The most popular in the series of Mary Portas (right) and Skillsmart Retail masterclasses, “Creating Desire” gives indies the lowdown on visual merchandising.
Visual merchandising is not just about windows,” says Shalina Alabaksh, trainer for the Mary Portas and Skillsmart Retail masterclasses. But this is exactly what most delegates at the “Creating Desire” class limit their visual merchandising to: window dressing. “Shoppers are less loyal and trusting, and women in particular mix up their brands, so indies need to get their customers’ attention.”
The difficulty for indies is that they don’t have the budgets or dedicated teams that their high street rivals use to create compelling retail theatre in store as well as in windows. Still, Alabaksh believes there are plenty of ways for indies to up their visual merchandising game. The key aspect of putting a store together is ensuring the storefit reflects the retailer’s brand values. Then, implement simple techniques like the “shopfloor 360-degree experience”, where the customer can see all areas in the store, from trend stories and changing rooms to the till point, as soon as they enter. “If fixtures are too high, for example, you can’t see over them,” says Alabaksh.
Putting together a visual merchandising calendar is a must, says Alabaksh. As well as laying out your store for key dates - Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, etc - be part of the local community and find out if there are events taking place that you could be a part of.
In fact, the networking aspect of the masterclass was equally as important to the delegates as the content itself. Claire Robertson, manager of Wellworths in Dorchester, which took over a former Woolworths store after the retailer went into administration, says: “Meeting other retailers and hearing their ideas and experiences was very useful. Being able to bounce ideas off one another really encourages you to be creative. It’s good to get out and think about things away from the shop.”
Monitoring “hot spots” in a store is also vital. “If you had a good or bad trading week, ask yourself why and take a picture of your shop and windows that week to trigger your memory when you come to plan again later in the year,” says Alabaksh. Her final tip relates to a person’s “strike zone”. “This is what makes you look to the left-hand side of a room [when you enter it],” she says. Think about that when merchandising your key pieces or best-sellers.
Mary’s top tips
- Understand the meaning of visual merchandising. It’s the art and science of silent selling, bringing product, environment and space into one stimulating and engaging display to encourage a sale.
- If visual merchandising is not part of your strategy yet, it needs to be. It helps to bring your store alive and creates a visual retail theatre designed to inspire your customers to shop and make your store stand out.
- Your in-store experience needs to resonate with shoppers’ needs and expectations. To achieve this you need to know your customers inside out. Each one is different and, as a retailer, the key to your success is understanding their expectations, mood and mindset.
- Planning is key. A crucial part of visual merchandising is timing. Some products may have to be “pushed” harder at certain times of the year, so create a visual merchandising calendar of events to help you plan promotions and keep the shop fresh and exciting.
- Make it easy for your customers to shop in your store. A badly laid out store not only makes for a frustrating and disappointing shopping experience for customers, it also has a negative impact on sales. If your shoppers ask for help, it should be about product details, rather than where to find what they’re looking for.
- Make your customers fall in love with your shop. If you succeed in creating all of the above, your customers will fall in love with your products and service and come back to you time and time again.