visual merchandising
Public Domain from pixabay

Visual Merchandising is a sweet science that sometimes has more sugar than substance.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Is there a way to use data to determine if the things that your change in your shop actually increases your bottom line sales?

I think there is.

Its called visual merchandising.

Read below to find out more…

What is Visual Merchandising?

Visual merchandising is the process of designing your floor layout, shelving layout and product displays to maximize sales and give customers an exciting shopping experience. Visual merchandising as a science explains how customers behave in a store, and thus, how your placement of products can provide them with the optimal shopping experience.

Here are the main goals you should keep in mind when thinking through how to merchandise your store.

  • Brand Image – What’s your brand? Make sure that when customers walk in your store, they know they are in the right spot.
  • Influence Customer Purchasing Habits – Correct shelf layout and product placement leads customers through all the areas of your store where the money-making items live. By practicing this concept you’ll sway customers to purchase 4 items when they only came in for 2.

Keeping these two things in mind will allow you to come up with a floor layout and associated product merchandising plan to maximize your store’s full sales potential.

Now, let’s discuss how to get this all accomplished.

Floor Layouts and Aisle Spacing

Having a good floor layout will ensure that you can place all your products in locations that give the highest change for a sale. Customers should notice how easy it is to move and shop your store without ever having to take their eyes off the store shelves.

As you’re planning where you want your products to be displayed in your store, it’s important to know your type of store layout. Store layout refers to how your shelving is placed throughout your store so that your items are easily shopped and customer traffic flows to the items that make you the most profit.

There are three primary layouts and designs you might be using and it’s important to know a little about each as they will determine how you plan your product placement. To learn more about store layouts, read our article on planning your store layout.

1. Straight Store Layout

This layout gives you the maximum floor space to display merchandise and brings the customers to clearly defined focal points. This floor plan is typically used by supermarkets convenience stores, and dollar stores.

Source: Discount Shelving

Notice how you are drawn to the what’s at the end of the aisle. These are called endcaps. We will talk about what types of products should be placed in these locations just a little later.

2. Angular Store Layout

Sometimes also called a “mixed” floor plan, an angular design uses a mix of display types. This floor plan takes up more room but tends to be more visually pleasing: Every product can be shelved in it’s optimal style and with proper light. The angular layout is typically used in jewelry stores, clothing stores and other boutiques.

Source: Mnprairieroots

3. Loop Floor Plan

A loop floor plan also uses a combination of display units. The difference is that shelving is setup to form a pathway for visitors to travel – typically in a “loop” through your store.

Source: Retail Design Blog

Loop floor plans take up more space than straight and angular layouts, but they typically provide the best visibility of your products.

Remember, you can’t make any of these floor plans work for you if you don’t have the right fixtures and shelving. Find out what you need by checking out this article on how to plan your store layout.


Product and Merchandise Display Planning

Now that you have an understanding of the floor plan you want to use, it’s time to start planning how you want to place your products. It’s important to spend plenty of time planning your product placement because when done properly, your customers will most always pick up an extra thing or two on the way to grab what they really need. They’ll also find it easier to locate the products they want to purchase.

Here are a few general merchandising points that apply to most small businesses, no matter what type of floor plan you choose:

1. Put the most consumable products at the back of the store

This will force customers to walk past all the prime merchandising areas on their way to pick up milk, toilet paper, or bread. You’ll find that customers will always pick up an extra item or two that they forgot about or didn’t realize they needed along the way.

2. Line the path to the back of the store with high margin items

Place high markup items and floor displays, like the one below, along the way to those high volume items in the back of your store.

Source: Fit Small Business

The toilet paper in this example has a particularly high sales markup percentage. It’s a perfect reminder to customers that they forgot something, or they are about to run out of home and should get more. This translates into extra sales for your business.

3. Put seasonal merchandise and smaller high margin items at the front of your store.

Keep these displays in the fronts of your stores throughout their particular season. You don’t want to be stuck with out of season stock that you have to markdown to sell.

Worse, you could get stuck with it and have to throw it all away, so give it the best chance to sell by keeping it in the front of your store.

