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    Retailwire: Of Sense and Sentimentality in Store VM

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    [Editor’s Note: Through a special arrangement, here is an excerpt from one of ’s online discussions, along with the results from .com’s instant poll. US-based .com presents the latest industry news and issues with key insights from a “BrainTrust” of retail industry experts.]

    Visual merchandising has taken a turn for the comfortable this holiday season as stores attempt to help put shoppers more at ease and into a state where they’ll be more likely to spend their money.

    Doug Hope, founder of GlobalShop and publisher of Display & Design Ideas, offered an example to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Think about the old Rich’s [now Macy’s] at Lenox Square. It was one gigantic Mylar attack of chrome and mirrors. You almost had to have sunglasses. Now, they’re really toning it down with wooden floors, painted surfaces and fabric wall-coverings,” he said.

    Stores are looking to make the shopping environment more welcoming by pumping in pleasurable aromas. According to Mr. Hope, stores are using a variety of scents including cedar, apple pie, vanilla, and green tea to help set the shopping mood. “Our sense of smell is one of the most important as far as memory and mood are concerned,” he said.

    Two others tactics that are being utilised, according to Mr. Hope, are in direct contrast to one another.

    On one hand, stores are looking to make shopping easier on the ears with a variety of noise-cancelling steps including the addition of carpeting on floors, cloth-covered walls and ceilings sprayed with material that muffles sound. “The mall has a certain din going on, and that din isn’t exactly pleasant,” he told the Journal-Constitution. “It really does take sound absorption techniques in this day and age.”

    On the other hand, there is the explosion of digital displays in stores, a la TV. Stores are also making increased use of kiosks to provide consumers with information and, in some cases, sell product.

    Discussion Questions: What visual merchandising tactics have you noticed being used in retail stores this holiday season? Where do you see the greatest tactical opportunities for merchandising to influence purchasing behaviour?

    Stores aim for cozy atmosphere to lure holiday shoppers – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Comments… Send in Yours!
    How many stores would make their shoppers happier if they stopped using “upscale” marble and granite floors, in exchange for soft carpeting? Many shoppers get tired faster walking on stone. And how many stores would do better if they updated their Christmas music? Many shoppers are tired of hearing the same tunes for the past 40 years. Two great things about online shopping: no forced marches on stone floors and you can choose your own music.
    Mark Lilien, consultant, Retail Technology Group

    From the perspective of shopping department stores, I do see more effort to warm up the holiday decor with traditional Christmas colours, but the success rate is not universal. Some stores look appealing, other stores look pretty sterile right now. As to the science of aroma, this is easier to achieve in a speciality store than in a traditional department store, where the scent of competing fragrances tends to overwhelm the main floor, not just the cosmetics department. The smartest stores will pay attention to signing, clutter and navigation tools—as they should 365 days a year—especially now that inventories and traffic are at their peak.
    Richard Seesel, principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

    One of the greatest opportunities for retailers, supermarkets and otherwise, is to start paying attention to more creative visuals on end-caps.

    We still labour under the pile-it-high mentality. There’s more to it than just stacking up two-litre bottles of Pepsi or paper towels every other week. There are, of course, exceptions, but even in department stores, end aisles and freestanding displays seem to be dumping grounds for promotional priced goods. I don’t expect this to change any time soon—especially during holiday seasons. But end-caps can be so much more than they are, a place to stimulate consumer ideas and purchasing.

    Look at Wegmans on the East Coast, Andronico’s in Northern California, and H.E. Butt in Texas. They are among those that understand the value of visual merchandising.
    Len Lewis, president, Lewis Communications, Inc.

    Put me in the mixed bag camp. I see some attempts to “warm up” but I also see plenty of garishness. As for the scents, I think they potentially chase away as many people as they attract.
    Ryan Mathews, founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting

    I agree that a cosier shopping experience would be wonderful, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that “upscale” and other hard flooring is not just there for a high-end look. It’s actually quite a bit more durable and easier to clean. That’s why it’s used so often. It’s all about traffic, and the ability to move displays around easily.

    When I was CIO of a furniture chain, we kept trying to find replacements for terrazzo—the stuff is stunningly expensive—but everything else scuffed and wore too easily. Since we were dragging sofas around the floor when we did a re-set, durability was of the utmost importance.

    And we all know, there’s nothing less cosy and more creepy than stained carpets. It becomes an interesting dilemma – what’s the best use of capital dollars and how often does the store have to re-model?

    Now, if you want to talk about ceilings and walls, that’s a whole ‘nother story.
    Paula Rosenblum, managing partner, RSR Research

    I think always does a good job around the holidays to spread the cheer. From signage, to smells, to sampling seasonal favourites like Peppermint Mocha’s – to local stores developing unique marketing (snow on the windows, seasonal chalkboards, etc.) Even their employees, dressed in their signature red, carry the feeling. And the product, Christmas blend, brings it home.

