FEATURE: The delicate art of visual merchandising

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If a picture is worth 1,000 words, how many is a jewellery display worth? With more and more brands looking to narratives to help shape their collections, visual merchandising is playing an increasingly important role in the industry.

According to Saina Attaoui, head of international and travel retail at design and production company Millington Associates, the purpose and benefits of using visual merchandising can be summarised in three ways — recruiting new customers, generating footfall and increasing sell-through.

Despite the undeniable financial benefits of in store merchandising, it is a delicate art form that takes even practiced craftsmen years to hone.

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“VM is about creating visual theatre from the window right throughout the store environment,” says Lloyd Blakey, founder and creative director at display specialists Innovare. “Retailers need to compete harder than ever and great visual merchandising helps them stand out from the crowd.”

If presented properly, displays have the power and influence to hike up the bottom line, which is why brands and retailers value them to such a great extent. But if produced half-heartedly, they could have the opposite effect.

“Visual merchandising is a vital tool to use when communicating your brand message and DNA,” says Daisy London’s head of wholesale, Caitlin Mulford. “It’s one of the main touch points a brand can engage their customers through and is an invaluable asset to get customers to aspire to your brand.”

Before brands and retailers can start playing around with the fun and creative side of visual merchandising, all companies must recognise the importance of a clean display.

While this may seem like an obvious point to make, many brands have had bad experiences with retailers neglecting to look after their cabinets day-to-day. Understandably, there is little point in having a window which makes consumers look inside, if what they are then presented with is dusty ring blocks, tangled chains and wonky bangles.

Once the products look pristine, then brands and retailers can inject personality into the displays.

“My number one priority is always that the display is clean and looks straight,” says Sif Jakobs Jewellery visual merchandising manager Gitte Mandix. “I always start by ensuring that all chains are hanging straight, and all t-hangers and ring towers are standing straight and orderly as well.”

When creating a jewellery-based display unit there is often a high amount of products used in a limited space, something which poses one of the largest pitfalls for jewellers.

“When you’re working with jewellery, you are working with a large number of items in a small space, which will be distracting to your customer if you do not implement the principals of design,” says Mandix from Sif Jakobs Jewellery.

One of the merchandising manager’s top tricks to make the most of space is to run display pieces along diagonals.
“I always work diagonally with the bigger panels from the corners of the display towards the centre, getting higher the closer it gets to the centre,” she says. “I work horizontal and vertical lines with the t-hangers and ring towers to match the diagonal lines.”

Beyond the composition, there are plenty of aspects that can make or break the success of a display to be aware of.
For national brands there can be the added challenge of uniformity. Thomas Sabo is keen for its shoppers to receive the same message every time they walk into a new store.

“Consistency in message and story is essential for communication and brand awareness,” says Thomas Sabo wholesale director Nick Callegari. “Equally it is important that stores understand the importance of good and consistent visual merchandising standards at all times. We work very closely with our retail and wholesale stores to achieve this with a full training programme and updates through the season.”

While it is important for brands, such as Thomas Sabo, to be uniform across all stores the reality is that displays need regular updating.

Callegari aims to overhaul the brand’s visual merchandising four times per year to match the changing seasons and collections. “We would typically update our visual merchandising once a season with the focus being on the key campaign of the season. In addition, for AW17 we will create focus months for certain series starting with Tree of Love, Chakras and our Christmas campaign, Together.”

Carol Sinfield, area sales manager at Hockley Mint finds that visual merchandising is most successful when changed at regular intervals.

“Our visual merchandising is reviewed constantly to see what works, because what works in one store may not in another,” explains Sinfield.

“So we are very happy to work with our retail partners so they can receive the best imagery and display available,” she adds.

Success in displays is a multi-pronged approach, with each aspect needing careful consideration, including where it sits once it has been created.

“For a display to work well, it needs a good store location either in store or the window where it will benefit from the most footfall,” Sinfield shares.

While window displays offer high street retailers a wide scope of freedom, according to Millington Associates, the opportunities for jewellers are a lot slimmer and must be more considered.

Millington Associates tells Professional Jeweller: “When considering a window space that is promoting jewellery, how can small product pieces translate into a window without it being lost? The consumers eye needs to come back to the product.”

While Millington Associates champions creative and thoughtful use of colour where appropriate, it is the company’s view that: “Clean backdrops mixed with bold, characterful colours that encourage more attention of the jewellery pieces has also been a noted trend.”

Elsewhere, for fellow specialists Sheridan & Co, a successful visual merchandising presentation is also about directing consumers around the store in the right way.

The company’s founder and chairman, Michael Sheridan, explains: “Visual merchandising remains key to an immersive retail environment; it can articulate ethos and enhance the customer experience in a way other marketing touchpoints cannot. It is a highly influential aspect of brand identity and determines whether a brand has the ability to turn consumer heads in ‘all channel’ retail.”

As visual merchandising becomes less of an option and more of a necessity, retailers are beginning to see the benefits of making investments into their stores that enable a story to be told in a broader and more enticing way. One of the solutions that is garnering more attention within the industry is lighting.

With lighting taking centre stage in the industry’s efforts to lead a successful visual merchandising campaign, specialist lighting company Parify has experience in producing solutions that are designed to illuminate jewellery displays.

Parify promotes the message that lighting is the second most important investment when it comes to VM, second only to the display expenditure itself.

Owners Andy Twigg and Scot Walker say: “A poor understanding of design and installation by lighting suppliers with regard to the needs of their clients results in wasted money spent, lost sales and time lost in revisiting lighting in their stores.”

With growing importance placed on visual merchandising, brands, such as Daisy London, have overhauled their business models to place a greater emphasis on it.

Mulford says: “We’ve been working on ensuring our visual merchandising is an extension of the message customers are seeing online, on social and all other touch points for the brand — ensuring a full 360’ brand experience.”
While the industry is changing its approach to visual merchandising, the experts are beginning to shape the future of retail. Sheridan & Co is already planning for months down the line.

“Visual merchandising today has these capabilities; from interactive makeup mirrors to sensor-embedded tables that provide spoken information of a product to a customer the minute it’s picked up,” says Sheridan, adding: “We can expect more of these more digitally enabled experiences in the retail spaces of tomorrow, with furniture acting as a conduit for immersive play and brand education. But, from a purist viewpoint, visual merchandising design will always be used as a means of physically expressing the identity of a brand, whether digital or good old-fashioned analogue — and this is a trend that will transcend seasons and time.”

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