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Visual Merchandising: The silent salesman you can’t ignore

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It may not be right to judge a book by its cover. But when it comes to a retail store, the ambience/look that it extends, visual merchandising is something that will elicit judgement from shoppers. Visual merchandising (VM) in retail is not just about having attractive mannequins, fancy gondolas and lights. It shoulders the responsibility of giving a brand/retail store its identity…

Visual Merchandising – The silent salesman you can not ignore
VM budgets have moved up, there is more availability of outsources and there is an increase in the use of backlit surfaces with LEDs, neons, translites or other optics in the stores

Aptly setting the context of the story, VP Marketing, Loyalty & Visual Merchandising, , says, “Visual Merchandising is purely aesthetics of science. It is the backbone of the retail industry and contributes to a brand’s personality as well as characteristics associated with the brand. The design of the store should reflect this as a part of their retail strategy. This includes the in-store environment and brand communications used, such as signage and images displayed in-store.”

Getting Started

Keeping in mind the importance of VM in brand building, are we giving it its due and spending as necessary? Founder and CEO at , says, “The positive side is that VM budgets have moved up, there is more availability of outsources and there is an increase in the use of back lit surfaces with LEDs, neons, translites or other optics in the stores. Color coordination and presentation of product in fashion are exceptional even in the mid-sized family run retail stores. There is a lot of emphasis on dressing up mannequins use of nested tables, focal points, promotional signage and cleanliness.”

A walk down local retail stores in any of the local high streets will confirm what Shetty has to say about mid-sized family store getting their VM right. The best example here is Clare Road in Mumbai where the entire stretch of about less than half a kilometer is filled with stores for kid’s wear, women’s wear and men’s wear and each of them having an exceptional VM and window display, despite the fact that the stores are no more than 250-350 sq. ft. in size.

VM & Categories

Where VM for an apparel brand is all about a single product line/category, for a store that is into multiple things, VM can get challenging. The Bombay Store is one of the best examples here.

A spokesperson for The Bombay Store tells us: “For us, effective visual merchandising is a blend of art and science. The art factor is to create a captivating visual design that converts the window shopper into a potential buyer. The science part is all about playing with the sensory factors through an eclectic combination of color schemes, music, smell and touch sensors to ensure that actual sale happen.”

“Since VM caters to short attention spans, and the visual design has to tell the complete story in less than 30 seconds,” he adds.

The case for a hypermarket is exactly the same.

Jain explains: “Visual Merchandising is a tool that focuses on five elements that are Vision, Taste, Scent, Sound and Touch, but at a hypermarket we have to think beyond the five senses and focus on the sixth element, which for us is PERCEPTION. As a hypermarket, it is very important that a customer perceives that he will get everything under one roof (Big Box Store Concept). Hence it is important for us to show our customers a wide range of products, as well as ensure its value for money.”

He adds, “It’s a perception driven business, the old school methods are no more working in the retail industry, especially for stores which have unlimited number of SKU’s. In a Hypermarket, the number of SKU’s and offers are huge, so it becomes really critical to promote each and every offer in most effective way possible.”

To talk about the challenges that apparel chain stores face when it comes to deciding on the VM, MD & CEO, , shares his experience with TOONZ Retail stores across the country.

“Understanding the local taste and sensibilities and adapting the VM of the store according to it, is one of the most challenging aspects of VM for an exclusive brand outlet. India is a country of varied tastes and fashion sensibilities. If one has to attract the locals of a city or a town to their store, it is very important that the store setup should be such that a consumer can relate to it and feel that their needs will be fulfilled here,” he says.

He further accentuates on the fact the VM after all remains the differentiating factor for a category that has multiple players. He shares, “The display should be such that it communicates a story in one look, making it one of the most important and challenging processes of a store set-up. Everything from storyboard to lighting to products to color code and lot more needs to be taken care of for an attractive VM.”

Venkta talks about VM followed at his stores, “For inside display we use 2 techniques one is displaying apparels as per same style of different sizes, which is done during new launches, and another is displaying apparels of same size in different styles during discounts/offers so it becomes easier for the customers to review their options. We keep matching products in a group, which has started to add on sales as it becomes convenient for the customer to mix and match. We group different but related products together to help make companion sales.”

