What does your visual merchandising strategy look like? Do you have one? 😳
For many online fashion boutiques, visual merchandising falls onto the marketing team, website designer, social media manager, or in some cases – the business owner. You probably have a marketing strategy, you might even have a content strategy, but a considerable number of online brands are missing a visual merchandising strategy altogether.
📢 If you run a fashion boutique, visual merchandising matters. A LOT. You cannot expect to perform well against your competition without a cohesive product presentation strategy to lure in new business.
In this post, you will learn:
- What is visual merchandising?
- The MYTH of visual merchandising
- Why does visual merchandising matter?
- What are the goals of visual merchandising?
- How can online stores use In-Store display tactics?
- Proven types of product displays & tips to create badass displays online.
Let’s dive in. 🤿
What is Visual Merchandising?
The art of visual merchandising is the crossroad between product-design and product-marketing. Formally defined by the late Martin M. Pegler, long time professor of retail display and visual design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, visual merchandising is the practice of “promoting the sale of goods by way of arranging or displaying retail products” in a visually appealing manner.
It is a combination of several visual components:
- Products (and staging props, if necessary)
- Forms (mannequins or models)
- Graphics and signage
- Color and texture
- Lighting and shadows
- Fixtures (like tables, risers, stands, etc.)
- Message (theme, idea, sale, promotion, announcement, etc.) to drive traffic
Featuring your products in an aesthetically pleasing way helps to strengthen brand identity, foster customer loyalty, drive revenue, and encourage repeat business. In short, your visual merchandising strategy sets the visual standards for the year and aims to streamline your in-season decision-making. This method creates harmony between the merchandising and marketing functions of your business.
However, it is important to note that both talent and taste are required if the result of visual merchandising is to be more meaningful than just ordinary product images or neatly stacked shelves of merchandise. It takes a sense of visual creativity – knowing how to tease the eye and delight your shop visitors, all while communicating important information.
A Visual Merchandising Plan is your 12-month calendar (or however long you want it to cover) that you build to dictate your high-level display decisions for the year. This means major themes, focal points, seasonal stories—things like that. Your visual merchandising plan should also align with events, promotions, and holidays on your marketing team’s content calendar.
That’s why it’s so important for your visual merchandising team to collaborate early and often with both design and marketing. This way, they are synced on the major ideas and events as they all march forward on their separate deliverables.
The MYTH of Visual Merchandising
Historically, visual merchandising has just been thought of as window displays and mannequins inside brick & mortar stores.
Technology has already opened so many doors for visual merchandisers in Brick+Mortar environments, but physical stores are just the tip of the iceberg.
Fundamentally, visual display tactics have not changed much as it relates to ecommerce. But, pretty obviously, the retail environment has changed, with no signs of slowing down.
While these technological advancements are exciting, it’s necessary to redefine what visual merchandising means for modern retail brands.
Why does Visual Merchandising Matter?
Visual merchandising is important for many reasons, a few of them are:
- The average human’s attention span is only 8 seconds – which is shorter than the average goldfish
- 65% of people identify as visual learners – so SHOWING instead of TELLING is important
- And visual aids can increase message retention by up to 42%
Therefore, ecommerce merchants need to make strategic visual decisions that go way beyond just building a clean, responsive website. Without visual merchandising, your customers are less likely to understand your assortment, connect with your brand, or make a purchase with you.
Done well, your visual merchandising plan will help you tap into the psychology behind consumer behavior to increase your sales, productivity, and inventory turnover rates in addition to driving important ecommerce metrics like traffic, conversion, and retention.
What are the goals of Visual Merchandising?
Your displays should also make it easier for shoppers to locate the merchandise they are looking for. The layout and product hierarchy should be logical, and guide them to exactly what they want.
Another important aim of your product displays is to enable shoppers to coordinate outfits, accessorize, and bundle products on their own without the help of an associate. In a Brick+Mortar environment, there are human beings on the sales floor that can provide tailored recommendations on the spot; replicating that process online can be tricky. Product recommendation widgets become of great use here.
Lastly, your product signage and photography also need to provide information on sizes, colors, prices, and promotions, as well as communicate important features and benefits of your products. These efforts combined satisfy the overarching goal to make the shopping experience more comfortable and convenient, because when your customers feel at ease in your store, they are more likely to buy.
What is Online Visual Merchandising?
In a physical store, the customer experience is driven largely by discovery. Products are strategically placed along the customer’s path throughout the store — from the moment they walk by, to the fitting room, to the cash wrap, and even on their way out. But, what does it mean to “visually merchandise” an online store?
