The Science of Display

The more people I talk with, the more I learn
that MOST retailers are completely mystified by visual merchandising.
They view it as some ethereal and intrinsic skill,
so they usually just 'wing it' or hand over the duty to a staff member -
who is just as likely to 'wing it'.

Yes, you can hire a stylist - like me - to come into your store
and make your displays look fabulous.
And I truly love working with retailers, artisans, and vendors in that way.

But do you know the REASON that I and other stylists can do this?

It's because we know what the science is behind successful merchandising:
We understand what makes customers approach, investigate, and select items.
We understand that display styling is another form of creating a piece of 'art',
just like a still life painting - and the 'rules' of art apply.
We can manipulate space, lighting, perspective, and materials
to create a mood, a theme, a style - an experience.
We can transport your customers to another place... another galaxy, even!

Although it doesn't hurt to have natural abilities in 'the art of arrangement', 
merchandising is a science - and a skill that can be taught and learned.

Let's look at a bit of the 'science of display':

By combining items in a singular theme, with similar colors,
arranging them in a cohesive manner using materials that coordinate with the theme,
and composing a 3-D 'still life' where there is a focal point,
stylists can create successful retail displays that sell your merchandise
AND tell your store's story.
What's the focal point here?
It's the mannequins and art piece up high on the table that the spotlight is shining on.
It can be seen from the entry to the store, catches your eye, and draws you closer.
(Walt called that 'the wienie' - the hot dog. The carrot on a string leading you along.
It's exactly what the Castle over in Disneyland does.)

Along with the main focal point, there are secondary focal points:
The merchandise that is lower in the display, and the wall behind it.
It's all coordinated in theme, color, and presentation style.
It helps make the focal point POP  - instead of distracting from it.

You can see that a specific selection of product is used here,
however there are variations -
Soft-surface tee shirts, pillows, backpacks and hats. Hard-surface art and small souvenirs.
Light colors and dark colors. Square and circular forms.
Matte and shiny finishes on merchandise and fixturing.
All of these combine in the display just as they would in a painting, adding interest.

Successful display is creating a composition, not a table piled with product.

 Look closely at those two side-by-side photos...
I took them at the same location in the D Street store at the Disneyland Resort,
one week apart.
While they may look quite different, they aren't.
The theme is exactly the same in both photos - Star Wars.
The fixtures - tables, racks, mannequins - are identical.
The containers holding small items are identical.
In both cases,  their placement in the display composition is different.
Only the actual product on the mannequins, racks, easel and hat stands have changed.

Take a look at the mechanics of this display,
and see if you can't pick out ways to re-arrange it and make it look different.
Take into account the product on the back wall, too...

These displays change weekly at the Disneyland Resort.
I hear the collective groan of retailers saying 'I don't have TIME for that!'
but once you realize how simple it is just to change a few things
and get a whole new fresh look that will draw customers in,
how can you not MAKE time for it?
Teach your staff HOW to do this. Teach them WHY.
Then give them half an hour a day to make changes in one display...
by the end of each week, you'll have fresh new looks all over your store.
You'll have empowered staff members.
And you'll all have a better understanding of the science of display.

Want to learn MORE about the science of retail?
The ultimate 'bible' of retail is 'Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping'
by retail anthropologist Paco Underhill.
I highly recommend it to all my clients and readers!
(click the title to find it on Amazon)

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my take on retail visual design:

"The thing is, retail design is driven by psychology. It is by manipulating space, visuals, lighting, sound, smell, and mood that we influence customers to enter, stay, browse, buy, and return. It is an endless exercise in change, endurance, growth, education, and imagination that enables retailers to stay on top of their game and at the forefront of their customer's minds. Yes, what you sell IS important - but even the very best merchandise won't sell at full price if it's presented in torn boxes on dirty shelves in a store that is too crowded to turn around in. Visual impact is a huge part of business, and utilizing the principles that have been proven to work can help you build a better business." ~ DWK