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FEATURE: How to tell your story with visual merchandising


Professional Jeweller speaks to visual merchandising stars, point-of-sale experts, retailers and brands to find out how cleverly crafted window displays and impeccable store presentation can boost sales. 

Selling jewellery, just like selling a brand, is all about telling a story that engages the customer and encourages them to invest in that tale; whether that’s an emotional saga or just a simple case of fashion-trends and wardrobe updates.

Visual merchandising is one of the many ways that this revenue-boosting story can be told, but it isn’t always easy. As jewellery is such a small commodity, imbuing pieces with a sense of grandeur through excellent lighting and clever use of props is essential to grab a customer’s attention.

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


Millington Associates has an impressive track record of designing in-store and window layouts and project managing the installation of point-of-sale materials, exhibition spaces and interiors for retailers, including Chopard, Cartier, Boodles, Swarovski and De Beers. As a result, Saina Attaoui has a wealth of knowledge on how best to display jewels to tell a story.

She comments: “Through working with premium jewellery brands we have found that on the whole there are two main conditions that need to be met for a successful campaign in terms of window displays and POS materials.

“The first and most immediate is the need for a design that allows for the impactful telling of a story to speak to the customer’s imagination. And the second, perhaps more practical, is the need for the right lighting.”

Helping brands and retailers to find this sense of theatre on the high street is Sheridan & Co chairman and founder, Michael Sheridan. As a full service design company specialising in retail stores, concessions and visual merchandising, Sheridan & Co believes visual merchandising should complement and support a brand’s key selling point. When working with Mappin & Webb, for example, Sheridan & Co highlighted the jeweller’s heritage with “scenesetting” visual references. Sheridan explains to Professional Jeweller: “What we did [at Mappin & Webb] was to set the scene around the historical aspects of the brand from outside the shop, so you could start to begin to see references of its heritage just by visual cues, before you go anywhere near to the actual merchandise itself.”

Of course, not all brands have such a rich history to draw from, but this doesn’t mean visual cues can’t be laid for other key selling points; such as vintage designs or a Fairtrade offer.

As Sheridan explains: “People can see pictures or physical objects pretty much anywhere, so in-store is a great opportunity to not just explain the mechanical aspects of making jewellery, but also to put storytelling around the product; showcasing where the inspiration comes from for that brand.”


If visual cues can start from the pavement, how can window displays help to hammer home this brand message even more? For Sheridan, the trick is showcasing icon pieces rather than sticking with the “old-fashioned magpie effect” of displaying “everything and anything in the window”. He explains: “If a customer sees one thing they like [in the window] the chances are they will go and see what else you’ve got, even if it is beyond their price point. The next layer, when you go into store, is to see showcases which have got more choice and product in them.”

Due to the small nature of jewellery merchandise it is tempting to fill window displays, giving customers a sense of the vast styles available inside. However both Sheridan and Alan Springall, display designer and vice chairman of the British Display Society, argue that this can detract from the ‘specialness’ of individual items, taking the uniqueness out of what is a very emotional and subjective purchase.

For Springall, the aim is to create a carefully considered, shaped display that guides the passing consumer’s eye from one theme or group of products to another in an organised way. He explains: “Retailers often think visual merchandising is a bit of a chore, which isn’t a good start, but what they need to do is decide on what is going to attract attention, like a prop, graphic or photograph, and place that somewhere near eye level or slightly below eye level. This is where you start from and that’s what people don’t do because they start with a whole load of merchandise and start stacking it up.”

Practically speaking, Springall advises creating a symmetric or asymmetric focal point in a window display, with items either suspended from the top of the window – presuming a grid-like fixture is available – or built up from the base to reach eye level.

But if grabbing the attention of a casual passer-by is the aim of the game, how can this immediate interest be translated into an interest in the jewellery on display? After all, the two aren’t mutually exclusive if a prop, photograph or graphic are being used.

Springall continues: “Once you’ve caught somebody’s attention you’ve got to draw their gaze onto what you want them to look at. So, if they’ve been attracted by a prop, you’ve then got to use that to direct a customer’s attention to the merchandise, which is the whole point of having a window.”

The process that Springall describes to achieve this sounds simple, but is obviously far from it. He advises overlapping the “first group” of priority merchandise with the focal point visually, “so that your eye then immediately comes down onto the merchandise and from there on you make a shaped display, like a pyramid, which is the most efficient and easiest to do”.

The second most important group of merchandise will then overlap the first, and so on, so that you’re purposefully directing the consumer like a car around a racing track until they’ve seen everything, in order, and for a purpose. Although each individual group of merchandise needs to tightly arranged, Springall recommends leaving space between these groups — presenting something that overlaps visually from the point of view of the street, but something that offers empty space perhaps when viewed from above.

Springall continues: “You’ve got to work to a shape otherwise you end just spreading merchandise across an area. The whole point of grouping products together is that they are easier to look at than a mass of merchandise. Space in a window is just as important as where the merchandise is.”

In summary, a focal point, like a prop, starts the journey drawing the customer in, and then a shaped display with clear lines of sight allow a customer to track their journey around a window from one group of merchandise to another, ensuring their undivided attention.

