At any given time the shopping centre precinct, or high street strip, can be a hive of activity with retailers busily vying for the attention of their target customer.

From the shopper’s perspective, this can be overwhelming with little or no “call to action” from the retailer rising above the complexity of choice available. Often the window display is the consumer’s first introduction to your business. In many cases this valuable piece of real estate and brand advertising is left undercapitalised with busy, confused and diluted messages.

It is no surprise that retailers who understand the power of visual merchandising use their windows to invite, entertain, promote their message and “silently sell” their product or service.

The first consideration to be aware of is that on average a customer will have three seconds to be impacted by your window display.

 In this time they will need to:

  • Be “captured”  and  motivated by your  window  display
  • “Get” what it is that you do
  • Decide that the message that you are sending is the message they want to hear
  • Have their “buying radar” operating

When we count off three seconds it is not hard to see how fleeting the opportunity really is. In many situations, such as a tenancy situated at the entrance to a major department store, the reality becomes even less.

How does a retailer build a series of “power window displays” that rise above the clutter to capture customer imagination, buying preference and heart of today’s battle-wary consumer in such a short opportunity? 

At the Retail Doctor, we see many examples of window displays that don’t achieve the desired effect with the most common reasons being:

  • Trying to tell too many stories in a limited space which creates a busy and confusing impact The key is to remember that “Less is more”. The strong powerful statement will always win over the “ I am trying to sell you everything approach”.
  • “Apples with Apples” is another first principle of successful visual merchandising. Resist the opportunity to split displays that dilutes the window message. It is very important to be “in the business” of your key product and tell the customer that this is the central reason why customers should come into the store.
  • A lack of visual cues in store that link the central theme or product displayed in the windows. Consider the number of window displays that have no cue or link to the inside of the shop. It is if the product or promotion stops and ends at the window and there is no congruence or journey within the store.
  • The same window display week after week speaks of a bored uninspiring business that is really not interested or is bereft of ideas. Perhaps a metaphor is to imagine a favourite TV show screeing the same episode in the same timeslot, week after week.
  • Keeping it relevant to your market and interesting is the challenge many retail windows don’t rise to on a consistent basis. Many fashion retailers lead the way with as many as 40-45 window changes a year.
  • Visual merchandising is a combination of skill, education, artistic creativity, science and invention. Treating it as a secondary staff duty and not having a specialist visual merchandiser on the team generally produces very mixed results.
  • Lighting is often the forgotten prop and understated, miss directed or even broken.  Always ensure that lighting is strong enough and points on the promotional piece, product, or the statement that you want to convey.
  • Make sure you always have back-up stock to support the window promotion. It is unprofitable and disenchanting for the customer to be “captured and then rejected” because of a stock shortage. Check stock levels of window promoted product, be on top of the order cycle for this product and deliver the “promise” of the window.

The answers to building that power display are fairly straightforward. Here are some simple guidelines to follow:

  • Evaluate the outcomes you are seeking to achieve before commencing the display rather than building it “on the run”.
  • Look objectively from the customer’s perspective at all displays.
  • Evaluate the display in terms of getting the message across. Look at it and ask “Why?”
  • Ensure that windows are always clean and properly maintained. 
  • Think of each of window display as chapters in the “book” that your customer will read over time when visiting your store.
  • Envisage the whole store as a display. Identify each fixture and bay as giving linked information to the customer and supporting your windows.
  • Change window displays frequently to keep the image fresh and appealing.
  • Promotional and new arrivals should be located at the front of the store and in the windows to attract attention.
  • High demand merchandise should be placed at hot spots within the store to ensure visibility, supporting the window story.
  • Your windows should be the start of the customer journey and store lay-out. Shape, customer traffic flow and the presence of walls or pillars are all influencers to the journey.

Understanding the key principles of effective visual merchandising should include the following:
Focus is the point where attention is concentrated. It is the spot where the eye is drawn and stops, after it gathers in the general picture. A shape that has obvious focus is the triangle; our eyes are drawn to the apex, which is why the pyramid is such an effective visual display. When you have finished a window display always stand back and observe the focus point. Ensure it is not detracted from the very product you are trying to "hero".

The final effect of any window display depends on good lighting, enabling the potential customer to see the merchandise with relative clarity. Lighting provides the highlights and ambience required for a well merchandised display. Our eyes will tend to focus on the brightest spot so strong lighting is essential to the window display.

