Why Visual Merchandising Matters More Than Ever

BOOM! That’s how immediate  the impact of visual merchandising is on retail shoppers – and why effective visuals are a strategic asset in omnichannel retail. Visual merchandising presents a retailer’s physical store or e-commerce website in an enticing way to attract customers. Yet the objective isn’t just to look alluring – it’s to fuel retail purchases.

Let’s look at how timeless design principles impact shopper psychology and drive traffic and sales both in stores and online.

Visuals get ‘all up in your face’

In our age of digital and social media, visuals matter because:

  •    The average person’s attention span is 8 seconds or less – which, remarkably, is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish
  •    65% of individuals say they’re visual learners
  •    Visuals increase message retention by 42%

Today, visual merchandising blends artistry and data science, helping retailers get their message across faster and with greater impact.

Visual merchandising in the age of omnichannel

Now that shoppers around the world expect omnichannel service, let’s examine how the following 5 classic elements of visual merchandising apply as much to old-school brick and mortar stores as they do to today’s trendiest e-commerce websites.

  1. Architecture: The framework for retail sales

Regardless of sales channel, a well-designed architecture makes the store inviting so shoppers feel welcome and excited to explore the store or website. (And spend money.) A physical store’s architecture includes visual elements like the floor layout, the range of colors of the décor, and the backdrop, including three-dimensional window displays, shelf displays, and mannequins.

 

“Online display banners act as sumptuous magazine advertorials,encouraging shoppers to search, scroll, browse and buy”

 

E-commerce architecture also requires a thoughtful layout and clear signage to guide shoppers throughout the website. Retailers use a complementary color scheme to please the eye and cast models who fit their brand persona. Nowadays online product cards are on par with editorials, using captivating color schemes and product descriptions that harmoniously align with a singular brand language to drive sales.

  1. Narrative: The store becomes the story

Visual merchandising intrigues customers with brand storytelling to transform a shop into an exciting destination that inspires and entices shoppers. The merchandiser decides on the theme – the look and feel – of a store, then evokes a desired effect through the visual displays. An effective in-store narrative sparks customers’ imagination with emotional impact, brand personality, and store ambiance. The focal point may include a hero – such as a high-impact collection of bold new items or an elaborate holiday display that nudges shoppers toward a purchase.

Tomdixon products in display
Narratives distinguish brands: The narrative Tom Dixon reflects the designer’s commitment to creating modern, innovative and stylish pieces.

 

Online storytelling through visual merchandising also involves a logical narrative flow that guides customers through the online shopping journey so it’s compelling, effortless and smooth (and shoppers don’t wander in different directions on the website. Regardless of channel, the narrative must reflect a consistent brand identity and customer-centric care from when shoppers enter the store or site to when they complete a purchase.

  1. Visibility: What’s seen is sold

In-store and online, visibility encourages retailers to feature items that align with a unique narrative and authentic brand image, while helping shoppers easily and quickly find the items they desire. The principle of visibility prioritizes the products retailers push the most, whether the items are high margin or exclusive enough to drive loyalty, word of mouth and social sharing. Online, the e-commerce information architecture and sitemap flow help retailers prominently showcase the products that are most likely to sell to prevent the items from being buried deep in the e-commerce site. Data analytics help merchandisers know exactly which products are most popular and trending, influencing the items they make most visible, including which color palettes, fabrics and cuts to make most visible to wow shoppers all the way to the checkout page.

  1. White space: Give shoppers room to breathe

Few customers enjoy navigating through a store crammed with excessive merchandise. By contrast, white space can help a shopper relax and enjoy the store atmosphere. White space encourages merchandisers to emphasize products that relate to their overarching theme by using innocuous brand elements. Merchandisers exercise restraint to ensure uncluttered beauty so the retail narrative shines through clearly.

Tinker watches display
White space creates uncluttered beauty: The use of white space reflects millennials’ desire for minimalism and emphasizes the quality of each product.

Using sufficient negative space is essential online, making the shopping experience easy on the eyes, chaos-free and pleasant by reflecting understated beauty and calm confidence.