However, other considerations need to be taken into account. According to Sheridan & Co founder Michael Sheridan, window displays should be changed in accordance with the regularity in which your target consumers walk by. In small market towns and local shopping centres, this could involve weekly updates as the same individuals grow accustomed to passing and require a greater wow-factor to be enticed.

Springall agrees, commenting: “If you’ve always got the same people passing your shop you’ve got to make your windows different. This is the problem that a lot of high street retailers have because they find a layout they like and keep pushing it, and people who are seeing it out of the corner of their eye have seen it all before and aren’t excited.”


Capitalising on this kind of expert advice, Lincolnshire-based retailer Grace & Co has seen the benefits of impressive and well-thought-out window arrangements. According to Grace & Co’s Grantham store manager Naomi Parker: “We have had so many people come in just to mention how amazing the windows looked and then they have a look round, which in turn has encouraged many customers to purchase.”

When it comes to implementing window displays, Varney Polydor, co-founder and creative director of Londonbased independent Kohatu + Petros, says it is an ongoing creative process: “Our shop window is really what we focus on visually. Jo [co-founder Joanna Salmond] and I both brainstorm and come up with ideas that are relative to the jewellery collections we are focusing on for that time period. Once we complete the window visuals, we start to think of the next event or season we may like to feature.”

Similarly, Kelly McGuane, the window designer for multi-brand retailer Swag, comments: “With new displays I like to start with a blank canvas. I gather the stock, find my ‘hero’ pieces and then centre my display round that. We use lots of different shapes, sizes and colours of props, so I’ll have an idea in mind for the height I want to create.”

In-line with Alan Springall, McGuane uses a three point system, carefully spaced and decreasing in size, so that each point flows into the next, drawing the eye around the display.

According to Swag managing director Edward Ferris, one of the strengths of his visual merchandising team is a willingness to push boundaries. He remarks: “Kelly manages a small team which is dedicated to windows and visual merchandising across all six Swag shops, and they make sure all of our staff know how to reproduce them each morning. More importantly, they re-do displays frequently and aren’t afraid to switch stock around and try new things. Every time new stock comes in, the windows are reevaluated.”

He continues: “Our buying team are constantly monitoring sales and checking the ‘performance’ of each window area — meaning we can put fabulous new things in the places where our customers are most likely to see them. Positioning can make or break a new line, so it is vital to get it right.”


One of the benefits of visual merchandising is its ability to turn a retailer into brand in its own right, when combined with the right interior decor, furniture and branding. Examples include multi- brand retailer Drakes, Argento and Swarovski’s retail concept Cadenzza.

One company that excels in this area is Pandora, which encourages shoppers to feel part of the Pandora universe through its concept stores and point of sale materials. Pandora president of Western Europe, Peter Andersen, explains the company has a team of 20 visual merchandisers who travel round the country. He explains: “We work on visual merchandising every single day and we learnt a lot from how the big fashion retailers operate. When you come into [a Pandora] store you follow a flow. In 2013 we introduced areas – a ring area, a charm and bracelet area etcetera – so that people can concentrate [on each section]. We also always make sure we have a newness area so they always know what is new in the store.”

Creating this kind of immersive experience isn’t achievable for all, but creating a point of difference is. At Kohatu + Petros, this uniqueness comes from bespoke full-length mirrors, allowing customers to see more than just their head and shoulders when trying on pieces.

Springall also notes that retailers are becoming more imaginative when it comes to fittings and stands for pieces, using unusual textures and materials to create a more contemporary vision. He explains: “Putting something like a really fine bracelet on a bed of rusted corrugated iron is what people will look at because it is something they’re not used to seeing compared to a bed of velvet.”


For Sheridan & Co’s Michael Sheridan, visual merchandising is about more than just operating a great looking store, it is also about directing consumers around the store in the right way. As Peter Andersen touched on in the previous section, directing the flow of people traffic is something that can be controlled and supported by artfully arranged seating areas.

Sheridan explains: “When you go into a jewellery shop there aren’t many stopping places where you feel comfortable to stop, rest and then continue a conversation or a journey. The work we are doing with Folli Follie and Links of London at the moment is very much about that; letting people walk around and see the merchandise, while ensuring there is somewhere fairly close to each section where they will feel naturally comfortable to sit down and almost make the gesture to the customer that they are receiving service.

On a more subconscious level, Sheridan argues that the presence of a seating area or a store in a “particular configuration” can make customers think “this establishment has customers who actually come in and sit down here, so there’s nothing wrong with me staying here longer”. This can therefore increase dwell time and encourage an atmosphere of fantastic customer service before the shop assistant has even opened a cabinet.


“Over the past two years we’ve joked internally about making the leap from high street jewellery brand to a furniture retailer,” muses Clogau managing director Ben Roberts, when asked about point of sale materials. “However, while we joke about this we also know there are two main benefits of using our furniture in store; our retail partners understand that the investment in the furniture quickly pays off and also ensures a consistent look across the UK.”

