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Visual Merchandising: A tool to help brands get noticed in malls

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There are two kinds of shoppers who visit a mall. One belongs to the category of impulse shoppers who do not have an agenda or preference for brands as part of their shopping list and then there is the serious shopper who exactly knows where s/he wants to shop and for what. What’s common amongst them is that both these types of shoppers can be attracted to brands they may otherwise have not thought of patronising depending on the visual merchandising (VM) tricks and tactics the brand has in place.

Shopping Centre News Bureau speaks to various brands in shopping malls and mall managers to understand how effective VM in malls can lead to more footfalls and eventually more conversions.

It remains no secret that each mall today is home to a plethora of brands – both local, national and international and that these brands have their presence in practically all malls in an area. The large format MBOs may choose to be present in just a few malls but single brand outlets cannot afford to miss even a single mall, even if these malls are in proximity to one another. To take this further, each category – be it apparel, beauty, home or accessories – have ‘n’ number of players to satiate the shopping needs of the new age shopper. More the choice in the number of brands within each category, lower is customer loyalty – unless of course the brand has truly created a niche for itself.

For shoppers walking in a mall, besides the brand name, it is without doubt VM that will lure them into a store and keep them there long enough to ensure that they fill their shopping bags with the merchandise being sold. VM plays a key role in deciding the brand’s fate to attract the shopper and make her shop. From the façade of the store to the layout, each of it plays a key role which cannot be understated or undermined.

Expert Speak

Talking about the importance of VM, Manoj K Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer, Viviana Mall shares, “A successful retailing business needs to create a good impression in the minds of the customers and that can be achieved through products as well as services offered. So, for retailers, visual merchandising is a very effective tool to drive footfalls and convert them into sales. It involves presenting the merchandise at its best by using colour synchronisation, light coordination, accessorised displays and self-explanatory props.”

On the role played by malls to add to the effectiveness of this tool, he adds, “In India, malls continue to have a strong growth potential, but only if a mall’s management can differentiate its business from the other malls through customer perception.” Agarwal points out that his mall regularly synergises with all retail brands on VM and assists them in standing apart from the competition and this is done with an aim to grab the attention of consumers and influence their buying decision.

Echoing similar views is Santush Kumar Pandde, Mall Head – R City Mall. He says, “As a retail partner to different brands we believe in working with them closely to ensure a synergy between visual merchandise at storefronts and the ambience and interior of the mall. The idea is to give unique store experiences to shoppers, each of which resonate with the overall brand philosophy of the mall and lend itself to making the mall a great retail destination.” “It is critical for the store front to attract, inspire and communicate the benefit (new merchandise, special offering, promotion etc.) to the very distracted consumer. This needs to be delivered in 4-5 seconds which is the time taken for consumers to cross a store and also their attention span at a store front to make a decision to enter into it. So, it is critical for the presentation to be impactful in design, concise in communication and innovative in telling a memorable story. Use of kinetics or dynamic media integrated into a good display will help grab attention in a very busy mall environment,” says Surender Gnanaolivu, Senior Consultant – Retail Experience.

As pointed out by Agarwal, the role of a mall in helping brands work on their VM needs attention. For brands too, it becomes imperative to work in sync with the mall management while designing and executing their VM. Unlike at high street, at malls, the brands have to compete with not just the other brands present but also with food courts and entertainment centres that are eyeing on the shoppers time while she is at the mall. If the brand manages to keep the layout of its store engaging and interacting, it simply compels the shopper to spend more time at the store and more the time, better is the conversation ratio.

For e.g Hamleys stores worldwide has a very attractive store layout and their visual merchandising incorporates tons of colours and surprise element at each step. The zoning at Hamleys stores is filled with excitement where in between the aisles they have ensure that the shopper has something to look forward to.

One cannot leave a Hamleys store without spending at least 45-60 minutes within the store. The sale staff at the stores works in sync with the visual merchandising where key products on display at regular intervals are shown in action with live demonstration. Be it magic kit for kids or the boomerang that remains their evergreen product.

With a presence in 68 malls across India, Indian wear brand, Soch opened its first outlet in India at Forum Mall, Bangalore. With an average store size that runs across 1600 sq. ft., each of the stores are designed to enthrall the shopper with subtleness in the store décor yet keep them engaged with the collection that speaks for itself.

Vinay Chatlani, Director & CEO, Soch elaborates on the importance of visual representation, “When it comes to an apparel brand, store design and visual representation is key. Hence, video cataloguing and video walls have worked well for us over time. We have introduced store facing digital screens that show videos of our collection. The good old mannequins are something that are quite underrated but when it comes to ethnic wear we have noticed that several consumers notice the garments on the mannequins. We have a host of mannequins, customized to showcase our different garments – saris, salwar suits, bottoms and kurtis, for example, and we consistently look to refresh our shelf talkers, mannequins talkers, etc. In the future, technology will evolve to get more personalized, and link browsing to sale. We see retail getting a lot more experience driven and interactive, aided by technology.”