Valentine’s Day display at the front of a candy store. Source: Critchleys Chocolates

If you don’t have enough seasonal merchandise, then place smaller high margin items like gum, candy, or accessories at the front. This is where impulse buys are likely to occur.

4. Put general merchandise and groceries on separate sides of the store

It allows customers to become familiar with where products are located in your store, and keeps things looking consistent. You might consider organizing your store into departments and categories so that customers can become familiar with where to find product in your store.

For more on how to create a department structure, check out our article on how to create SKU numbers, where you’ll find ideas on how to make departments for your store and much more.

5. Customers always turn right when entering

The right side of a store after the entrance is the most common direction that customers turn, so it’s some of the most prime merchandising space you have to utilize. ALWAYS make sure to place high margin, high consumable items in these spots.

Record store “power wall” includes new releases, and high margin record players and coffee mugs. Source: Charleston Gazette

Paint store “power wall” includes brushes & other high margin accessories. Source: Buffalo Rising

This area, known as the “power wall,” is also where you make the strongest statement about your brand. Choose items that are the most appealing (not necessarily the most popular) and encourage visitors to venture further inside.

6. Never place high theft items at the back of your store

The back of your store is typically the easiest location for theft to occur because it’s the most concealed part of your store. Keep high theft items like cosmetics and hair accessories stocked near cash registers and areas that are easily viewed from multiple points of your store. Also, make sure you have a clear view to the back of the store or security cameras.

Anyone who has suffered losses due to theft will tell you that prevention would have been worth it. Thankfully, with today’s technology business security systems no longer cost an arm and a leg. Companies such as Simplisafe offer a la carte systems where you can select just as many cameras, locks, and keypads as are necessary for your store. There are no contracts, and live 24/7 monitoring makes sure that your assets are always protected. Check out their site to get a free quote:

Visit Simplisafe

Visual Merchandising Tips for a Market/Retail Store

If you have a grocery or general merchandise store, here’s some additional tips on how to display your merchandise:

  1. Categorize your products by aisles or groups of aisles, meaning you should have departments throughout your store for a consistent look and feel.
  2. Place high margin items at the front of your store. These include things like:
    • Sunglasses displays
    • Back to school items
    • Sodas and candy bars
    • Batteries and small electronics
  3. Place consumables and everyday goods at the back of your store. Everyone needs paper towels, toilet paper, and ziploc bags. Placing these high volume items at the back of your store allows customers to eye other products as they walk to the back, giving you a better chance to get extra sales.
  4. Place seasonal items on the ends of interior aisles and also to the right side of your store. Try to mix or “cross merchandise” multiple high margin and seasonal items together like in the picture below, to maximize sales.

An aisle display featuring a mix of high margin and seasonal items. Source: couponingtodisney

Back to an earlier point about seasonal merchandising, notice that these items are all breakfast related items geared towards the fall and winter season. Great items to merchandise together because when we drink coffee or hot chocolate we usually eat breakfast, and there is nothing more highly marked up than a good old fashioned box of cereal.

Visual Merchandising for a Jewelry Store

In a jewelry store setting, the same concept applies of drawing customer to your most high margin items.

Typically, jewelry stores use display cases in the main part of the floor to showcase necklaces, watches and bracelets, and usually gemstones. This is because in most cases, customers are going to shop for diamonds, which are always in the back parts of jewelry stores, drawing you past all the rubies, sapphires, and gold.

Source: Fit Small Business

It’s the same concept of putting the most sought after and high volume items in the back. It draws customers past all the high margin jewelry like necklaces, bracelets, giving you a chance at an extra sale. It’s also a free flowing layout to help keep an eye on customers by allowing for good visibility of what’s happening in the store.

Some jewelry stores also use top-of-counter displays to showcase lower priced jewelry and items that bring higher margins. Then, more expensive pieces are placed in the case underneath them.

Another important point to consider when merchandising items in jewelry stores is lighting. Make sure that you are using the proper lighting to enhance your products, both inside and outside of the display cases. To learn more on how to set store lighting, check out our article on retail store lighting.