Yet despite the inherent practicalities of using branded furniture, it can have a significant impact on visual merchandising within a store — especially if a retailer is working hard to develop its own profile and identity.

Swag managing director Edward Ferris comments: “Brands tend to know what works for their ranges, so we always follow their guidelines. The only thing that can sometimes cause a clash is colour, but this can be overcome by thoughtful choices when it comes to positioning different brands next to each other. If the brands are happy with it, we often incorporate some of our own props and blocks into the branded displays — it doesn’t take away from the branded feel but helps to provide a cohesive look to the windows, which makes browsing a much more pleasant experience for the customer.”

In contrast, Jos Skeates, managing director of independent retailer EC One, explains: “We aren’t fans of using point of sale material as we believe that it is our job to carefully edit our collections and show them at their best, rather than grouping them by designer or brand. I would go as far as to say it’s lazy retail if you rely on point of sale, as manufacturers have been given too much say in how things look.”

Control in the visual merchandising arena varies from store to store, but what is clear is that boundaries need to be pushed to create a cohesive vision — something that Pandora is doing with its growing portfolio of concept stores. For independents, an own-brand inhouse collection; either bridal or some other category, could be the way for- ward, enabling the creativity afforded to window displays to be continued into a multi-brand environment. This also offers the opportunity to create stories; grouping products together in themes that tempt the customer.

As Skeates concludes: “These stories then encourage customers to say, ‘we purchased this from EC One’, rather than from a particular brand or designer.”


They might not be new in the world of jewellery, but some of the UK’s fastest growing brands are enjoying boosted sales thanks to touch and feel units — allowing customers to interact with product in a relaxed and informal way.

Clogau managing director Ben Roberts, comments: “We now offer seven styles of cabinet of which two give the customer the opportunity to touch and feel the jewellery. One of these cabinets offers our new and very successful bridal offering, Clogau Compose, where the customer can touch jewellery that would usually be under glass and may cost up to £10,000.” The brand also offers an ‘Impulse unit’, with Roberts suggesting results in this area are “more telling” as it houses rings that have been in the brand’s portfolio for years.

He explains: “We have been able to monitor sell-through both before and after the launch of the Impulse unit. The results have been impressive with 130% uplift in sell-through of the rings that the public can try on, touch and look at as closely as they wish.”

Danish watch and jewellery brand Bering has also seen similar results with its touch and feel units for its Arctic Symphony interchangeable ring collection. Bering UK country manager, Ian Latham, explains: “There are few items in a jewellery store that the customer can actually ‘play’ with at their leisure, giving them the opportunity to try the product out and get a feel for the purchase they will make. [For this reason] the Arctic Symphony ring trays that we have developed are an essential display for Bering stockists. Consumers love it and retailers benefit from higher sales.”

At the brand’s flagship store in Hamburg, 38% of sales are as a result of touch and feel ring displays positioned close to the entrance of the store.

And it is not just brands who are noticing the benefits of open displays. Naomi Parker, manager of Grace & Co’s Grantham-based store, commented: “Touch and feel units are really working well for us, allowing the customers to try on pieces at their own leisure has swayed them into buying as they don’t feel intimidated to ask for cabinets to be opened by staff.”

Another retailer who has tackled this ‘closed-cabinet’ nervousness is Kohatu + Petros, which opted for open display units in a recent redesign. Varney Polydor explains: “We wanted to encourage our customers to feel comfortable trying on the jewellery. In addition to this we have 16 fabulous velvet lined drawers, which we also use to showcase our jewellery collections.”

Finally, Pandora also credits its phenomenal 2014 ring sales to touch and feel units, which president of Western Europe, Peter Andersen, hopes to built upon with interactive, in-store services.

Andersen remarks: “I am a very big Apple fan and when I go to the Apple store I am fascinated by the fact that everywhere is a till. We are still bound with having a physical till, so that is something I would love to change.”


As visual merchandising becomes less of an option and more of a necessity, retailers are beginning to see the benefits of introducing technology into their stores that enables a story to be told in a broader and more enticing way. This also opens up the online channel, encouraging shoppers to enter their email address to secure more insights into a product or service.

Retail design company Sheridan & Co is at the forefront of this retail revolution, tapping in to traditional visual merchandising and marketing techniques and developing them with specially-developed technology. Its patented RFID system offers retailers the opportunity to play specific media files – sounds, videos or images – whenever a specific item with an RFID tag is picked up. It’s also a novel way of collecting data, by analysing what, out of a selection of products, is ‘activated’ the most.

Currently, this system is being introduced in the concessions of skincare brand Clarins, allowing customers to shop by ingredient. In the world of jewellery retail, this could allow for a plethora of stories to be told, like a video detailing Fairtrade mining efforts anytime a customer picks up a Fairtrade wedding band for instance.

The implications for visual merchandising are significant, but only if there is a brand story in place waiting to be told. If there isn’t, you may risk losing sales that aren’t purely practical in nature while your competitors tell tales; from fashion trends and at-the-bench innovations, to gothic romances and the origin of precious gemstones.

This feature originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Professional Jeweller. Read it here.


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