Experts Offer Their 10 Top Tips to Amp Up Your Visual Merchandising

Visual merchandising for retail stores | Shopify Retail blog

Having the right merchandise to sell to customers is one thing; knowing how to display it to your target customers is a whole other ball game.

Strong visual merchandising and cross merchandising attracts and engages the right customers, increases product turnover, and strengthens your branding. But before diving in, this point bears emphasizing: Just as your merchandise needs to be guided by your brand story, so does your visual presentation. Ensure the display is on-point with the brand ethos, aesthetic, and message.

We spoke with Dimitri Koumbis, co-founder of the ecommerce platform Bishop Collective (which offers American manufactured goods that eloquently combine fashion, art, and lifestyle) and part-time lecturer at Parsons School of Design and Rutgers Business School.

According to Koumbis, retailers should display their goods in a manner that best represents the brand and the product, and gives customers the ability to access their merchandise (literally, he means that the merchandise should be easily accessible).

Failing to create an impactful visual presentation in your store in a missed opportunity. So, we rounded up the best visual display advice from retail owners and merchandising professors to help retailers make a positive impact on foot traffic and sales.

10 Tips To Help You Nail Your Visual Merchandising Displays

1. Ensure Your Store Window Attracts Customers

“The customer starts ‘shopping’ from outside the retailer’s storefront, so make a strong, inviting first impression,” Koumbis explains.

This cannot be emphasized enough: Always have compelling window displays to draw the customer in.

So, how do you get inspired when it comes to your store windows?

Kathlin Argiro, a New York-based dress designer at Kathlin Argiro Design Studio and a fellow professor at Parsons, offers up this advice: “Think outside the box and get inspired by some of the best in the business, like Anthropologie, Bergdorf Goodman, and New York City-based ABC Carpet & Home.”

Innovation is key!

Bergdorf Goodman window display | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Bergdorf Goodman

Argiro continues: “There are even some amazing cutting-edge display ideas that feature ‘smart mirrors.’ The designer leading the trend is Rebecca Minkoff: she is considered the one to watch for the most current innovations in integrating technology into your store display. There are also digital display products that allow the customer to be interactive. This is very effective because it allows the customer to enjoy a unique experience. The downside of these innovations is that they can be costly.”

FURTHER READING: Learn more about smart mirrors in our list of 5 creative ways retailers are using immersive retail experiences.

That said, these high-tech options aren’t necessarily realistic for independent retailers, but it’s always important to stay up-to-date with emerging visual presentation trends.

EXPERT TIP: Designer brands and higher-end department stores tend to have interesting examples of creative store windows, so explore those stores IRL or do a Pinterest search for “store displays,” “store windows,” or “fashion visual merchandising.” Also, stay up-to-date with websites and trade magazines like Business of Fashion, WWD, and Fast Company for the latest in fashion display trends and tech innovations in the fashion world.

2. Consider Your Display Tools

Gucci visual merchandising | Shopify Retail blogCredit: Gucci 

When displaying merchandise, consider whether mannequins, body forms, or dress forms work best for your product and customer.

For a complete breakdown of whether you should use mannequins, dress forms or body forms, read my article on the topic: Displaying Your Merchandise: The Retailer's Guide To Mannequins and Body Forms.

Le Bon Marche visual merchandising | Shopify Retail blog
Image: Le Bon Marche

You might also decide to hang looks on store walls. This can be an interesting way to display some ensembles, but don’t rely solely on this tactic, as it tends to make the clothing lack dimension.

Jasper Conran visual merchandising | Shopify Retail blogImage: Jasper Conran

3. Be Strategic With Mannequins, Body Forms, and Shelves

Whichever display tools you use, make sure you’re being strategic.

Koumbis explains: “Group mannequins or body forms together to send a stronger message. Also, less is more in terms of quantity. And don’t make displays complicated.”

You also need to consider the height of your displays and shelves. It’s about more than the message reaching the customer — it’s literally about the actual product being reachable.

Koumbis reminds us: “Ensure your product is shoppable by the customer (i.e. at arm’s reach, so at 2’ to 6’ off the ground).”

Taylor Anne Interiors visual merchandising | Shopify Retail blogImage: Alyssa Rosenheck for Taylor Anne Interiors

4. Be Strategic With Racks

When hanging merchandise on racks, there needs to be a method to your merchandising madness.

We spoke with Alexis Mera Damen, founder and CEO of active and leisurewear e-tailer Alexis Mera, about how she merchandises racks during her pop-up shops.

Damen suggests creating outfits on the rack “by mixing things in instead of hanging all of the same styles in a row. For example, I would hang a sports bra, a top and then leggings, followed by a jacket. The customer can easily see that it's a complete outfit.”