Visual merchandising, within the context of ecommerce, is meant enhance the customer’s experience, and guide them through the buyer-journey as smoothly, and quickly as possible, while presenting them with the most relevant products and promotions before they move onto the next site.
The primary tools used to create online product displays are:
- Product styling and placement throughout the website
- Product Photography (editorial or lifestyle shots and individual product shots)
- Graphic Design, which is essential for creating website banners, landing pages, sale banners, and more
As a small business, it is vitally important to invest in photographing your line. You must ensure that your product photography is up to standard, and grainy, poorly lit product images just won’t cut it. With saturation of online stores in the world at an all-time high, having professional quality product photos is not just necessary – it’s absolutely critical.
Additionally, branding and visual aesthetic are key components to driving brand awareness and building a loyal community of repeat customers. Whether you plan to do-it-yourself with an ametuer lighting kit and an editing app, or you prefer to hire a professional to handle the planning, staging, and photography for you, it is worth the investment to produce your own library of original product photos.
How do I use product photos online?
There are several online spaces where visual merchandising tactics can be leveraged. Your website is the biggest opportunity. Besides the fact that it’s digital space you own, your website can leverage the homepage, blog, and many other pages to capture your customer’s attention. You can do so with SEO, images, buttons, and links. You could direct customers to a product category, use a banner linked to your sale collection, or even a custom landing page dedicated to your latest product capsule.
Product Display Pages (PDPs) are also a great place to use the content you generate from your visual merchandising plan. PRO TIP: If your PDP’s only contain individual shots of your products, try adding some editorial/lifestyle shots. Better yet, add video of the garment on-body. This type of imagery is much more likely to result in conversion when compared to simple product photos over a white background.
Social media is another great place to repurpose your visual content. All the graphics and copy you make for your website can be easily re-used to create continuity across your social posts, ads, and even email campaigns.
Visual Merchandising in a Physical-Store VS. an Online-Store
Since we are redefining what visual merchandising means for ecommerce brands, let’s cover some key components of retail product displays in brick+mortar stores.
1. WINDOW DISPLAY = SITE HOMEPAGE
Window displays are to Brick & Mortar as your site homepage is to ecommerce. Your hero banner, plus the next 2-3 scrolls worth of space are make-or-break when it comes to online conversion. Your homepage is your opportunity to delight your website visitors, as well as communicate any pertinent information about new products or promotions that are going on.
2. STORE LAYOUT = SITEMAP & NAVIGATION MENU
Your store layout or “floorplan” in Brick+Mortar is equal to your sitemap and navigation menu for an online store. Menus provide shoppers an easy way to navigate your store, although too many choices can feel overwhelming.
If you carry lots of different product categories, it’s best to show only the primary categories in the main navigation bar. Then utilize subcategories to further drill down what your customer is seeking, without overwhelming them with too much choice. This is where having a thoughtful merchandise hierarchy is important.
While we’re on the subject, it’s also essential to note that consumers often turn to the search function on a web page to speed up their queries. Leveraging technology solutions like search and autocomplete can help expedite the process. The less resistance consumers have in finding the desired merchandise, the more likely they are to purchase from you.
PRO TIP: set up analytics tracking for your website’s internal search so you can hone in on what your customers are searching for most frequently.
3. STORE SIGNAGE = BANNERS & POPUPS
In-store signage is supplemented by site design, banners, and popups on an ecommerce website. Signage comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and in a digital space, the possibilities are even more infinite than in brick+mortar settings. You can include digital signage and banners in your landing pages, product pages, blog, email campaigns, and even social media.
4. IN-STORE EVENTS = EMAILS & SOCIAL
Similar to store signage, in-store events in the context of an ecommerce store are replaced with event emails and social media posts. Your ecommerce promotion strategy relies on visual elements like photo and video content, both of which work well on social channels. The more you generate buzz about a promotion, the higher your store traffic and sales are likely to be.
5. PHYSICAL PRODUCTS = PICTURES & VIDEO
Physical products in a retail store are replaced with pictures and video online. With the rise of video platforms like Youtube, TikTok, and IG Reels, video content will only continue to grow in popularity among consumers. Especially when we acknowledge that Gen Z already makes up 40% of all consumers in the world. The sooner you start filming your goods, the better off your brand will be.
6. UPSELLING = BUNDLES & RELATED PRODUCTS
An ecommerce store lacks a sales associate who’s on standby, ready to upsell and suggest related products. Thankfully, technology allows us to easily provide tailored upsell recommendations, and even create custom product bundles to drive incremental sales, and increase your units per transaction (UPT).