VM Essentials

“Opening a brick-and-mortar store is a fairly easy job but to keep it running successfully is the real challenge. In the era of stiff competition from well-funded e-commerce players and innovative start-ups, visual presentation has become even more important a factor for successful operation of an offline retail businesses. Converting a prospective buyer into an actual one involves more than merely managing a store,” shares Agarwal.

His team has a certain set of rules and regulations concerning visual merchandising for its stores, which need to be followed by the retailers. Elaborating on the same, he reveals, “For example, the stores must offer a positive ambience to the customers for them to enjoy their shopping. Proper space, lighting, placement of mannequins and displays, colour of the walls, type of furniture, music, and fragrance – all are essential to increasing the sale of the products. Also, signage displaying the name of the store or other necessary information must be installed properly outside the store, at a place where it is easily visible to the customers even from a distance.”

Mannequins and displays should be intelligently placed and must highlight the unique collections, latest trends and new arrivals in order to catch the attention of individuals and should not act as an obstacle. They should never be kept at the entrance of the store. Lastly, but very important – brands must select the theme of the store according to the season. Pandde shares some interesting and essential VM features that brands need to follow while working on their VM design.

“Appealing Visual Merchandising requires good visibility of the store, which can be achieved through appropriate lighting, openness and uncluttered storefront. In the age of technology, digital signboards, screen based communication can further enhance VM. Conscious of the safety standards required for our guests, we insist that mall décor and essentials such as standees or any other physical store aid is in compliance with the mall standards. Even seasonal decors have to be in sync with the mall’s consideration of safety, look, feel and outlook,” he says.

To ensure that there are no flaws / drawbacks in the VM implementation by brands, the team at R City Mall, works very closely with brands to have periodic checks to eliminate any elements that may be hindering the overall appeal of VM. Pandde adds, “Our retail partners are encouraged to also conduct internal audits for everyday upkeep of VM.”

The Difference

Chatlani says, “A key difference between mall stores and high street stores is how we believe the consumers interact with them. A high street store needs to grab attention for passing traffic, and hence, the façade and window needs to be geared to make an impact within a short time span. On the other hand, in malls, usually consumers encounter the store at eye level, and we have the opportunity to deliver more nuanced communication.
Another difference usually is in floor plates – our mall stores are on a single plate, while high street stores could be across multiple floors. These differences impact how we approach our high street and mall stores. For example, in our high street stores we run large LED screens on the external façade where it is the most impactful in drawing footfalls, while mall stores run portals to give mall consumers a glimpse of what’s available in store.”

Speaking about any regional differences that need to be observed, Chatlani adds, “In terms of regional differences, the colour palettes are sometimes synced with regional festivals and local preferences.”

“Fundamentally the design strategy and effort is the same but the interpretation of the VM may need to vary for both, shopping malls and high street. The line of sight for impactful visibility and environmental challenges, such as sunlight, streetlight, car parks, electrical facilities, shared buildings could add a layer of challenges for high street stores. Malls have controlled environments making the VM concept easier to adapt,” explains Gnanaolivu.

When it comes to beauty and skin care brands, the art of VM gets all the more intricate and especially so if the store is in a mall. Though, a lot many brands in this category have added innovation to their VM design with the sole aim to engage the customer walking into the store / kiosk.

Chitreshwar Senjam, Deputy General Manager – VM, The Body Shop India shares, “We at The Body Shop always try to add something exciting to our store designs. To achieve the same, we have come up with a new concept – Beat Concept. This latest evolution fuses our best ideas: using the store as a hub of energy, community space and having a service-led proposition to offer personalized, friendly advice, to deliver a new level of brand experience.” He further adds, “Our store is the home of our brand – a vibrant, nature inspired space, that has a unique heritage and it’s both informal and engaging. It is a space that is full of opportunities and discovery, where we bring the life of our iconic products through sensorial experiences, our global communities, our values and our unique stories. Clearer brand markers and more engaging fixtures provide multiple ways to shop experience the products.”

On how the brand extends their philosophy in their design too, he reveals, “We are an authentic brand and so are the materials that we use. All structures that have wood finishes are made from FSC timber to meet our environmental aims and unnecessary materials are removed with the new simple metal frames in our table legs and feature bays. The green and white floor tiles reflect our rich heritage – from our first stores.”On the differences followed in the store design for those at malls viz-aviz those at high street, he adds, “There are no major changes in our store format, we try to maintain uniformity in designs and concept. However, minor changes need to be done taking care of the dimension and shape of the store.”

With their first ever kiosk to see its inauguration in December 2019 at the Select CITYWALK mall in New Delhi, Vibhuti Arora, Brand Owner – House of Beauty talks about the VM put in place, “House of Beauty is starting with a kiosk model of retail in malls and then venturing out into a store set up. Our current kiosk is scheduled to be launched in Delhi’s iconic retail destination Select Citywalk. The area taken there is 6 ft by 8 ft to start with. Mall displays are much more interactive than those of the high streets.
High street focus is on sale of product, but mall display is for better understanding on the product – the service and the after math, since that is where one pulls the customers who may not necessary already be aware of the brand. Hence that loyalty generation is key via mall interaction.”

