If you’ve ever moved into an unfurnished house or apartment for the first time, you’ll know how the space can quickly feel overwhelming. With so many decisions to make — from the curtains to the cutlery — it’s hard to know where to start, and how to make sure it all fits together.
The same is true of your retail space, but with the added challenge of making it an accessible and enjoyable shopping experience for any potential customers, too. That’s where retail merchandising comes in; it’s all about helping you show your products in the best and most inviting light.
So whether you’ve just got the keys to a new shop, or are just looking to switch up your current layout, read on; we have 16 retail merchandising tips to set you on your way.
16 Retail merchandising tips to try:
- Put your sale at the back, and new stock at the front
- Display for want, not need
- Think about hierarchy
- Group your products
- Nail your cross-selling
- Engage multiple senses
- Shake up your window display
- Rotate products often
- Add impulse products at the checkout
- Leave enough space
- Use tables for tactile stuff
- Tell a story
- Get your signage in order
- Plan for key calendar moments
- Light everything well
- Create social appeal
What is retail merchandising?
First up, for anyone not familiar with the term retail merchandising, it basically just means the way you display and market your products, and the ‘look and feel’ of your store.
When retail merchandising is done well, your store will look inviting to people passing by, be easy to maneuver around and navigate, and people will feel comfortable spending time browsing your products. When retail merchandising is done really well, their shopping experience will be a truly memorable one, and they’ll be keen to return and to spread the word.
How to merchandise a retail store: 16 tips
1. Put your sale at the back, and new stock at the front
Let’s kick off with a basic one. When planning the layout of your store, put new items towards the front, and your sale at the back. For one, sales can look messy, so are best kept out of immediate view. And second, if you’re advertising a sale in the window, customers will have to walk through the whole store — and view all your stock — in order to reach it.
Having your newest items first in your shop is a good rule of thumb because it means you’ll naturally switch this up fairly often, so you’ll be more likely to catch the attention of regular passersby.
2. Display for want, not need
When considering your store’s retail merchandising, there are several ways to give some items priority over others. This could mean positioning them closer to the front of the store, at eye level, or on tables as opposed to shelved.
And while it would be easy to assume that your best selling products should get this priority treatment, this isn’t always the case. If you know customers mainly come to your store to buy something they need, and which they know you sell, try placing this further within your store. As with the sale section, this encourages people to see everything you have to offer before they reach what they came for.
3. Think about hierarchy
To keep your store visually appealing, think about how you can display products on several different levels. Shelving, tables, the floor… mixing it up keeps the customers’ eyes busy and engaged.
mlkwood store makes great use of all available space, but the minimalism and lightness of the displays means you never feel overwhelmed
4. Group your products
Grouping products together keeps your store looking cohesive, as well as making it easier to navigate. But what’s the best way to group your products?
This kind of depends on what kind of store you have. A homeware shop might group products by ‘room’ (kitchen, bedroom etc…), whereas a stationery shop might group by product type (notebooks, diaries, pens etc…). It’s really up to you to think how best to categorise everything.
5. Nail your cross-selling
When deciding on how to group your products, and where exactly to put them within those groups, think about cross-selling. This means keeping complementary products together — so if you’re selling candles, it would make sense to keep matches nearby, and candle holders. This way it’s more likely a customer will buy more than one thing at once.
6. Engage multiple senses
When we talk about retail merchandising, a lot of what we discuss is about the visual side of things. But there are four other senses which you shouldn’t leave neglected.
If you’ve ever shopped in Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch, you’ll notice how the experience is a pretty immersive one, and a big part of this is the scent which is pumped around the entire store. Playing with scent in this way is risky as people may find it overwhelming, but when it pays off, it works really well — not only will the scent always evoke the memory of your store, but it also works as a great ad for whichever scent you’re using (in the case of Hollister, the room is sprayed with a condensed version of aftershave ‘Fierce’).
Music is another key consideration. There’s a reason bookshops play slow acoustic or jazz rather than loud, up-tempo pop; they know they’ll make more sales when people feel comfortable taking their time, and browsing. For other stores, louder and faster music creates a fun feeling that’s more on brand.
7. Shake up your window display
Your window display is probably the most important consideration when it comes to your retail merchandising; it’s what’s going to turn a random passerby into a potential customer.
We won’t go into too much detail on retail window displays here because we’ve already written a whole post on it, but here’s a piece of advice from Laura from Handmade Design, Ashbourne, on putting together an eye-catching display:
“Planning our shop window displays is one of my favourite jobs! To keep things fresh, I try and change our shop window display every few weeks, even if it’s just a case of changing the smaller pieces. When I’m planning a shop window display, I will always try and think of a theme. There are of course the obvious ones throughout the year: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter, etc. Outside of those, I might pick a particular colour palette or product type. As we aren’t based in a coastal town, for the summer I’ve decided to go for a nature inspired window with lots of florals and bees. Before I even begin playing with the window display, I simply sit down with a pen and paper and write down all the products that I feel would fit to my theme. Sometimes I even walk around the shop over and over again, as things do have a habit of jumping up at me! Once I’ve put a list together, I go through it to make sure we have a good mix of product types and sizes. Once I’m armed with my list, I put the large pieces in first (for us it’s furniture) and then I just start playing to see what works!” — Laura, Handmade Design – Ashbourne, UK
As you can see, Laura is a real window display pro
8. Rotate products often
Following on from Laura’s advice above, it’s great to refresh both your window display and the front of your store as often as possible. While it’s not a great idea to move fixtures around too much (you want to keep the basic structure for continuity), you should switch up the order of the products, and bring new ones to the front.