5. Group Together By Colors

Damen also recommends creating color schemes: “If you don't have multiple SKUs, try merchandising by color; it's easier on the eyes and allows the shopper to head to the color they like and peruse.”

Maje visual merchandising | Shopify Retail blog
Image: Maje

6. Group Together By Themes

Kirsten La Greca, founder of Rosa Gold, previously worked in visual presentation at two major fashion retail flagship locations (one of which was at The Grove in Los Angeles). According to La Greca, “Most customers buy what they see. Simple as that.” she said.

She explains a strategy she often employed while creating memorable storefronts for top retail brands: “In retail, we would always group products that went along with a certain theme or story. This can translate online by having collections. For example, I sell blanket scarves, however, this year I'm introducing ‘game day’ scarves and will group relevant scarves into that collection. So, having collections or stories helps you have more fun, be more creative and create a deeper connection with your customer.”

7. Mix It Up

Emily Scott, owner of women’s fashion apparel and accessories e-tailer Compendium Boutique (whose flagship location is in Pennsylvania), suggests this: “When staging larger displays, such as tables, large fixtures, or seasonal merchandise, have a timeline of 3 to 4 weeks (and no more than 6!) before completely re-merchandising. Customers will notice that the large displays have changed, and even if you’ve simply moved merchandise around (not necessarily brought in a lot of new styles), the change of scenery can make customers think you have a ton of new inventory in, which will encourage them to browse.”

Compendium Boutique window display | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Compendium Boutique

Koumbis suggests a more frequent change-up schedule: “Refresh your displays from sell-through and going into the weekend. For example, change mannequins and/or body forms first thing every Friday (or every other Friday) morning before the store opens.”

Kayla Horner of The Club, a men’s and women’s designer apparel boutique with a location on Ocean Avenue in Carmel, Calif., suggests: "When it comes to window displays, our motto is, ‘Change is good!’ We continually update our mannequins throughout the week to show customers fashionable and realistic looks that reflect the social and cultural events happening in the area. In a small town like Carmel, the window displays are our biggest advertising tool."

The Club visual merchandising | Shopify Retail blog

Image: The Club

The Club visual merchandising | Shopify Retail blog
Credit: The Club

The takeaway here? Find a strategy that works for you, given your target audience and resources.

8. Attract More Sales With Your Current Best Sellers

Scott suggests letting your best sellers do the heavy lifting.

At Compendium Boutique, “We put our most popular styles front and center so that customers and potential customers see these styles immediately. It draws people into the store and gives them an idea of how different components come together for a particular outfit.”

Compendium Boutique visual merchandising | Shopify Retail blogImage: Compendium Boutique

9. Remix, Test, and Retry

La Greca explains that if a piece wasn’t moving at one of the big retailers where she worked, her team would reconsider how it was displayed.

“In fashion retail, often the statement pieces get put on mannequins while the more basic pieces get folded and put on shelves,” she says. “If something wasn't selling, we would move it, put it on a mannequin or lay it out on a table The product would always move, it was amazing to watch. This can translate online by taking new images of a product. Maybe restyling it, or taking more of a lifestyle shot can help.”

It’s important to add a disclaimer to this point: If a piece isn’t selling, it might just need a better display tactic to highlight its features or ensure that it’s not buried with other products. But fashion tech entrepreneur, strategy consultant and founder of Click2Fit Chaya Cooper, recommends proceeding with caution, as it can simply be that the item isn’t resonating with your customers.

Cooper suggests asking loyal customers for feedback and taking notes, because you want to avoid these types of purchasing mistakes in the future.

If you do restyle the item or reshoot it for online, try to get inspired by “best in class” retailers, as well as online bloggers and influencers on Instagram.

It's helpful to look up similar products on Pinterest to see which images are repinned the most. It'll usually mean it's pleasing to the eye, so try using that inspiration as a guide for merchandising or how you style your online product photography. —Kirsten La Greca, founder of Rosa Gold

10. Consider All The Details

Whether you're styling a mannequin for in-store or online, make it look GOOD.

La Greca continues: “Steam the clothing, clip the mannequins so the fit is great. A sloppy-looking visual in a store is the worst... it attracts no one!”

Lane Crawford visual merchandising | Shopify Retail blogImage: Lane Crawford, at the Webster

Koumbis also offers up these two tips: “Use sensory merchandising techniques to engage customers and keep them in-store longer (i.e. good music, scented candle, etc.). And ensure your store is clean. Obvious, yes, but this is much more important than you might think!"

Let’s Get Visual

You already have enough on your plate, so let’s help you slay your displays — and watch your traffic and sales increase as a result.