especially pleasing in smaller rooms.

Lighting is essential in calling attention to merchandise in a display. A shopperís eye is drawn automatically to the brightest item or area. Lighting treatment may be used to draw attention to part of the display area, a specific item in the display, or to coordinate parts of the total display area. Lighting can also be used to direct shoppers through the store, attracting them to various displays. Because of this tendency to follow a lighted path, display lights should be two to five times stronger than the lighting in other parts of the store. There are three types of lighting used in store illumination: primary, accent and atmosphere lighting.

The interplay of lights, colour, creative design and innovative display all come together to create a memorable shopping experience for the customer. This ensures that the customer returns and word-of-mouth publicity about the store is generated. Thus, visual merchandising in retail stores plays a very important role in attracting sales, and is a concept that requires more attention from retailers.

The author is Sr GM, Retail Operations and Institutional Sales of @home.

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