    Starbucks is one of the very few places I feel relaxed during the holidays anymore. The other retail outlets cause stress, and the atmosphere of Starbucks is a welcome, quite, safe reprieve for me during the holidays. I often stop in for the simple reason to slow down, even if it is for only five minutes. I commend their marketing department for seeing value in this.
    Chris Lovett, asst marketing manager, Giant Eagle Express

    No one voted for aroma. Our age is exposed! Depending on product, though, aroma can be very powerful. Plus or minus.
    John Lansdale, consultant, zaxpop.com

    A mixed bag is definitely true. Between the increased number of people and kids and music and displays that sing or play music, the din can be pretty loud. Trying to stuff more product into the stores leaves smaller aisles in many stores, and trying to accommodate many more consumers increases the claustrophobic feeling. Retailers face the dilemma of creating a less stressful environment in the face of more hurried and harried shoppers.
    Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., president, Global Collaborations, Inc.

    Just playing Devil’s Advocate – do shoppers really want a quieter, more relaxing shopping environment? I can see that for Starbucks or somewhere where the purpose may be to actually relax. But, I think many shoppers crave the shopping experience, which is enhanced by the activity and noise going on around them.
    Al McClain, CEO, Founder, RetailWire

    Living and working in New York City, I get the opportunity to see some very innovative and creative holiday displays. The flip side of that coin is that I, along with most NYCers, get desensitised to the cacophony of visual stimuli.

    One display that really grabbed my attention was the interactive window display at the Virgin Megastores. In collaboration with HBO, the 52″ LCD flat-panel displays show gifts fully wrapped in the window. Through the use of motion-detection technology, shoppers wave their hands in front of the window to tear off the gift wrapping, revealing the gift inside, hidden DVD box set of The Sopranos and The Wire.

    If any of you are interested in seeing a video of this, I have a file that I can send you via ftp since it is about 15MB.

    Also, with the cold wave that has hit the Northeast, the digital signage in Liberty Travel agencies showing sunny Caribbean beaches and snorkelling has my vote for a great holiday display.
    Stuart Armstrong, president, North America, Digital View Media

    Noise—you betcha! I love it. But, not the type of noise you might think. I want to hear talk, chatter, cash registers—shopping sounds! The sounds of old. I don’t want to hear pumped-in sounds, loud pounding music, and flashing digital images. The experience is shopping! It should look like it and sound like it.

    Now, call it aroma? How about smells! Great smells. Smells stir my memory, remind me of things, and bring back one of the great ‘senses’ of the holidays. Far beyond sight, I remember smells far more. I might be alone on this one. However, one of my fondest memories is that smell of pine being burnt by those big old green and blue lights on the Christmas tree. It filled the house. Now, pump that great smell into a store, and I might shop there and stay there—buy more. The only problem would be doing it without burning the place down! It’s a wonder that didn’t happen in our house!

    Senses relate so much to the holiday season. Call it exploitation of sentimentalism if you’d like. But I think we all have a memory or two from the holiday that could be aroused by a great ‘smell’ of times past. Capturing these and creating that type of a welcoming environment might make a huge difference. This is, however, no suggestion for more folks in the fragrance section spraying the latest cologne on you as you walk by. That could end tomorrow. Bring on the burning pine needles!
    ‘Scanner’

    On several occasions, I have walked out of a store because of heavy scents. I can’t recall ever being attracted to an odour while shopping. To anyone experimenting with aromas, my advice would be to be very careful. Of course, restaurants and coffee shops are a different matter.
    Tom McGoldrick, director of Research and Consulting, Questar

    As a visual merchandiser and store designer, I come at this from a different angle. There are opportunities to increase sales with visuals if retailers are willing to see the increasing trends in visual merchandising, as well as trends that go beyond the holiday season.

    1) The first visual opportunity is to note that a hanging banner with a product just doesn’t do it anymore. There is a trend towards less graphics and more visual display. Visual budgets are increasing and companies are no longer “filling in space” with signage where visuals used to be. The new Muji store in NYC uses minimal graphics, and we all know Anthropologie has mastered the art of visual storytelling. How? Retailers are focusing on combining marketing and visual. Victoria’s Secret is packaging their panties into lollipops and ice cream cones, while Fossil dresses up their products to look “ship worthy”. This type of merchandising supports the visual story – which supports the bottom line. It is nice to see retailers taking products and creating a “less visual” experience, if you will, and replacing it with a more tactile one that you can touch and feel.

    2) Visual merchandising is telling the green movement. I don’t even call this a trend anymore, because it is becoming almost shameful to not consider it. Like the Barney’s “Have a green Holiday” windows – making a correlation between a company and this initiative is a step in the right direction… and what better place to do it than with visual merchandising? THAT creates a warm, cosy feeling… to shop with a company that cares, tells me where my product comes from and what it will become.

    3) Lastly, I see an opportunity in merchandising around an “American” story. Does there seem to be an anti-‘made in China’ buzz? This seems to be increasing with all the news about lead paint in toys…. Companies like American Apparel and Lucky jeans, who make their products in America, can leverage this visual story to increase sales.

    And yes, I vote for scent. More and more retailers are customising fragrance with ScentAir to create unique branded aromas that customers will remember. Hopefully, it was a good shopping experience.
    Faith Bartrug, senior designer, Brand and Visual Strategy, Chute Gerdeman

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