Visual Merchandising for a Boutique

A boutique or apparel store should be set up to let customers openly browse through your store while drawing them to higher margin brands. These stores are generally a mixture of angular and straight floor plans.

Source: Public Domain

Here are some important points to keep in mind when placing products in a boutique setting:

  • Organize sales floor by brands Have a plan for what brands you want in the front of the store and which you want in the back of the store.
  • Well known brands to the back of the store Use famous brands like Ralph Lauren or Dior to draw customers through all the other lesser known higher margin brands, giving them a chance to catch someone’s eye and increase sales.
  • Lightest/Brightest colors to darkest colorsAlways display clothing from lightest colors to darkest colors for optimum visual appeal.
  • Arrange with smallest sizes in the front – After you have the colors arranged, then arrange each by size from smallest to largest. An example of this would be hanging gray, blue, and black jeans on a rack. You would start with the gray jeans and hang them smallest to largest, then move to the blue jeans and so on.
  • Accessories/Underwear to the backThese are high theft apparel items and need to be kept near the cash registers or fitting stations, where employees are stationed. This will help control the amount of shrink theft of these items can create.

Always organize from lightest to darkest, smallest to largest. Source: Public Domain

Now let’s talk about the last part of our store to merchandise: the cash register area.

Cash Register Area Merchandising

The cash register area of your store is prime real estate for selling low cost/high margin items that catch customers’ attention right before they leave. You want to fill this area with items like small sodas, candy bars, batteries, sunglasses, socks, hair accessories, and more.

Source: HandyStoreFixtures

Items you choose to place in this area of your store need to bring in at least 50% markup. They also need to placed in a manner that does not interrupt the customers’ checkout experiences, so try not to over-merchandise the desk itself. Customers need to have enough room to put at least 10 items on the counter at one time.

Keep these two additional thoughts when designing your checkout area:

  1. Place cash registers in the front left or front center of your stores – The placement lets you keep a close watch on who’s coming and going. These are also areas where lower margin items are typically placed, so you are not losing valuable sales floor space where high ticket items can be placed.
  2. What type of material to use for checkout counter – If you are a jewelry store, I recommend using a sturdy glass counter. This will allow you to merchandise high ticket jewelry at the very last place customers stop in your store.

If you are a general retail store or boutique, then I recommend using a hard wood or metal to make your counters. You are going to need something with weight to support the amounts and types of items you’ll be ringing up. Check out this article on cash wraps and how to buy them.


Store Design Software and Store Planning Companies

Now you have all the information you need to plan out your store layout and display your products. There are three tools to help you with the planning process:

  1. Do it yourself in a spreadsheet – If you’re handy with Excel or Google Sheets, you can use these free spreadsheet programs to design your store interior. PCMag provides instructions on how to do this.
  2. Simple layout software – Programs likeSmartDraw orFloorPlanner also allow you to design your store interior yourself, but with simpler drag and drop tools. These programs are inexpensive and user-friendly, but don’t give you the high level of detail as the next program: AutoCAD.

    Source: SmartDraw

  3. Specialized design software – If you want to create a highly detailed product layout map, then you can purchase specialized software likeAutoCAD. The program comes with many templates, and allows you to drill down to individual shelving units. The downside is a high cost ($350 to $750) and learning curve to get started.

    Source: AutoCAD

  4. Hire a store planning company – There are design companies that specialize in the space planning and product placement for small business. They are typically expensive ($150 – $200 per hour), so unless you are opening a large store, I would not recommend using this option.

The Bottom Line

Displaying items throughout your store in a way that catches customers’ attention is difficult at best. Remember to keep items consistently grouped throughout your store.

via Visual Merchandising: How to Display Products In Your Store

So when shopping goes digital, how can eCommerce stores retain that experience in an online environment?

Running a store online doesn’t limit your ability to create an ambiance for your customers – rather, it gives you a whole new set of tools for attracting new customers’ interests and setting the stage for your products.

If you’re looking for a way to create a memorable online shopping experience for your customers, look no further than online visual merchandising.

What is Online Visual Merchandising?