To hear it from a F&B brand on their VM philosophy being followed at malls, Saurabh Rathore, Founder and CEO of Gobble Me Good shares, “Considering that the mall is a closed space in itself we often choose to have interiors and visual merchandising which can make the area look bigger and more spacious. Very often the most challenging part is to make sure the outlet stands out and hence we have the pink and white themed outlets or kiosks placed at the malls.”

Beating the Challenge

On the challenges’ front, the major one to tackle is to keep the mall guidelines in mind while also ensuring there is no compromise on the design philosophy followed by the brand. Elaborating on the challenges front, Chatlani shares, “Some of the challenges we have faced have been content distribution for video walls and linking it to store stock, it took multiple attempts to streamline the content engine for a seamless operation. Our model works on showcasing our products beautifully to consumers.

However, there is a physical limitation to VM space available in a retail store. Also, certain categories (e.g. sari) are difficult to display such that the consumer can appreciate the product. On static VM displays, the consumer can be prompted to ask for a product that is sold out and no longer in stock, resulting in loss of a sale opportunity. So, we had to work on customised hardware which wasn’t readily available and put in efforts across vendors to standardise our requirements and source the hardware directly.

Technical aspects like shooting content across vertical and horizontal aspect ratios has also been very challenging leading to wide experimentation, so that we can ensure great quality content for displays.”

On the essentials of VM for a beauty brand that has its presence in a mall, Arora shares, “The space needs to be interactive where clients can talk, understand the product and be comfortable. The VM should be such that it is not perceived as too expensive or too cheap. You do not want to scare your customers but actually want them to feel at ease when browsing and trying your product. This bring me to my next point – trial or demos are extremely essential not only to retain customers and show them the correct use of the product but for them to build a bond with the brand and for the brand to retain the footfall. Further, mall models need to be sale and service oriented to direct clients on the right way to use the products so that they achieve the desired results and remain loyal to the brand. Company literature as a part of the VM also acts of great help of the lonesome client who likes to be left by themselves and know a little more about the brand instead of human interaction. The display here needs to speak to their mind.”

To avoid any challenges, the team at The Body Shop works smartly by ensuring that the mall is in loop of their designing of the store. Senjam shares, “There are no big challenges as such to plan our VM, as we always have pre-planned strategy in place and we take all prior permissions to design the stores as per our designs sanctioned”.

Mall-Store Cooperation

Each brand has its identity that they would ideally like to run across all their stores – whether at malls or high street. Similarly, international brands too have a design mandate to follow. With malls taking a keen interest on keeping a tab on the VM designs being followed and implemented by brands at their malls, is there ever a situation of a tug of war? Cooperation is a word here that makes matter simple for both malls and brands.

On the action plan put in place to avoid any tussle, Agarwal talks about the modus operandi at Viviana, “At Viviana Mall, most of the brands usually send their VM designs for approvals. In other cases, retail stores adhere to rules and regulation set by the mall and showcase their VM. International brands also keep us in the loop, and if we have any objection, they fully co-operate with us.”

Another important factor that one cannot miss at all top malls is the zoning. Dedicated zones in categories like menswear, kid’s wear, womenswear and further bifurcating these into western wear, Indian wear, accessories etc. adds to the VM simplicity for stores in malls. Stores then save themselves the trouble of having to shout out loud to attract shopper attention on their specialty as the shopper is well aware of what s/he can expect in the area they are walking in. For e.g. High Street Phoenix in Mumbai has a dedicated zone for high end / premium brands, all of which are housed at Palladium.

Similarly, Seawoods Mall in Navi Mumbai houses an entire section at the ground level dedicated to handicrafts. With clear cut zoning by the mall, all that the brands need to do is work on the attractiveness of their window display and VM within the store to keep the shopper entertained and engaged.

On how the team keeps their retail tenants on toes to always improvise on their VM to attract footfalls and give the mall a lively ambience, Agarwal shares, “Usual and identical outlets in malls give a feeling of monotony to the customers, who constantly seek change and are ready to go the extra mile if a store assures value and satisfaction. Store design has become an inevitable activity for every retailer. Renovation of the store keeps the curiosity of the consumers intact. Hence, the money spent on creating ‘lively window displays’ is always money well spent. So, to incentivise investment in visual merchandising, Viviana Mall also organises an annual award for the best store décor. We also make sure that our stores complement the ambience of the mall and incorporate seasonal or festive décor.”

According to Pandde, in case of international brands, the theme follows the one that has been recommended by the parent company, however, in such cases too, they work with the brands to help them align with standards of the mall. Pandde talks about the philosophy followed at their mall, “R City Mall is committed to offering an awesome and wholesome experience to its shoppers. We give brands the independence to innovate VM in line with this philosophy and with our safety standards. As long as these are met we are open to brands coming up with new ideas for VM. The only criterion is that a shopper should feel excited and happy to experience different brands and through them have a great experience at the mall.”

In addition, window design set ups, festive décor and store lighting has to be approved by the team.

To Conclude…

When it comes to their presence in malls, VM is a tool that can work more effective to drive in footfalls for brands rather than signs of discounts and promotion. The shopper today is restless and always on a lookout for something new. Regular renovations and adding of exciting props to the VM designs can make a world of difference to the brands present in malls.

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