The Positive Effects of Imaginative Displays

The ‘attractiveness’ of a store environment is a key strategic goal for retailers, creating positive shopping experiences and driving purchase behaviour.

In store product displays are a major component of this, both highlighting products and building a cohesive and pleasant visual environment through colour and shape.

Research indicates that displays are a powerful generator of unplanned purchases, having a greater impact than even price promotions.

Previous research has examined in-store displays through two facets: display form (how the products are displayed) and display context (the environment in which the display is presented). Emerging from this literature, this new research focuses on the importance of novelty and aesthetics to define ‘imaginative’ displays, in which multiple units of the same product are used to construct the display itself in a novel, yet aesthetically appealing form.

Novelty refers to unexpected and unfamiliar stimulus, typically a deviation from what consumers expect to see. This experience in influenced not only by form but also context, as expectations can be shaped via contrast with other nearby elements.

This research explores the intersection of novelty and aesthetics by contrasting ‘imaginative’ displays against non-novel and aesthetically neutral standard displays across several experiments, to investigate their impact on consumer behaviour and psychology.


Method and sample

This research draws on six studies in both lab and field settings.

Study one, a field experiment in a grocery store involved a between-subjects experimental design, contrasting sales revenue from a week with a typical display vs revenue from a week with an imaginative display.

Study two, a field experiment in a confectionery store, collected consumer data from shoppers (N=1416) exposed to three different variations of a product display over four days.

Studies 3a and 3b used consumer panel data from mTurk to evaluate responses to product displays with varying quantity (3a, N=261) and varying display novelty and the degree of psychologically arousing priming the panel was exposed to (3b, N=279).

Study four used consumer panel data from mTurk (N=256) to explore responses to imaginative vs neutral displays across between familiar and un-familiar brands.

Study five used consumer panel data from Prolific (N=480) to explore differences in responses between neutral displays, typically imaginative displays and imaginative displays created from shapes that signalled product benefits (tank for endurance, bear for strength).


Key findings

The ‘imaginative’ displays used in this study were rated as higher in novelty and aesthetic appeal comparative to standard displays, showing this variable was manipulated successfully across the studies.

Imaginative product displays are significantly associated with higher sales revenue and return on investment, even when factoring in the effort of setting up and maintaining these displays.

The impact of displays on purchase intention is associated with novelty and aesthetic appeal, but not with the height or the quantity of products in the display.

Imaginative product displays significantly increase purchase intention, and this change is the result of greater excitement and mental stimulation (arousal). When participants are primed by showing them mentally stimulating images (drawn from the International Affective Picture System; smiling faces, exciting locations, ect) before evaluating displays, similar responses to imaginative displays were observed in typical displays.

The shape of an imaginative display can change customer’s perceptions of a product’s benefits. For example, a display constructed in the shape of a tank can convey that the product is strong and durable. Consumers who see this display are more likely to associate the product with the symbolic attributes of the display’s shape. This is not dependent on any preconceived notions about the product’s attributes by the customer, as this effect is seen regardless of familiarity with the brand.


While imaginative displays may appear gimmicky, they can positively influence customers’ purchase behaviour, product sales, and ROI at relatively low costs. This research reveals that efficacy of imaginative displays is determined by their novelty and aesthetic elements, highlighting the importance of breaking free of consumer expectations while also integrating context to be both interesting and visually pleasing to consumers.

Importantly, factors such as the height of the display, the quantity of products used and even the consumer’s familiarity with the brand seem to not matter as much as how novel and aesthetically pleasing the display is, meaning even small brands can use this technique to improve their in-store experience.

The effect of imaginative displays on consumer behaviour seems to be the result of how mentally stimulating or exciting the display is. Managers should therefore support displays by maximising psychological arousal, complementing the display with features such as music, colour, and scent.

Imaginative displays are also able to change how consumers perceive the benefits of the products being promoted, with the symbolic attributes of their shape influencing how the product itself is evaluated. The shape of a tank might represent durability, a bear might represent strength. Retailers can use this to align the design of their displays with the attributes of the product they wish to highlight, tapping into the power of symbols to influence customer perceptions.

Researcher – Dr Di Wang, QUT



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