Display Elements
Effective blending of the display elements and components are accomplished through the application of several proven principles of display;
 These are:

1.    Colour
2.    Unity
3.    Variety
4.    Dominance
5.    Rhythm
6.    Balance
7.    Proportion

Each of these display elements are an integral part of creating the store theatrics and aesthetics. Colour is the first element noticed when looking into a window display, it is a powerful element for creating emotional reactions. Colour is an inexpensive, versatile means of creating mood and drama in the presentation of merchandise. Warm colours, like red, orange and yellow, physically attract customers to shop. On the other hand, cool colours such as blue, green and violet can be used to highlight big-ticket purchases. Colour, used properly, can attract the eye of a potential customer, create the desired mood and stimulate the viewer to make a purchase decision.

The right combination or ordering of elements and components within a display promotes an undivided total effect. Displays are more effective when there is unification between display elements and display components. Display themes based on times, people, places, causes, events or styles are the most effective means for building unity into the retail display. Repetition helps strengthen the display.

To avoid too much unity, the merchandiser can introduce variety by using different elements or components. Variety adds interest by creating contrast. While the principle of unity should prevail throughout the display, so that the viewer understands the organisational structure, variety is necessary to attract and hold attention. Displaying one small item with several large items, or a single round shape amongst numerous square shapes, are examples of creating variety.

Attractive displays have a centre of attention or dominance where the eye is drawn and held. Without a dominant display feature, the eye will be attracted elsewhere and the merchandise message will not be communicated effectively. A display element (red) or component (merchandise) is made dominant by subordinating all other elements and components. Dominance within a display allows the retailer to emphasis a single promotional message, or focus on a direct purchase incentive.

Refers to the path the eye follows when viewing a display. Displays that have good rhythm are those that can hold eye contact until the entire display has been inspected. Display rhythm is created by:

To be an attractive and comfortable experience, a retail display should exhibit a sense of equilibrium or balance between all elements and components of the display. A balanced display is one in which each part of the display has equal visual weight. Balance is created when both sides of a display are exactly alike in terms of type, size, color, shape and placement of merchandise. Each side is a mirror image of the other side. Such displays are usually found to be a more "comfortable" visual experience. They also convey more action and so are better able to attract and hold attention. If the display is too informal, or unbalanced, it will become confusing, creating visual discomfort that will discourage continued shopper inspection.

The relative share of each display element or component, with respect to other elements and components, adds to the display as a whole. For example, proportion is concerned with how much red is used in a display compared to black or what the display merchandise/display props ration might be.

Grouping of Displays
Most attractive merchandising displays are frequently presented in one of four definite arrangement patterns: the pyramid, the zigzag, the step or the fan arrangement.

The Pyramid
The pyramid is a triangular display of merchandise in vertical (stacked) or horizontal (un-stacked) form. The pyramid begins at a large or broad base and progresses up into an apex, or point, the highest level. The vertical pyramid can be two or three dimensional and is well suited to displaying boxed merchandise; it also represents an efficient use of space. The base of a horizontal pyramid is placed in the rear of the display to achieve the proper visual perspective. When displaying different sized merchandise, larger items should be positioned at the base and smaller items towards the apex. Pyramid displays do not have to be perfect in form.

The Zig Zag
The zigzag is a modified pyramid that zigzags to the top of the display. No two levels are at the same height. This arrangement is less monotonous than the pyramid; it is perceived to be more fluid and more graceful.

The Step
The step is constructed as a series of steps. Step arrangements lead the eye in a direct line; they begin at a low point on one side of a display area and progress directly to a higher point on the opposite side of that area. Typically, step displays are constructed so that the base of each step increases in area; the larger base area is used for displaying accessory items, while the steps are used for the feature merchandise. The step arrangement is well suited for a wide variety of merchandise.

The Fan

The fan is spread up and out from a small base, like an inverted pyramid, directing the eyes upward and outward. The fan pattern is appropriate for displaying smaller type merchandise of equal size.

We hope that this article clarifies the importance of building powerful window displays and provides you with the basic tools.

A strong well thought out, and inviting display is critical in both customer relevance and creating the opportunity to convert your business returns.

Happy Fit Retailing

The Retail Doctor