Adapting VM standards in store

It is up to the visual merchandising and store management teams to adapt visual merchandising standards to the realities of their individual store. Without guidelines the store may look aesthetically appealing but not gain sales so it is again through a blend of creativity and commerciality that retailers maximise their visual merchandising to promote sales, effectively present ranges and ensure a high turnover of core lines.

To learn how to steer your success as a leader, the ARA Retail Institute runs multiple workshops on business leadership and team culture. Join the ARA Retail Institute in their latest workshop on planning a merchandise product range.


Store layouts

There is genius behind well-planned store layouts. Consider IKEA stores, a perfect example of a designated route that leads customers from entrance to exit through numerous lifestyle room settings designed to offer inspiration and on through the warehouse where they can pick up the pieces they liked. Extensive planning goes into the layout of such stores.

When drafting new store layouts visual merchandisers begin with blank floor plans sketched to scale. The current layout can then be detailed onto the floor plan and evaluated looking for opportunities to integrate new stock and improve commerciality.

Below are examples of blank floor plan with immobile fixtures drawn in to scale.



In each example the entrances are clearly identifiable. This is important as the natural pathway around the store helps identify the value of selling space. Most retailers classify floor space according to its value either rating it 1-4 or platinum, gold, silver and bronze for example.

As a visual merchandiser you can consider where you might place highly desirable brands that draw customers through the store past other products to that area of the store, just as supermarkets draw customers through their aisles by locating bread and milk at the back.

Categorising products

Product categorisation is a helpful tool in making visual merchandising standards simpler to implement and makes the store layout far easier for customers to understand and navigate. In most cases, retailers group products into categories according to type or function and a logic that makes it easy for customers to find what they are looking for.

Established retailers can track the sales results from each category to plan the best location to display each. Placing high selling categories and brands in prime selling space improves sales and therefore has the potential to positively impact business profitability.

Maximising return on space

When a retailer realises that changes need to be made to product category placement due to shifts in sales data it is time to decide what needs to change and how. Remembering that the priority of visual merchandisers is to have the right product in the right place it is key to understand how products are classified according to their saleability.

A rule of thumb: ‘Retailers should aim to support their top performing sales categories with the highest level of space and stock’

Whilst visual merchandisers need to redesign the space allocation within the store layout in accordance with product popularity and gross profit, buying teams need to support VM actions by responding to sales data to modify stock allocations. Increasing stock levels for key best sellers while the interest is high and reducing levels for problem stock is just the beginning. Large chain retailers have sophisticated approaches to reallocating stock across their stores to maximise sell through.

Ensure brand alignment

Visual merchandising is an element of retailing that has a high level of influence on the customer experience. In many ways it is through visual merchandising that customers first experience a bricks and mortar store. Being responsible for first impressions means visual merchandisers need to consider the best ways in which to send the brand message to customers.

Retailers want to sell their products, this is undeniable and it is the core element of business profitability. However, visual merchandisers need to interpret the brand marketing to create a shopping experience that will both attract and appeal to current and prospective customers.

Making sure that all visual merchandising decisions are based in a solid understanding of the brand means there will be a level of consistency in the imagery and design that customers can pick up on and therefore know that they are in your particular store.

It may be specific colour palettes, VM prop design and textures, sparseness or intentional clutter that makes the store memorable. It may be fixtures and fittings, a sense of luxury and space, signage, how prices are displayed. These visual merchandising guidelines or standards are what makes a store one of yours.

It is also essential that VM standards be developed in alignment with the brand so the impressions customers may have of the brand from media, online and word of mouth are also reflected in store. A brand may have comprehensive VM standards that are used as the template for all store layouts yet the standards are not a true reflection of the brand. What results is a cluttered luxury store or a big box retailer with no visible pricing.

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