7. IMPULSE BUYS AT CHECKOUT = CHECKOUT PAGE
We all know that the checkout lane can be powerful. It’s no accident that every time you place an InstaCart order, they always ask if you “forgot” any other items you’ve purchased before. And who doesn’t end up adding at least a few more things?
The checkout is actually your most valuable real estate when you consider the fact that a person on your checkout is much more likely to convert than a person who has just landed on your homepage for the first time.
Impulse purchases represent 40% of all the money that’s spent on ecommerce. So, the more personalized your product recommendations are at checkout, the higher the likelihood that they’ll add it to their order. Especially if you make it super easy.
What are the best retail product displays?
Which display methods are best at driving sales has long been up for debate amongst retail professionals. Now that we’ve translated visual merchandising into what it means for ecommerce stores, let’s explore some common types of fashion product displays:
ONE ITEM DISPLAYS
It is common to see retail displays that show off an entire collection of complementary products. However, sometimes a single product needs its own spotlight! One item displays are unmistakable in that they advertise only one product. Because this visual display tactic is so good at focusing the attention of shoppers, they are great for launching a new product, promoting exclusive collaborations, and, of course, for brands with a narrow assortment.
Taking a look at these Brick+Mortar examples:
- Nike launched a new pair of basketball shoes, and they really amplified the impact of the shoe through repetition, and by showing off product details with the blown-up backdrop.
- Louis Vuitton launched a new handbag with dramatic balloons and giant ribbons, complementing the key color of their spring collection.
- Tiffany & Co promoted an exclusive engagement ring design for Valentine’s Day.
- Or like this Givenchy display that shows off a star piece from a fall collection.
While the rest of your assortment might get a little jealous, this tried-and-true display tactic, when it’s executed creatively, is a great way to focus the attention of shoppers and promote your product. The same can be done for online brands.
💡 Tips for creating One-Item product displays online:
- Be BOLD – make the visuals POP. Contrast is your friend. Ensure your product isn’t lost in the background
- Stay on brand, keeping to your visual guidelines (typography, colors, aesthetics, etc)
- Also, they say the devil’s in the details – it’s true. Make sure you get close up shots, focusing on any unique or desirable details of the product
LINE OF GOODS DISPLAY
A Line-of-goods display shows off a line-up from a single product category. It could be a broad category like “tops,” or a more specific category like “Womens Short Sleeve tops.” The key is that the products all have the same end use.
How do we create a line-of-goods product display for an online store? Follow a few simple rules and your line-of-goods photography will stand out.
- Don’t overwhelm your target audience with too much to look at.
- Be selective about what product goes into an image, and what other elements/space/fixtures are used to compliment the line of goods.
- Use Storytelling. For a truly effective Line-Of-Goods presentation, there should be a connection between the pieces shown together, like:
- all the color options of a brand new style
- an assortment of new goods from the same seasonal collection
- or even goods that are all similar in color or pattern
Aptly named, Variety Displays can feature everything but the kitchen sink. It is a collection of unrelated items that happen to all be sold at the same store. Variety Displays are fun, eclectic, and vibrant, and they allow your customers to view a wide range of products from your collection at once.
With the rising popularity of vintage style and whimsical sceneries like the multi-dimensional displays often seen at Anthropologie, the use of variety displays has grown in recent years. This display type can be especially effective for brands that sell lifestyle goods like home décor, housewares, or accessories, in addition to apparel.
For creating variety displays online, the biggest tip we can offer is to choose a theme or story for your display – before you get started. The theme can be a vibe, a color, a holiday, a historical period. Some examples could be:
- 🏖 A Day at the Beach – where you feature shades of blue, white, and sand…you can showcase a wide range of products from sunscreen and swimwear to BBQ aprons and umbrellas.
- 🌴 Bohemian Paradise – You can show shades of green, complemented by subtle earth tones like beige, ivory, and terra cotta, — and of course, plants. It creates a very relaxed, bohemian vibe.
- ✈ Jet Setter – This theme could feature any products that might suit frequent flyers! Neck pillows, blankets, suitcases, headphones… and of course comfortable, stylish looks for the plane!
- 💐 Date Night in Paris – Here you can get creative, by displaying products all sourced from the same location, or even using your goods to recreate the scene.
Also, be sure to include goods from your least popular product categories, as this can help drive awareness of products your customers didn’t even know you carry!
RELATED GOODS DISPLAY
Related Goods displays are actually the most commonly used type of retail display. These displays feature items that are meant to be used together, worn together, or that work well together.
They could be matching items; complementary colors; items that all address the same lifestyle. When it’s done thoughtfully, related-goods displays work well to drive conversion and increase your average transaction value.
