A Foolproof Guide to Creating Window Displays That Turn Heads and Drive Foot Traffic

Retail window displays | Shopify Retail blog

Whether you're a small retailer with a storefront or you're planning your first pop-up store, your retail window display is one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal of tools to stand out.

Not only are you going head-to-head with other small businesses, but you're competing with big-box retailers and chain stores as well. A unique, compelling retail window display has the power to differentiate you from competitors as well as draw in more foot traffic. 

Store window displays are your chance to highlight your brand's unique personality and turn the heads of passersby. The right window display design can engage shoppers enough to cause them to stop, look back, and walk into your store where your floor staff can help close the sale.

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Sounds pretty enticing, right? 

Setting up your first retail window display may sound a little daunting. Luckily, you don't need to have a design background to create a compelling store window display. Even if you don't have the budget to hire a visual merchandising professional, it's possible to DIY your own display.

Here, we'll help you set your fears aside so you can master the art of putting together unforgettable window displays. We'll guide you through the process of assembling your store window display, as well as offer some window display ideas to get you started.

Assemble Your Retail Window Display Tool Box

Window display tool box | Shopify Retail

Before you start brainstorming complex ideas for your first retail window display, let's start by making sure we've got the necessary tools to set you up for success. In other words, you don't want to be halfway through the process only to notice you don't have a tape measure or another essential tool.

So, here are most of the basic components that you'll need to get started: 

  • Tape measure
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Two-sided tape
  • Hammer and nails
  • Utility knife
  • Glue gun and hot glue sticks
  • Screwdriver and screws
  • Pen, pencil, marker, and notepad
  • Props (any non-merchandise items)

Depending on the design of your store window display, you may need other materials to complete your project. However, the aforementioned tools will the ball rolling and can serve as a skeletal shopping list to start your display design.

Start With a Story Based on a Theme

Retail window display ideas | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Pinterest

When it comes to conceptualizing a store window display, it's best to start with a pen and paper. Before sketching out your window display ideas, start with a story based on a theme. Yes, your window display design should tell at least a basic story — especially since it's proven that storytelling can serve as a strategic business tool.

It helps to begin with a theme, then use your storytelling prowess to turn it into something more sophisticated. 

For example: 

  • Instead of "Christmas", think "Nutcracker" (psst: here are some Christmas window display ideas if you're looking for holiday inspiration!)
  • Instead of "Halloween", think "Sleepy Hollow"
  • Instead of "Valentine", think "Cupid's Mischievousness" 
  • Instead of "Thanksgiving," think "Dressing Up a Turkey"

Create a Focal Point For the Store Window Display

Window display ideas | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Pinterest

Once you've got a rough sketch, including a story based on a theme, take a moment to step out onto the street and give your window a good look. By doing so, you'll be able to determine where your customer's eye-level is going to be, where the center line is, and whether you can incorporate elements like items suspended from the ceiling and so on. Feel free to take some tape and mark some of those areas mentioned. 

From there, you'll have a good idea of what that central or focal point should be. The focal point is where you want your prospective customers to look first and concentrate their focus. Determine how big that central point should be. Whatever is intended to be the central point of your display should be big enough so that even it can catch a shopper's attention even on the other side of the street. 

Also, start thinking about the arrangement of products based around your focal point. Will you arrange your products on wires or shelves around the focal point? Or maybe set them up in a pyramid? Explore different configurations to see what would work best for your window display. 

Be Bold In Every Way

Be bold in window displays | Shopify Retail

Let's be honest: Society's attention span is shrinking to about less than a millisecond, and your buyers are no exception. You can bet that most people walking by your store will either be engaged a conversation with a friend, texting, or walking their dog. So, you'll need to pull out all the stops to make sure you catch their attention. At least very least, you can create a store window display they'll want to take photos of with their smartphone and share them with the world. 

So, when creating your retail window display, don't be bland. Be bold with colors, shapes, and props. Think outside of any cookie-cutter colors and opt for more eye-catching hues like fuchsia. Just remember to exercise your best judgment and keep everything consistent with your brand.

FURTHER READING: Want to know more about retail branding? Learn how to build a brand story for your retail business.

Props are also a great way to think unconventionally, especially given the availability of all the different art materials readily available at your local art store. Think about cutting up foam boards, creating papier-mache props, or anything else you think would be appropriate for your brand and store. 

Keep Your Retail Window Displays Simple

Keep window displays simple | Shopify Retail

With all the window display ideas available for you to use as inspiration, it's easy to get carried away and create an overly complicated display. However, too much clutter is likely to repel and overwhelm potential passersby rather than draw their attention. Don't try to do too much or you just end up with a busy, unfocused display.

Always keep your goal in mind: Ultimately, you want to draw attention to your products and help customers quickly understand why certain products are grouped with others. That also means keeping your display clutter-free and being able to justify why each component of your display is included. 

Balance Is Key

Food pyramid retail window display | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Pinterest

When you're creating a display, you're going to have small and large objects, dark and light colors, lights and shadows, and so on. It's important to balance the different elements you'll be deploying in order to create a pleasing aesthetic. 

For example, typically you'll want to place larger, darker items near the bottom, with items that are lighter and more colorful at the top. This will prevent your display from looking top heavy. Similarly, if you place all the large items to one side and all the small ones on the side, you've got an unbalanced window display. Imagine you're balancing items on those vintage weight machines, which means doing things like balancing a large item one side with lots of smaller items on the other. 

Trust your judgment and get a sense of what emotion your display is evoking. With a balanced display, you're more likely to create feelings of happiness, excitement, and enjoyment, whereas an unbalanced display may signal anxiety or instability. 

Pay Attention to Lighting

Retail window display lighting | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Pinterest

When it comes to creating an effective window display, lighting can sometimes be an after-thought or something to consider if you've got the budget for "extra-costs." However, lighting can be a crucial component in getting people to stop. 

Lighting can create moods, highlight certain products over others, and establish a dramatic setting for your store window display. Being strategic with lighting can pay dividends in helping you get your focal point right on and directing onlooker eyes to where you want them. 

FURTHER READING: WNeed a little more help with your retail lighting? Learn the ins and outs of retail lighting design.

We don't recommend lighting displays directly from the top — this can lead to unattractive, harsh shadows. Instead, consider lighting displays from the sides and front. This will bring out the 3D quality of the display and you can really have some fun when you have light coming at it from different angles. 

Taking a Final Look at Your Retail Window Display

Once you've got all the pieces where you want them, make sure to take a look at your window display from every possible angle. Very rarely is a person going to only notice a display when they're standing right in front of it. Walk up to it from different directions and check things like your focal point, how visible your signage or calls to action are, and if it all appears balanced. 

If you're satisfied with the results, congratulations, your store window display is ready to go!

Have you created a unique retail window display for your store? Share your advice in the comments below.