December 8, 2020 7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The holiday season is important for most industries, but for retailers, it can make or break their entire year. Thousands, and sometimes millions, are spent retaining existing customers, attracting and retaining new customers and possibly taking a few customers from competitors. Many retailers use traditional methods of paid advertisement and social media to ensure that they reach their target goals. These same retailers, however, forget to use a more cost-effective marketing strategy: visual merchandising.
Visual Merchandising is the marketing concept that can push a retailer’s overall efforts over the top, helping business owners attract more customers who will engage with their brand, while turning first-time shoppers into raving fans. And here are three main ways in which small retailers can use visual merchandising to ensure a successful and profitable holiday season.
1. Stop them in their tracks
There’s no “visual merchandising” without the “visual.” People are attracted to things that look good and appeal to them — something eye-catching, provocative and different. And while most businesses are already amping up their visuals for the holidays, are they doing it correctly? Probably not. During this time of year, there are tons of windows in green, red and white with Christmas trees, presents, bows and garland. Website colors turn to red and white with Christmas-themed decorations all over the pages. Customers see this every year, they expect it, and are quite frankly bored with it.
To stand out, retailers need to use visual presentation to their advantage. Store windows need to be used to tell a compelling story beyond just Christmas or gift-giving. They need to evoke emotions that can come from using their products. People buy from a place emotion and connect with displays that tap into this.
For example: If a furniture store wants to stand apart from their competition, it can create a beautiful and creative window display centered around a posh-looking home office featuring modern desk, sleek lamp, beautiful artwork and an area rug to convey a theme that says, “Ready for doing business in the new year.”
For a customer, the display stirs how great it would feel to have that office in their home, or how someone else on their mind would love that lamp or artwork to round out their home office.
Online stores can do the same. Instead of having Christmas and promotional-only motifs, each page can tell a story about a different room in the house created by the products that they sell. This draws the customer in so they browse through the entire website and find products that they connect with.
2. Keep them engaged
Now that you have them in your store or browsing your website, you have to ensure that you keep them engaged so they continue to shop. This comes by creating an experience and not just another holiday shopping trip. How you use key visual-display techniques with your overall flow or floor plan is essential to ensuring that your customers stay interested and entertained. Make sure the following are in place:
Craft a color theme. Going back to the storytelling, color evokes emotions in people. Make sure that your color theme this time of year is carefully thought out and on brand, while mirroring the season and feelings you want your customers to be reminded of.
Keep it simple. This time of year, retailers are tempted to push so many things in front of their customers to capture every sale that they can. This is a mistake. Less is more. Clean, organized and intentional displays and photos will fare a lot better. Focus on the product and story, not the trappings of the season.
Have some variety. While you don’t want to overwhelm your customers/visitors, you don’t want to bore them either. Make sure to have a variety of displays in your store. Use tables, wall displays, fixtures and mannequins to create a seamless storyline through your store. For your website, use a variety of display methods to keep your visitor engaged while browsing. Focus on a mixture of still photos, lifestyle photos and videos to tell your products’ stories.
Related: 10 Commandments of Retail Sales
3. Make it easy
Retailers should see to it that there aren’t any parts of their store or website that may cause any friction for the shopper. Having emotion-evoking window displays and interactive and engaging website photos won’t matter if the customer has a negative experience of any kind. Visual merchandising can help.
One of the biggest sources of customer dissatisfaction is a lack of information. When customers are left with too many unanswered questions or are confused about a product or promotion, they can get frustrated. Some may take the time to search to for the answer or reach out to the company. Many, however, won’t. Stores should have a strong sign strategy in place so their customers stay informed. These signs should range from current and clear promotions to return policies, brand information and vendor/designer information.
For online stores, this is where product descriptions are key. Nearly 90% of online customers say that clear and detailed product descriptions are key in making buying decisions. This can be a tricky balance though. You want to ensure that your product descriptions give plenty of information, but depending on your web design, you don’t want to have too much text and overshadow the product. On the “Category” or “Collection” pages, keep the text to a minimum. The actual product page, however, should have as much detail as possible.
Another key component in making your customers’ overall experience more enjoyable is the cohesive flow of your sales floor or website. Layout can enhance or undercut your objectives. If your store is cluttered, doesn’t have clear aisles or any directional signs, or has poor lighting and hard-to-find products, you’re erasing all your hard work. Customers may be attracted to the story you created in your windows, but if they have to go through a maze to get to the different sections of your store or even to the fitting room or checkout, this can deter them from shopping any further. Your floor setup should be strategic, especially this time of year. Keep aisles clean and clear. Have promotions front and center or easy to find with well-lit and well-positioned displays.
For online stores, the flow of your website is critical to keeping visitors engaged and happy. On the home page, your header and drop-down menu should be easy to read and easy to find. As stated earlier, your text and photos/videos should be well balanced, allowing for a website that’s easy to read and information that is easy to digest. Pages should have a clear and consistent color theme that matches the home page so the experience with your brand is seamless. Ensure that there is some white space on your pages as well. Too much of any type of display method can look cluttered and overwhelming.
Related: 5 Common Ecommerce Return Mistakes
The holiday season has always been an exciting, challenging and rewarding time for retailers. Each year presents more challenges than the last to beat and expand on previous successes. The best way to do this and stay ahead of the competition is to be innovative and think in a more customer-centric way. Having a marketing strategy that incorporates the foundational principles of visual merchandising will help retailers do just that.