You can showcase complementary products online in a single banner, image, or video to help your shoppers visualize the complete look, encouraging them to accessorize, which provides added value for both you and them.
All kinds of products can be complementary to one another:
- A fashion brand might show a new blouse with coordinating bottoms, footwear, even outerwear and accessories.
- A beauty or skin care retailer might promote a video of someone rocking your newest eyeshadow, while applying a complimentary lipstick.
- For a home décor business, it might mean styling a complete room – drapery, flooring, furniture, accents, and all.
- Stay on brand with images and styling
- Don’t skimp on the product images. People want to see what you’re selling front, sideways, and backwards
- Focus on emotion first and product second. Communicate how the customer’s life or situation will be changed/enhanced by using these products together. This emotional call is much more likely to generate conversion than simple product features
Caveats about product display types
There may be some overlap between the different display types. And not every display-type will be a good fit for every retailer. Don’t let this stop you from testing visual merchandising techniques, as they can still be executed beautifully with the help of fixtures, lighting, etc.
For example, a brand that has a very narrow assortment, a related-goods display might also qualify as a line-of-goods display, and that’s okay. For brands that only carry one product category, they probably wouldn’t go building a variety display, unless it was a special collaboration with other brands.
Regardless — even if your brand only sells one product — many of the staging and photography principles for each type can still be applied when you consider props and other elements you might use to enhance your shots.
What does the FUTURE of visual merchandising look like?
There are many changes happening in visual merchandising in stores worldwide. Primarily, this is due to increased demand for personalized, experiential shopping. We’ve touched on the fact that technology is quickly changing the work of visual merchandising – and most would agree, it’s for the better.
However, we would be remiss not to touch on some of the advances in technology that will be important for brands to consider as consumer demand for technology continues to grow.
- Visual Commerce is on the rise. Brands can expect demand for on-body video of goods to increase. Since shopping online means you can’t interact with the product in person, at least give them the opportunity to see it ON a person, moving and flowing with the human body.
- With the continued rise in popularity of Virtual Reality (VR), at-home virtual try-on will become an expectation. Check out this latest campaign by eyewear brand Warby Parker.
- Online virtual Pop-Up stores are creating experiential shopping environments that can be accessed from desktop/mobile devices. Check out Valentino’s CandyStud Factory to see a great example of this.
None of this is to suggest that you can’t be successful without these things. But, technology is the retail industry’s biggest asset. The sooner you start thinking about them, the stronger your brand is likely to be in the long-run.
Recapping: Product Display Tips for Online Fashion Brands
Creating product displays is hard work, but it should be FUN! Keep these visual merchandising tips in mind to increase your odds of success – and of course, grow your conversion rates. 📈
- Stay on brand. If you haven’t done so already, create your brand guidelines. This will help you keep consistency with things like: colors, typography, language, audience, etc.
- Content types: Remember, you can present products in a photo, video, carousels, or even do a live stream.
- Focus on emotion first and product second.
- Be BOLD. Make your visuals POP, and don’t forget to stay on brand.
- Pay attention to DETAILS. When putting together one-item and related displays, consider getting some closeup shots, and focus on the product details.
- Pick a THEME. Choose a theme for your display before you get started. The theme can be a vibe, a color, a holiday, a historical period – the possibilities are endless.
- Keep the NOISE down. This is especially important for multi-item displays (related, line-of-goods, and variety displays). Don’t overwhelm your target audience with too much to look at.
- Be SELECTIVE. Be picky with your product selection. Be selective with your design elements. Hold your product displays to a high standard. This is where you will stand out from the rest. Most people take the easy/fast route.
💡 Some of these tips require more time and effort than others. Keep your resources in mind as you develop and roll out your visual merchandising plan.
It’s hard to find time to dedicate to visual merchandising when you are a growing online fashion boutique from the ground up. There are areas of the business where you might get away with a sub-par effort, but visual merchandising isn’t one of them.
When your Visual Merchandising plan is planned and executed strategically, your product displays will drive more traffic, conversions, and increase your average ticket value. There is no silver bullet for creativity and design. But a good, even entry level graphic design app, will help get anyone started on the right foot.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, I’m Taylor Daniel, CEO and Founder of FOMO agency. Before starting my Fashion Launch Coaching business, I earned a B.S. in Fashion Merchandising, and gained two decades of retail experience, including work as a fashion buyer for numerous popular retail corporations.
I’m on a mission to help small busiensses take over the fashion industry, one profitable launch at a time. I help business owners go from confused-about-where-to-start to having a clear vision and path toward profit!