The art of visual merchandising has evolved from a role as store beautifier to one of sales support. According to Iowa State University, it is the second most important factor affecting store success. Retailers rely on visual merchandising to reinforce their store's image, improve customer service, increase sales and create a pleasant shopping experience. Visual merchandising demands constant attention to sustain shopper interest and repeat business.
Visual merchandising elements -- decor, logo and interior design -- set a retail store's image, or brand identity, and distinguish the business from its competition. Lighting, fixtures, music, color and product placement work together to establish an atmosphere that complements and supports that image. Even the look of the shopping bag, notes renowned visual merchandising Martin Pegler, promotes store identity. A store whose appearance communicates quality attracts customers interested in quality; a bargain basement atmosphere encourages expectations for lower prices.
For small stores forced to minimize their staffing level, visual merchandising enables customers to see and feel items without asking for help. Displays showcase product features to educate customers and answer their questions. Well-placed signs and the arrangement of stock in a logical sequence -- bed pillow next to sheets, for example -- help shoppers find what they need. Visual product placement also gives customers ideas on how to use a product in a new way or how to coordinate an item with others, as well as introduce a new look, trend or product. Keeping shoppers well informed quietly enhances customer service while stimulating sales.
At the heart of visual merchandising lies its ability to trigger an emotional reaction that leads a customer to buy. Strategically located floor displays guide shoppers through departments, while eye-catching fixture set-ups entice them to stop along the way. Lighting, color and props can attract browsers and turn them into buyers. Displays that use a theme, or visual story, to present product assortments encourage both add-on and multiple sales. For example, presenting beach towels, swimsuits, cover-ups, sunglasses and flip-flops together in a "swim shop" persuades someone preparing for a cruise to purchase a coordinated look.
Visual merchandising inspires shoppers so they leave the store happy. It adds an entertainment factor to shopping. Returning customers soon tire of seeing the same merchandise displayed the same way. By frequently moving things around and introducing new props and signage, a retailer can give his store a newness and freshness that lends an air of excitement. A regularly changed visual merchandising plan simultaneously invites shoppers to enjoy their shopping experience and reinforces a store's success in their eyes.