9. Add impulse products at the checkout
We’ve all been there: one minute you’re standing in a queue at the supermarket with your groceries, and the next a bar of chocolate has *slipped* into your basket.
Impulse purchases are definitely a thing. They don’t have to be edible, but they should be small, and fairly cheap (a few pounds, max). Lip balms, pens, keyrings…these are all things worth keeping close to your till.
10. Leave enough space
So you’re busy turning your store into a sensory sensation, with products from floor to ceiling. Now’s the time to make sure you’re leaving enough space.
Firstly, this is pretty essential from an accessibility point of view. You need to make sure your customers have enough space to move comfortably around your store — that means enough room for wheelchairs, pushchairs, and for social distancing.
It’s important to leave some ‘dead’ space at the very front of your store, too. This gives customers room to ‘decompress’ as they enter your shop, or leave it. Otherwise, the space can feel intimidating and claustrophobic. You want customers to be able to walk in, pause, and decide where they’d like to start out.
11. Use tables for tactile stuff
When merchandising your store, use your tables for your fluffiest jumpers, crispest stationery and softest socks… essentially, anything for which touch is going to encourage sales. People naturally reach for products which are on tables because they’re a reflection of their own home setting, so use this to your advantage.
Search & Rescue’s table is always full of beautiful stationery. You can’t help but pick up their crisp notebooks and leaf through them
12. Tell a story
It’s easy to panic at the mention of storytelling in visual merchandising. It sounds more complicated than it actually needs to be.
Sure, larger retailers might go to town with store-wide themes and all-out window displays to match. But in reality, the concept of storytelling is much easier to execute on.
Let’s say you’re selling throws and cushions. Placing an armchair in the corner of your store with one of the throws draped over it, and a cushion plumped up in the middle, will help your customers to imagine these items in their own home, and make it more likely they’ll go on to buy them. Storytelling doesn’t have to be flashy or even very creative; it can be subtle, simple, and still highly effective.
13. Get your signage in order
Do you find customers are often asking you where the fitting rooms are, or the greetings cards, or the tills?
You want there to be as little friction as possible between your customers entering your store and making a purchase. And yes, asking someone is simple enough — but being able to find your own way with clear (and ~fun~) signage makes for a much smoother experience.
14. Plan for key calendar moments
When it comes to prepping your store for key dates in the year, time and organisation are both really key. A last-minute, half-hearted attempt at decoration can sometimes be worse than nothing at all.
But we’re sure you know this already. What you might not have considered are the less obvious holiday dates.
For example, for International Women’s Day, how about dedicating your window display to female-owned brands? Or to LGBTQA+-owned brands during Pride month?
We love this window display by Jersey-based store Harriet & Rose, which created a rainbow out of existing products as a nod to Jersey’s Pride event
15. Light everything well
Get the best out of your now expertly-merchandised store by making sure you light everything well. And remember, lighting everything well doesn’t mean lighting everything super brightly. Rather, you want a nice, warm yellow lighting, with key areas of your window and in-store displays picked out with spotlights. If any areas are looking a bit dark, try adding a lamp.
16. Create social appeal
We’ve left this one last because it’s…hard to put your finger on. But what we basically mean here is feature something within your store which people naturally want to post about.
A great example of a brand doing this *unbelievably* well is Glossier. The pastel pink stores, the pink jumpsuit-clad store assistants, the infamous ‘Glossier canyon’, the simplicity of the ‘You Look Good’ on the mirrors… we could go on. Everything in Glossier is crying out to be 'Instagrammed', and that has undoubtedly played a huge part in their 2.7m following. It also gives Glossier a huge mine of user generated content to use on their own platforms.
Glossier’s new Seattle store is completely and wonderfully surreal
We could wax lyrical about Glossier all day, but let’s get back to your store. We’re not expecting you to build a canyon, or paint your whole store pink. But how about a really beautiful display of dried flowers? Or a fun slogan in a neon light?
Tips for retail merchandising: Final thoughts
After reading this post, we hope you feel much more confident in arranging your store. But the most important thing is to stay flexible, and keep learning; even very well-established brands like Glossier will need to tweak their layout as they learn from their customers, and their needs.
Finally, we’d love to hear from you: do you have any retail merchandising tips we missed? Any tried-and-tested techniques to share? How do you plan your store layout? Let us know in the comments below.
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