  1. Balance: Bringing the elements together in harmony

Successful visual merchandising in stores and online address consumers’ needs (such as quality, variety and sensory appeal, as well as the trust that comes from online product reviews) and inspire their wants (to feel attractive, confident and hopeful).

Both in-store and online, merchandisers must give attention to merchandise and communication cues. They need to showcase sufficient product variety while remaining consistent with the core brand theme, finding a happy medium to neither overwhelm nor disengage in-store shoppers.

Timeless tips boost omnichannel sales

In the age of speed, the window dressing of visual merchandising is neither fluffy nor trivial – it is a critical business asset that drives retail conversions in stores and on e-commerce websites. Given shoppers’ extremely short attention span, merchandising professionals express the retailer’s intended message with thoughtful, consistent visual cues across retail touchpoints. Applying classic visual merchandising principles can help retailers improve their omnichannel excellence, and increase in-store and e-commerce sales.

We can help you with Assortment Intelligence to make faster, data-backed merchandising decisions while you steer your business with innovative ventures. Contact us  for more information.

[i] Reed, Gabrielle. Why Visuals Matter for Engaging Millennial Audiences. Ethos3.com. December 30, 2016.

 

Assortment Planning – The Holy Grail of Merchandising

With retail transitioning into a consumer-driven business faster than ever, issues like determining the best product mix and inventory size are of strategic importance to a retailer looking to cash in at the e-commerce platforms. Assortment planning perhaps plays an even bigger role today than ever with ever-shortening lead times and year-round discounts.

Which begs the million-dollar question:

How do retailers of today decide the right mix for their stores?

Do they turn to historical sales data? Maybe go with what the customers expect? Play to brand’s identity and hope it’s enough?

If they stock too much variety, they may lack focus and create confusion among their customers. Not being clear on the store’s identity can alienate customers and negatively impact repeat sales. If the product mix is limited or narrow, there is always a looming risk of being dominated by a competitor who has a better inventory mix or size.

Often, hitting the sweet spot for a brand gets tricky. Figuring out what products to sell and which to leave out of the assortment requires some fine tuning. While there has been significant improvement with a customer-centric approach in the age of social media marketing and instant feedbacks, retailers are still fighting to make headway when it comes to merchandise planning- a set of interlinked decisions made months ahead of the collection’s preview.

Key factors to consider

With a product-centric approach deeply engraved in their nature, retailers are understandably having difficulty hitting the jackpot. The answer lies in key factors like brand identity, category weight, market trends, and price range. Each provides a clue to the mystery, coupled with tangible information from the marketing department (number of products per order, response rates, etc).

Since there is no crystal ball in retail (except as a product, maybe), how can they know what products customers will want? There are too many forks in the road ahead. They can ride the trend now and worry about the coming trends later. They can play it safe with the mainstays, stick to the tried-and-true formulae. Or, they can risk by pushing potential future winners. We’ll paint you a picture with two seemingly different examples.

The right balance between trends and staples.

Topshop, the fast fashion brand, has a fairly odd combination of totes. There are:

  • 3 versions of trend-forward styles;
  • 4 styles from the previous seasons;
  • 2 iterations of a more ‘current season’ style.

The brand’s polarizing mix usually has 2-3 colorways of every new style, as seen below.

same bag in different style

Image credit: Topshop.com

And it works, especially when it comes to the trendy stuff. One of Topshop’s main strengths was stocking trend-forward styles that simply didn’t stick around much on the shelves. The brand sold the fashionable totes like crazy, and at full prices too. That being said, older and basic styles that went out-of-stock received a 50% discount for the traditional summer clearance sale season. Considering that the average price for out-of stock items was $43 with an average discount of only $3, the brand had a pretty good June.

Topshop’s contrasting mix of styles seems to do the trick, giving the brand a ‘trendy’ tag that sticks, giving them full price sales on risqué styles. Considering how they tend to develop not more than 4 unique styles and offer them in different colors, Topshop’s assortment strategy cuts down a sizeable amount of time and risk right at the prototyping stage. The product mix appears to be more decisive and focused on propelling forward the brand image while keeping revenues steady.

