Your browser is no longer supported. For the best experience of this website, please upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Visual Merchandising: Using shop tactics

Getting customers in the mood to spend requires more than just having the right stock - a store’s design can clinch the deal.

What makes a shop worth visiting? What is it that makes shoppers stop and stare? And, perhaps most importantly, what turns browsers into purchasers? A great deal of time and energy has been poured into understanding these three questions. Yet while they may appear beguilingly simple, providing answers is anything but - and there are probably more solutions than there are ways to skin the proverbial cat.

There is also the matter of demographic segment. Are the rules the same for a business selling ultra low-price garments as they are for boutiques pandering to the specific and detailed demands made by luxury consumers?

A shop is probably worth visiting if the retailer can give the customer a reason to come into it. This boils down to a combination of visual merchandising and architecture, the twin elements that may persuade a customer that a store is worth taking a second glance at. But it may be about more than eye-catching window displays.

David Dalziel, creative director at store design consultancy Dalziel + Pow, says: “I’m not convinced that windows play such a major part. It is about brand loyalty, which happens when people just love what the brand has to sell. The store design and the windows can only support that.”

He adds that it’s frequently the first six metres inside the entrance of a store that is the deal-clincher as far as shoppers are concerned: “H&M sets the stage for what to expect in this way. The space inside the door is, in effect, a third window.”

This particular rule applies as much to large shops as to smaller ones. Dalziel points to the recently opened Jigsaw Duke Street Emporium in London as an example.

“Even in a relatively small shop, they’ve taken the first six metres and used it to create a stage,” he says, referencing the in-store cafe area. Given that this is nearly half the distance from the entrance to the back of the store’s ground floor, it is easy to see the importance attached to the principle.

“You’ll very rarely step into a store these days and encounter stock straight away,” Dalziel adds.

If brand loyalty, windows and an in-store stage are all integral elements in getting shoppers to buy, what should retailers consider? Andy Turnbull, global creative principal at New Look, says tactility is the key between differentiating what is done in a store against what might be encountered if the customer’s usual touch point is online.

“It’s what retail offers beyond digital,” he says. “The distinction is you can be fundamentally tactile with your customers, which gets to grips with the business of making an in-store experience meaningful. You’ve got to add some depth to what you’re doing - you’ve got to take people on a journey.”

What signals does a retailer need to send to make this a reality? Guy Smith, head of design at Arcadia and the man responsible for the team that has designed Topshop stores globally, says: “There are two different modes [when it comes to getting shoppers into the mood] - overt and discreet.”

He defines overt as “big, set-piece visual merchandising installations, such as we do in Topshop at Oxford Circus”, while discreet means something rather more “conversational”.

He says the Rapha cyclewear store at Piccadilly is a prime example of the discreet model, in which monitors with live cycle races, a vintage Citroën delivery van that has been turned into a fitting room and modest mid-shop visual merchandising installations all combine to create a conversation.

In flagship stores a set piece is likely to predominate, but for smaller operations anything from an A-stand to blackboards, graphics and mannequins will be sufficient to kickstart a conversation - or at least provoke shopper interest.

Beyond this, there are multiple options for the fashion retailer. Smith says: “Traditionally, the high end has been about one-to-one conversations with the shopper. But these days, with brands like Burberry and Prada offering digital alternatives and mid-market people like us majoring on physical service, things are not as clear as they once were. I’m a sucker for service. The question you need to ask is: do you go for a tech solution, or do you go for more discreet tech [for example, messages sent to mobile phones] that enables staff to have that conversation?”

Dalziel explains that “digital integration” is on everybody’s mind, but unless it relates directly to the website, where the promise of the store is fulfilled and vice versa, it can be an effort wasted.

He observes that for many retailers, digital is purely about entertainment: “Primark has done this in some of its stores [with large digital screens]. It’s very nice, but it doesn’t have a transactional website.”

Dalziel adds that for smaller retailers, digital can be very expensive and that “unless it is streamlined and seamless, and mirrors what goes on in the store, it could be a waste of money”.

There are a number of other considerations. Wayfinding and lighting are among the most important, although it is unlikely that in a store of less than 2,000 sq ft there will be much call for physical wayfinding tools.

Dalziel says: “These days, a lot of what we do when it comes to in-store navigation is done with the stock and layout - it’s intuitive. Often the signage that you see is more about making a statement than helping shoppers find things.”

Lighting, however, has the ability to make a real difference to shoppers’ perceptions. Ted Baker’s Glasgow flagship, which opened in late March, is a well-executed example of this.

The LED lighting system, installed in a tie-up with supplier Philips, enables staff to set the lighting to complement the music being played and the stock on display on any specific day, giving shoppers a considered experience.

Even the hangers used in a shop matter. Graeme Rutherford, chief executive of hanger company Braiform, says: “We design our hangers around the garment they are intended to carry, but the entire journey is considered, from manufacture to store.

“Garment presentation is critical and adds value to the in-store experience.”

All of these elements add up to in-store consistency, according to Turnbull: “The essence of being new is putting something into a store that raises a smile, but you need to be consistent.”

Whether it’s the front of the store, the fitting rooms - where Smith says “the basket can be dropped”, with long queues and waiting times equating to a negative experience - or the simple matter of payment, there are many possibilities. The key is that every element must be thought through.

The psychology of shopping is not that difficult, but the devil really is in the detail. Perhaps it’s best to start from the product and work back - it is always possible to sell good product from a poor environment, but it does not work the other way around. Indeed, as Dalziel points out: “A good environment can even magnify the fact that the product is not as good as it should be.”

Product first, store design second - then everything else will fall into place.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.