Design Guides |

Visual Merchandising 101

Ever noticed a product in a store? How long does it take to spot your favorite brand of peanut butter or that perfect scarf that would go great with your dress? You probably spot the item you’re looking for in no time at all. That’s the goal of the merchandiser and what is referred to as, visual merchandising.

The goal of visual merchandising is to help consumers interact, engage, find, and ultimately buy more products in your retail storefront. A good merchandiser knows not only what you are looking for as a consumer in terms of style, trends, and personal tastes, but they also know that the product, product display, and store layout are crucial to helping you, the consumer, engage with more products. Great visual merchandising will have the consumer excited about touching, trying and buying a particular product.

All this remote micromanagement of a customer’s commercial shopping experience translates into more sales per square footage of retail space and that in a nutshell is what visual merchandising is all about. Let’s break up visual merchandising into some distinct sections so you can get a better grasp on the basics.

The Buyer

Before store owners should begin to consider layout, design, and the branding aspect that goes into visual merchandising, they must first examine their target audience.

Who is the recipient of all your efforts? Do you know them? Do you understand their issues, their insecurities, their desires and their needs?

A great starting point to learn your customer is to ask many questions. Examples include, what products would this customer already own? How do they feel on a daily basis? What music do they like? What celebrities do they admire? What income level are they clustered in?

The key is not to guess but to research. This type of data is readily available online and can be uncovered in great detail working with an exceptional design agency. To better understand your target customers, begin to study your current customers. Everything from Point of Sale customer data to your in-house surveillance system is a precious resource for you to gather more insight.

As you begin to study your current customers and use marketing data and analysis tools, you’ll uncover a lot of similarities between past customers and will be able to formulate a more exact customer avatar.

Product & Packaging Inspiration

After you know your customer inside and out it’s important to look closely at your product development and product packaging. Some of you might be wondering… Marketing is one thing; it’s quantifiable, measurable, observable and adjustable. But fashion or product development is not.

Product development (especially in the fashion industry) is different and requires inspiration and creativity. Where should you gain such inspiration for not only your products but also your product packing? In 2017 you have more resources for ideas and insights than ever. Start on the internet by browsing personal fashion blogs. Use social media sites to understand what is trending in and trending out.

Track designers and opinion makers online. Look at their public visual boards on social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr and see what they deem is popular. This is the age of using data and research to make educated marketing decisions.

Planning The Buyer’s Journey

After you have a great product and product packaging it’s time we get into the traditional means of visual merchandising. That is the actual store front design, window display, and store layout. Following a typical buyer’s journey, a visual merchandiser starts out with the window display of a store front. The window display is the visual hook. It communicates your store’s personality and your best products. This is not where you sell – it’s where you entice customers to come shop in your store.

Window display is the hardest element of visual merchandising and is often argued the most crucial. You are directly competing against other store fronts that may be located near you and often times this is your only opportunity to communicate your product offerings to consumers who otherwise may not return. After you have designed a great window display that speaks to your target consumer, visual merchandisers begin to focus on signage. Signage and the main features consumers see as they enter your shop needs to give them a rational reason to stay.

For instance, mood elements will make consumers feel comfortable enough to want to stay and browse a little further past the front door. Next comes the layout of the shop. Starting from the right side just as they enter you want your best and brightest products up front. These may be your best selling products or “entry level” items. It’s important that your most popular selling products are seen first so that every consumer knows you have them available.

Multisensorial Marketing

After you have customers in your shop it’s important to begin to consider their senses. People have moods. They have different senses that will directly change their mood in addition.As a visual merchandiser’s job to consider the mood that an environment and particular senses can evoke.

Do you want to help your customers feel happy? Go with bright colors in your shop, happy music, and scents that will further evoke these desired feelings. If you’re a fashion shop catering to teenage skateboarders then you’ll want the music, colors, and decor of your store should evoke a feeling of “rebel, hip, and cool” to match how your customers would like to feel.

The goal is to make your customers feel at home through all their senses including sound, touch, and taste.

Aesthetic rules

Visual merchandising also includes aesthetic visual rules. Aesthetic visuals are all the same whether in photography or merchandising. Examples include which products you showcase next to one another. Do they compliment or contrast? How are they grouped together? The Rule of threes says: group items as 3’s to provide the most stimulating visuals to your customers. Either as mannequins or as table items, 2 items together (i.e. symmetry) looks boring. Spice it up and always use either 1, 3 or 5 items.

It’s just as important to consider complementary colors. Look at this color wheel. Complementary colors make the biggest impact, which enables you to make items stand out and capture the customer’s attention. Finally there is height. Aligning the height of your product displays with the height of your target customer is equally important as the previously mentioned aesthetic rules. Of course the height of your products next to one another can help to highlight the best selling product over the secondary and tertiary options.


Perhaps one of the easiest ways for visual merchandisers to increase the average customer value is to carefully accessorize products in your store front. To accessorize is to group smaller complimentary items with larger popular products.

Accessorizing your product display will bring awareness to the consumer of related products for sale and will increase the average customer value. It’s a small design and layout strategy that will make a big difference in your physical sales.

Test it

Last but not least, visual merchandising is similar to other forms of marketing and must be tested. Store layouts, product packaging, music, lighting, accessories, the height of your displays and your storefront windows should all be A/B tested. It’s ultimately important to only test one variable at a time so that you can gauge the direct impact of that change. With consistent and small one variable tests your store front can optimize for the best complete retail shopping experience.


To summarize, there are a lot of elements that go into a proper visual marketing strategy. All these elements can make a large difference in the success and sales of your retail business. We recommend learning as much as possible about retail design and visual merchandising before making any large changes to your shop. Our retail design firm, Retail Habitats, is always here to help answer any questions you may have.

©2021 Retail Habitats, LLC
San Diego, CA | Indianapolis, IN

(800) 764-5133