Topshop - data analyzed for sales in month of june 2017

On the other hand, there is J.Crew with a more ‘classic’ brand language. The assortment here is diametrically different. Each style is represented in a unique iteration and 90% of the mix focuses on currently popular styles. There are only 3 classic or neutral styles that round off the brand’s tote lineup.

bags

The J.Crew’s assortment doesn’t quite work in its favor because of the mix of single, unique styles. With such a combination, there is too much risk. Each style poses a danger of failing to appeal to acquired tastes. Also, the fact that the product development must eat into the cost they have to maintain a mix that looks ‘trendy’ doesn’t do J.Crew any favors. This is evidenced by the fact that 80% of J.Crew styles were trending, in-vogue styles of the season but the only two out-of-stock items were older basic styles.

Still, at $83, the average price of out-of-stock items is considerably higher (almost double) than that of Topshop, as well as other fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, and Forever21. The perception of high-quality remains intact, which only presses for the need to tweak the proportion of trending and classic styles to optimize the assortment.

JCrew data analyzed for sales in month of june 2017 -

With two opposite approaches adopted by Topshop and J.Crew, results are equally different. For a fast fashion brand, Topshop relied on a smaller number of trendy products, which, in turn, resulted in virtually non-existent discounts and sold at full prices, but had to heavily discount styles from older seasons. Whereas, J.Crew offered more seasonal trends and a small proportion of classic styles, managing to sell out only the latter.

While Topshop succeeded with trend-forward styles and cleared some old stock in the summer sales, J.Crew had to work harder to sell the hot trends, emphasizing their challenge in getting the brand perception at par with their assortment mix.

Manage assortment in real-time.

For retailers and brands, the saving grace is the real-time data analytics that helps with assortment planning. This retail intelligence tool highlights the active approach in managing assortment in real-time, allowing immediate insights into the impact of increasing or decreasing certain products from the merchandise mix, managing their visibility in the marketplace and handling discounting when the times comes for it. Once inventory is all sorted out and ready to go, price is the only lever to change, needing to be adjusted in response to the competition’s out-of-stock gaps, hot sellers or inventory depths.

With advanced retail solutions, retailers and brands can perform analysis of product revenues and various performance metrics for different SKUs across the board, as well as product categories, to use the latest information for future product launches. It’s a great help for spotting emerging trends before the competition does and capitalizing on the newfound competitive advantage. The information is also extremely useful for adapting the assortment mix to inevitable changes in the retail market.

Get hands-on with the trends.

With retail being largely driven by uncovering customer insight, the merchandising game plan changes dramatically. The data shows that trend-forward retailers are one step ahead of the rest. Their mindset is clear – focus on being more integrated with inventory planning and demand forecasts. For others, there is a certain risk in trying to level the playing field – the risk of downgrading both brand’s positioning and identity.

However, the risk is well worth taking as the opportunity for any trend-led retailer who enters this environment is huge. With the highly desirable real-time update in the background and careful analysis, there won’t be any FOMO. Retailers should be looking to fill their inventory with a carefully selected assortment that avoids items with high discounting rates and instead fill their shelves with low discounting rate and high replenishment goods. That means figuring out the right balance of trend-forward items and older classic models that are mainstays. How they achieve that is up to them but they need to do it fast in order to cover as much ground as possible before someone else claims it.

We can help you with Assortment Intelligence to make faster, data-backed merchandising decisions while you steer your business with innovative ventures. Contact us  for more information.

How to Advertise to Your Competition’s Customers When They’re Out of Stock

The more successful you are in business, the more cutthroat the competition becomes. That’s simply the reality that your company must face, regardless of your industry. Strategy is key to maintaining an edge over other companies within your niche, and advertising oftentimes plays an integral role in establishing the mission and reputation of your business. Even with that fierce pursuit of customers, you must adhere to certain rules when it comes to promoting your products and/or services to prospects. This does not, however, preclude you from employing the latest technology to stay abreast of what your competitors may be up to.