While online merchandising is the strategic display and arrangement of products in your eCommerce store, online visual merchandising is the act of using the visual elements to really enhance the overall experience.

This starts with smart branding and professional product photos, but it expands to more advanced visual marketing concepts like the right placement of customer photos and star ratings to increase trust.

Because we’re talking about visual merchandising, it’s better to show than to tell.

In this guide we’ll start with a few examples of amazing visual merchandising, explaining what they did right and how you can do the same, before going into specific visual strategies and tactics of web merchandising.

3 Examples of Effective Merchandising Online:

1) Rhone

Example of great online visual merchandising

What they did right:

  • Fabulous gallery featuring customer photos from their ongoing user-generated content campaign #wheninrhone on Instagram, which encourages customer engagement and cultivates top notch UGC showing off Rhone products in the wild!
  • Enhanced browsing, allowing customers to sort products by size, price, fit, and even what kind of technology a product features.
  • Detailed, high quality product photos showing a variety of angles down to details in stitching and hems, leaving no room for consumer anxiety – everything is clear.

2) Vanity Planet

Example of effective eCommerce merchandising

What they did right:

  • Customer Instagram galleries are featured on each product page, making powerful use of social proof while creating an air of exclusivity that makes shoppers want to be involved, too.
  • Clean, organized product descriptions that allow prospective buyers to zero in on exactly the information they need.
  • Extensive customer reviews database that helps build consumer trust by letting customers describe and rate the product in their own words.

3) Pura Vida

Puravida visual merchandising example

What they did right:

  • Clean, colorful design that adapts for a frictionless mobile online shopping experience
  • Seamless integration of customer Instagram photos, showing how the product looks in real life, on real people
  • Detailed product descriptions that help customers picture how they might wear the bracelets (surfing! snowboarding!)

The Most Important Aspects of Online Merchandising

Now that we’ve reviewed what great web merchandising looks like, let’s figure out what made these stores so successful.

Visual merchandising is a multi-faceted field with a number of techniques working in tandem to elevate the overall online shopping experience.

Here are a few of the most vital aspects:

Product photos

Product photos are your number one sales tool in eCommerce.

Photos are the best way to answer customer questions about the details and features of an item.

Before, all stores needed to do was make sure they had excellent professional photos that displayed their products accurately and in full detail.

But today, customers don’t trust branded product photos anymore. Rather, they’d prefer to see customer photos of a product.

Displaying customer photos on a product page is a powerful way to improve customer trust.

eCommerce merchandising example with customer photos

Just look at the stats: when one store added customer photos to their product pages, checkout increased by 24%!

So, in order to have product photos that really improve your web merchandising, at least some (if not all!) of your product photos should be user-generated content.

Genuine Customer Experiences

Consumer trust is best earned by showing off the real-life experiences of other satisfied customers.

User-generated content (UGC), like customer reviews, photos, and videos, is the most authentic and aesthetic way to tell customers’ stories straight to prospective buyers.

Brands are getting more creating in how they integrate this into their merchandising – rather than just displaying customer photos and reviews on product pages, they’re also adding them to photo displays and email marketing.

Look at how Gap uses customer reviews – each time you hover over an item in this photo, a review (rather than product information) displays:

Gap uses effective visual merchandising to inspire sales

Aesthetic Design

The design of your site is how you catch customers’ attention, draw them in, and make them feel comfortable and confident buying from you.

It’s a major component in influencing consumer behavior and should not be taken lightly.

Your store’s look and feel should be professional, inviting and suitable for your industry and target market.

Mobile responsiveness

Since huge numbers of customers shop exclusively on their phones and tablets, your eCommerce merchandising must be mobile responsive.

All of your products and features should be mirrored on your mobile site, including images, product descriptions, and reviews.

But to take this a step further, you also need to create marketing for multiple devices and not just adapt your current marketing and merchandising to mobile, but be strategic in developing a mobile-specific experience.

