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Retailer Insight: Visual merchandising must tell shoppers a story

Julie Schroer, senior creative manager at London womenswear independent Blaiz, Best Visual Merchandising and Store Design winner at the Drapers Independents Awards 2019, explains its award-winning approach.

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Blaiz owner Stephanie Mordehachvili

Brands and retailers can no longer offer a bog-standard service and expect to be successful – just as they can’t expect lacklustre product displays to capture shoppers’ attention. Visual merchandising (VM) and store design are vital components of brands and retailers’ overall retail strategy. Managed successfully, they should grab shoppers’ attention and increase sales. 

VM is so much more than that, though: sight, touch, sound and smell all affect the consumer journey. They provide key opportunities for retailers to entice customers and, more importantly, keep them shopping for longer. This is why we experiment with light, texture, colour and fragrance in both of our stores – the Blaiz flagship in London’s Chelsea and our smaller shop in Marylebone.

Retailers must make sure their VM is in sync with their brand image, as this is what sets them apart from competitors and encourages customers to shop there. 

Given Blaiz’s Latin American theme – we sell brands from South America – both stores are designed to replicate a “tropical boudoir” through botanical patterned wallpaper, a vibrant pink colour scheme, neon signage and brass furniture. An attention-grabbing sign that reads: “Live by the sun, love by the moon, dance by the sea” reflects our bold, flamboyant ethos.

As our Chelsea shop is quite big (2,360 sq ft), we use the space to take customers on a journey. This involves creating moments that tie in with our current theme: from using diffusers to emulate a smell and transport customers to the jungle, to the music we play, or our “Instagrammable” flower wall. 

Although the Duke Street shop in Marylebone is smaller, the window display always mirrors that of our Chelsea store, which ensures our brand image is instantly recognisable.

It is important for your VM to reflect your customers’ values

As with all aspects of modern retail, VM and store design are constantly evolving, and it is important for us – especially as an independent business in a fiercely competitive market – to keep up. Indies must keep their finger on the pulse and be ready to adapt at any time.

For example, we’ve always been quite brave and non-conformist: we do not do a lot for Easter, but have promotions around the Rio de Janeiro Carnival in February, as it is more fitting with Blaiz and the brands that we stock. You have to do what is right for your business. 

Our Marylebone branch is located in the shadow of luxury department store Selfridges, which always has very inventive and progressive window installations. We don’t have the budget to compete with them, so we have to be dynamic and create a story that resonates with our customers.

It is important for your VM to reflect your customers’ values: sustainability is a massive issue right now, so we would never have a window full of plastic. Likewise, we wouldn’t have a big flamboyant display in times of austerity. It’s all about conscious storytelling and adapting to the world around us.

But it isn’t always plain sailing. Window displays, for one, can be quite wasteful. Retailers are constantly updating them, but rather than upcycle, they create new things from scratch. 

At Blaiz, we keep our displays in the windows for two to three months and evolve them during this period, by spray painting props in a new colour or re-imagining materials.

Another issue is budget. Measuring the success of VM can be hard, so it’s difficult to know what to spend money on and where. The team could spend – and, in the past, have spent – a long time putting together a window display only to realise that it doesn’t quite work. 

This could be because we had trouble sourcing the materials that we had in mind, budgets didn’t permit or, quite simply, because creating a seamless story in store is a beast of a challenge.

One thing’s for sure: successful VM is all about capturing your brand image and not being afraid to stand out. Don’t fear difference and don’t compare yourself with others. Customers shop with you for a reason, so show it off.


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