Keep Your Enemies Closer

As the saying goes, wise individuals know that it’s best to keep their adversaries under a watchful eye. Such is the case in today’s professional landscape. However, now this principle takes the form of sophisticated monitoring systems you can use to assess your competitors’ prices, behavior and activity. When employed effectively, this approach can even clue you into when your competition is running low on a particular product, and once that inventory finally hits zero, that’s a prime opportunity for you to pump up your efforts to win over some of their prospective customers.

Try These Tactics

Finding new and innovative ways to reach out to prospects should be a constant focus of your business. After all, the best way to expand your company is to establish an ongoing relationship with the very individuals whose patronage you desire. Yet, here are some smart ways to cut into your competitors’ customer base that just may pay off, especially when they are out of stock on a particular product.

 

  • Analyze social media networks: The emergence of social media has made it easier than ever for companies to connect directly with customers. However, it also allows you to check in on your competition and target their customer base. For the purposes of poaching their business, consider digging into Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections and Facebook likes. In particular, you can also pinpoint the demographic you want by investing in Facebook ads.

 

  • Play the Google game: When it comes to the online space, few companies are as omnipresent as Google. As such, the company offers several different venues you can use to target your competition. From honing in on keyword brand terms on Gmail ads to focusing on a predefined audience with the custom affinity audience feature, Google is a key tool you should be using to its full capability to build your customer base.

 

  • Engage in content marketing: If a customer is all set to make a purchase and then finds that product is “out of stock,” the most likely alternative they’ll turn to will be one they trust and/or are familiar with. That’s why content marketing could be such a useful tool in reaching out to your competitors’ prospects. Though not a form of advertising per se, content marketing builds trust with consumers and allows you to emerge as an easy favorite for subsequent online searches customers will engage in to find a suitable replacement for the product they elsewhere found out of stock. Fill the market with blog posts and other content which allows you to highlight your products and stay top of mind for potential customers.

 

  • Kick up your YouTube presence: One of the most prominent trends right now is a gradual leaning towards video content. Targeting customers via your company’s YouTube presence is a clever move to stay in line with your competition. The site allows advertisers to run brief ads before other videos, and this may present a unique opportunity for you to go after competitor content directly. There may be no better way to keep your prospects in the know about everything your product has to offer.

The Right Moment to Strike

Customers may fret when they see that a product they’re interested in is “out of stock,” but the value that this has for your business cannot be underestimated. Consider it a second chance to win back a consumer who was dangerously close to opting for your competition. Such opportunities can be identified and acted on when you have the right strategies in place to facilitate this realization, but remaining top-of-mind with your potential customers helps to ease them into a purchase when that critical moment comes wherein a competitor has depleted their inventory. Remember that remaining persistent and vigilant is half the battle when it comes to fostering growth.

For more details about how you should approach pricing and foster your customer base, check out our new eBook, “A Comprehensive Guide to Competitive Online Retail Pricing Strategies.”

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Identifying Gaps In Your Inventory: Do You Need To?

The logic behind retail inventory management is straightforward—have enough stock to keep the supply-demand wheel turning.

If your business does well on national and global platforms, you’ll be housing a lot more products than you first started. Tracking what’s coming in and leaving your stock will be an insurmountable task in such a situation. And failure to manage and monitor this will eventually leave a gap in your inventory.

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10 Ways Inventory Management Software Increases Sales & Profit

For many businesses, data analytics aren’t just useful tools to assess and shape the connection between a given company and its customer base. Rather, the information systems put in place to gather key figures and other salient reports are invaluable to the long-term success of a company. Fortunately, businesses within the online retail space are especially equipped to track and collect the data they need to optimize their business practices and foster growth. This is particularly true in regards to one of the most popular growing segments of data collection:inventory management.

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Why Jeans and Jackets are Placed Close Together in Shops…

Walk into a ‘store’ today and you suddenly experience the shift in environments. Out of the heat or cold or general chatter on the street, store spaces are made inviting, with a décor that goes with the brand. And of course the racks of products, accessories, etc placed at intervals, divided by artsy pieces or some other form of divider. It is almost like walking into a sacred space!

Continue reading “Why Jeans and Jackets are Placed Close Together in Shops…”