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Shoppers Stop redrafts its visual story

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Visual Merchandising (VM) is a store’s visiting card. Even before a customer walks in, talks to a salesperson or browses leisurely through a store, it is the VM element that helps him/ her decide s/he will enter the store at all.

Good visual merchandising must have a ‘wow’ element, something that makes customers happy, lures them in-store and then helps converts their visit into a sale. One brand which has reaped the benefits of great VM is Shoppers Stop.

Launched in 1991, Shoppers Stop, India’s leading fashion retailer, introduced the Indian consumer to a world-class shopping experience from its flagship store in Andheri (Mumbai). Since its inception, Shoppers Stop has revolutionised the way India shops and has become the highest benchmark for the Indian retail industry. Taking on stiff competition generated by the rise of e-commerce and other departmental store chains, Shoppers Stop is re-strategising its retail ID, in-store experiences and shopper-centric visual merchandising.

The brand’s custodians say that store count scaling plan is not the paramount to them. What’s important is elevating shopper experience is. In this freewheeling chat with IMAGES Business of Fashion, Pawan Nagarwal, CCA and Head of Visual Merchandising, Shoppers Stop Ltd. talks about a refreshed approach of visual representations and why it means pure business for the departmental store chain.

A typical large format retailer holds at least 20-25 brands on a single floor. In such a situation, how do you derive a consistent in-store VM plan?

See, a large format store, unlike a brand store, will pull larger groups towards a wide bandwidth of categories. That’s difference between executing VM plans for a brand’s store versus a departmental store. Also, categories in a departmental store vary from apparel to accessories to beauty and more. At Shoppers Stop, we are very clear that we are about brand and quality and not about deals and discounts. Keeping in line with this, at every season change, we generally pick out a single trend story for each category and play around with that trend.

One major challenge for us is the fact that we have multiple brands in our store and each brand wants has its independent VM schemes and we need to make sure everything falls under Shoppers Stop’s central VM theme. We use nesting tables and highlight areas to draw shoppers towards the trend, visiting which they can proceed to the brand they want to buy from.

You have been in the VM field for over 15 years now. How, in your opinion has the role of visual merchandisers evolved over the years?

Till about 10 years ago, VM was seen just as visual representation. It was not valued as a business vehicle. However, today, it’s not only an essential part of store experience but a revenue generator too. VM teams are involved in everything – from the point of conceptualisation to the final installation. Interestingly, there was a time when the budget for VM used to be just a minuscule extension of the marketing budget but today, it demands an important budget allocation for the in-store experience it provides consumers.

What are the new elements in the world of VM?

Today, more square feet of area is dedicated to in-store communications and signages because of the potential revenues that can be brought in through effective VM. In terms of mannequins – which used to be more of capex products but today have a larger role to play and hence retailers are investing into them – we use more chiseled body shapes. Their face forms have also changed drastically. A new entrant would also be multi-sensory experience, where aroma plays an important role.

At Shoppers Stop, how does VM convert into business?

Every week, we pick up trends in each category and identify SKUs according to customer preferences. Recently, for five consecutive weeks, we monitored the success of styled mannequins and I am happy to share that we have been able to map the scaled up ROI for each mannequin. Following this success, our VM budget has been increased 5X. Today, Shoppers Stop has the confidence to spend 0.25 percent of the expected sale in styling and VM.

What innovations has Shoppers Stop has welcomed lately in the field of VM?

We have introduced quite a few innovations of late.
For windows, we have recently partnered with Goonj, an NGO and created human faces with discarded clothes. This was to encourage our shoppers to donate used clothes. What was more interesting was that our local visual merchandisers created their take of human faces using their own creativity. What we achieved was a uniform idea, but the execution was exclusive to each store.

We have also been tweaking our regular in-store communications to something interesting. For example, one of our ‘fragrance wall’ now reads – “Smells like Love” rather than just having category branding.

We are also incorporating local art in our store. We have recently adorned a wall at our Nashik outlet with local visual art. Similarly, in Guwahati, we picked up a brass utensil, which is local to the state and created a theatrical story around it. These local elements are helping us establish a strong connect with regional customers along with generating a huge number of social media mentions as these are mostly turned into photograph zones for visitors.

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