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The crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels

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Surender Gnanaolivu
Surender Gnanaolivu
Surender Gnanaolivu is a retail experience design Curator and chief of strategy and development at 4Dimensions Retail Design. He has experience of over two decades in retail strategy, retail design, phy-gital experience design, retail marketing, visual merchandising, training, teaching and writing.

Unconventional creativity in visual merchandising helps create memorable experiences

A pleasant surprise can brighten someone’s day and create memorable moments that are cherished for a long time. From a merchant’s perspective, a surprising visual stimulus, though it may not make you buy, certainly catches you off guard in a good way and often leaves you feeling delighted or uplifted. Disruptive visual merchandising plays an enormous role in today’s large retail destinations lined with sadly and ‘standardized’ windows– stylized merchandise, props, graphic backdrop and now a convenient digital screen that does all the storytelling. Often, we spend hours browsing through a mall without losing a step striding past these boringly expected window displays. 

Very rarely do we come across a ‘bull in this China shop’ that does something so different and disruptive that it leaves an impression in the window shopper’s mind. Here are a few examples that, in my opinion, are timeless strategies that make deep lasting impressions on the shopper’s mind as they have on mine. 

Stirring up some action

The Lush shop in London’s busy Oxford Street replaced their traditional nested table window display with a super lively team member who is seen singing loudly when happily stirring up foam from bath bombs, their famous soaps, in a live tub. It was a showstopper and had almost every window shopper stopping and reaching to get a piece of the action on their smart phone. 

Giving flight to imagination

The Paper Source Lab store in downtown Chicago makes the window shopper’s imagination fly with this installation of a ‘wedding gown’ inspired display made of wedding stationery.  The stunning display had folks, both locals and tourists like me, stop, read about the brand, and take pictures in awe. 

Papersource Chicago



Moving the earth, if you have to

Trying to catch the eye of shoppers is a mammoth challenge on high streets with heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Here’s a super smart solution that did the job for Top Shop on London’s Oxford Street in the middle of the tsunami of footfall. The window floor was tilted to break the visual lines followed by all the retail stores on the street. It definitely helped the store stand out and the window to be an eye catcher that helped draw attention to the store and lure passersby in. 

Topshop London

Working smart, not hard

Apple, known for its ethos of ‘simplifying life’, articulates its window display with a simple but effective display that delivers the message of the products featured in the blink of an eye. A brilliantly clever concept created from economic materials put together smartly with least effort helped silently deliver a loud and clear message—a message to visual merchandisers who lament over less budget allocation.  

Apple LondonFinally, I end my musing with Steve Job’s ode to creativity, which germinated Apple (which I call with immense respect ‘the fruit of a nut’)…

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do”.



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