Shetty says, “At Mineral, we try to ensure that our mannequins are always dressed up with the right coordinates and the lights on our store windows are well focused. We think that is the first point of impact for a customer. Even in our shop in shops, we continue to provide and maintain mannequins.”

He has no qualms in accepting that VM of other brands helps him stay ahead of the curve, “We watch and learn from other brand displays and are always taking pictures on our mobile phones to learn what they are doing better. That is the only way to stay ahead of the curve.”

Where Do We Stand?

Jain talks about how VM for hypermarkets in India differs from those in other parts of the world, especially the Western world. He elaborates talking about how shoppers in India are more into discount shopping which then has its effect on the VM.

“Indian retailers believe in the Discount Shopping and behave differently for different set of Customers which is a correct strategy at least for Hypermarkets. Indian discount shopping is still fragmented because of diverse culture while Western retailers are able to treat the entire customer base as one. This helps them gain benefits of large-scale promotions and offers. It is not going to be a cakewalk for global supermarket chains entering India,” says he.

“The Indian hypermarket is customer driven not offer driven. In terms of Visual Merchandising, western countries are better planned in terms of campaigns and promotions whereas Indian retailers are still doing adhoc work. In India each region is different and there are several festivals while in the western world universal festivals like Easter, Christmas are the common ones,” he adds.

VM for a High Street Store vs. a Mall Store

In the absence of high streets, there are a majority of stores expanding their presence in malls even though, VM for a store in a malls have start variations.

Venkta says, “The mind-set of consumers who visit an outlet in a high-street store is different from a store in the mall. Though VM in both the places is important in attracting customers, however there is a difference. Window-display and signage in case of a high street store needs to be bigger as compared to a store in the mall, given the distance of visibility for a passerby. Also the size of a stand-alone store is bigger than a store in mall, storing more merchandise comparatively. Hence VM should ensure that all the merchandise is visible and easily accessible. Additional elements can be introduced in high-street stores due to its size like LED screen to engage the consumers.”

The Bombay Store spokesperson adds to this saying, “At high streets, we have all the liberty to design freely but at the mall stores the major restriction is the visibility, as we cannot cover the show windows at all. So while designing the plan we make sure that we use the same elements across our stores. As mentioned earlier, we try and create touchstones – where we try and create signature elements which are implemented at all our locations.”

Execution

Majority of the brands have their VM rule book that they abide by. And this becomes imperative in the case of a chain store. Jain says, “We at HyperCITY sit every 15 days to brain storm on the latest developments in the VM’s environment and all new technologies that are being adapted in this space. Since VM is now moving to digital signage and several other interactive mediums, we hope sometime in the future we will be able to adapt the same at all our stores.”

At The Bombay Store, the VM is changed every two weeks. Their spokesperson says, “No plan is rolled out without brain storming with different teams like Retail and Marketing. We also promote our retail staff to participate actively in this process.”

Talking about Toonz Retail, Venkata says “At Toonz we change the VM thrice per season – during seasonal launches, during EOSS (end of Season Sale) and just before the end of EOSS. Our regional teams conduct regular audits and give feedback based on regional preference and tastes, which help us, further to make relevant changes in the VM. We use cool lights rather than warm lights so that the color looks natural. Also we have 80 per cent apparel hanging and 20 per cent stacked up for a clear visibility of the collection, while other products are arranged in a free form, ensuring easy access. The layout is such that consumers can easily move around in the store and check out the merchandise, making it a pleasing experience.”

On the dynamics of VM in India, Shetty says, “I find the younger generation of visual merchandisers very experimental but they are held back by conservative management. They need to be given more liberties and shown confidence in.”

“In India, Visual Merchandising and Marketing have still not been integrated with most large store chains. There is a concept called retail theatre which Martin Pegler introduced and it revolutionized much of modern retail in the West. In India the translation of the retail shopping experience to be entertaining is yet to happen although we are making a start. I think our problem is we continue to retain the use of the same materials and surface that we have been using. Vinyl, signboard, POP and the like is used in preference to crafted material. Possibly the budgetary constraints and large rollouts are an issue here. We also use almost the same kind of lighting across formats. These are all definite areas of improvement,” he concludes.