Top Takeaways: Most Important Aspects of Online Visual Merchandising:

  1. Amazing product photos
  2. Positive customer experience
  3. User-generated content
  4. Mobile responsiveness

5 Tips for Stellar Web Merchandising

Bring your online store to the next level with these eCommerce merchandising best practices:

1) Focus on telling a story

Your online visual merchandising plan should focus on telling your brand’s story and creating a window-shopping, browsing experience that fosters impulse buys and multiple product purchases by enticing customers beyond what initially drew them to your site.

Look at how Rhone displays customer photos next to a quote and brand story that ties visual elements to their text-based story:

Rhone example of web merchandising

This is a perfect example of how visual and non-visual elements of web merchandising can work together to tell a seamless and cohesive story.

2) Highlight user-generated content

One of the best ways to tell your brand’s story is through user-generated content. The value of UGC is that it taps into a phenomenon called social proof, which describes the way humans respond positively to what others enjoy, and avoid what others dislike.

Customer pictures appeal to our instinct to trust what our peers say about products and services. Even better, UGC can be found in bulk and is easily accessible thanks to social media.

For example, by channeling content from your customers’ user generated content on Instagram, you can highlight photos that are already generating social buzz.

What’s more, there are plenty of tools out there to help you, like Yotpo’s new visual marketing solution that allows you to easily curate and place customers’ Instagram pics on your product pages and create an Instagram online shop.

Featuring UGC has the added benefit of building up the customer loyalty, showing them that you noticed their enthusiasm and are making them the stars of your site.

3) Offer a customized shopping environment

One advantage that web merchandising has over physical stores is the ability to tailor the shopping experience to each customer.

By prompting your customers to provide shopping preferences, (“What kind of event are you shopping for?” “What kind of dog will these treats be for?”) you create a customized shopping experience that shows them the most relevant products and therefore increases the likelihood of conversion.

You can also mine for invaluable customer data that will allow you to improve and elevate your website merchandising even more.

If you’re smart, you’ve got every bit of your site compiling data about your customers purchasing trends and patterns.

Don’t let this data go to waste!

Funnel it into creating a superior visual commerce experience for your customers through your eCommerce merchandising strategy.

4) Dazzle with your product description

Product descriptions should achieve two things.

They should give your customers every detail they need to confidently click “buy now,” and paint a picture of how the customer could use and benefit from the product.

This means that size, shape, features and other details should be clearly outlined in one section, and then you should suggest ways and situations in which your customers could use your product, letting them picture it in their own lives.

Another way to visually power product descriptions is by placing them next to customer photos, as we saw in the Rhone example above.

Details make a buyer feel secure in their purchase – but the hints about packing it in their luggage make them visualize the item in their hands.

Conversely, maybe the product description will help a customer realize this isn’t the product they’re looking for, and guide them to a similar product that’s a better fit in your store.

5) Enable browsing enhancements and optimize your search feature

Another advantage eCommerce merchandising has over physical stores is the additional sorting power shoppers have on the web.

Enabling browsing enhancements such as sorting products by color or specific features allows customers to find products they may not have otherwise seen if they could only sort for a particular item category.

ASOS, which carries over 750 brands and has a huge inventory, shows how to offer plenty of sorting options while still retaining a minimal and easy-to-scan look:

ASOS clean and clear product photos

And in addition to sorting options, many customers begin their shopping by typing into your site’s search bar, so it’s vital to keep your product pages complete and up-to-date with relevant key-words and features.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and give your site that “wow” factor with a visual merchandising spruce!


Bringing your online visual merchandising to the next level is not difficult, it just takes strategy.

Remember these 5 top visual merchandising tips:

  1. Photos must be high quality, provide detail, and show your product in action
  2. Encourage and incorporate UGC as much as possible – let your customers do the selling, since they are the ones doing the buying.
  3. Optimize browsing by providing many categories and keeping your products searchable.
  4. Make sure all of your pages and products are mobile responsive for shopping on-the-go.
  5. Everything on your site, from product descriptions to customer photos, should tell the story of your brand so that your customers want to be part of that story – hopefully by making a purchase and sending in a photo of them enjoying your product!

via Online Merchandising: The Basic Visual Principles You Need …


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