By: Ms. Sharmila Dua and Dr. Anjali Karolia


Visit any mall today and chances are that almost half, if not more shops would be selling garments. In a highly competitive environment where brand names are increasing on the fashion and lifestyle clothesline, garment brand promoters are working on customer pull and retention strategies. Store design, in a sense has more to do with perceiving, understanding and seducing customers through sophisticated marketing, than with the act of merely creating and designing a physical space in which goods are sold.


"Although the primary attraction is the brand name itself, the added quality of the retail experience plays an important role in the overall customer experience" says Hemchandra Javeri, President, Madura Garments.


Whether it is Visual Merchandising (VM) or showroom layouts, brands are gelling particular about giving a complete brand experience to its customers. "VM plays a huge role in the overall customer experience" says Nitin Kasliwal, MD, SKNL (6).


Visual Merchandising is the most useful creative art as far as retail business is concerned be it a department store, specialty store, hotels or even petrol pumps. Though it has emerged on the international scene as one of the most important aims of retailing, it is slowly establishing an identity in India.



The store derives as much of its identity, character and gravity from its physical contours, as from the products it houses and the individuals who manage the transactions there in. It includes not only the products on sale but also the decor, the shop floor and ceiling, restrooms and trial rooms, staff uniforms, lipstick color of female personnel and tie knots of male personnel. It is also inclusive of the attitude of your personnel who interact with customers. Hence everything that makes an impact on the perspective customer is part of visual merchandising.



In the fashion business, however it is usually confused as being part of Fashion Merchandising. But if on one hand, Fashion Merchandising deals with activities involved in the buying and selling of textiles, apparel and accessories at the wholesale and retail levels, on the other hand, activities involved in making sure that the visual appearance of a fashion retailer look its best in order to attract customers comes under the purview of visual merchandising (1).


So what exactly is Visual Merchandising?


According to Apurv Satdeve, "Visual Merchandising is a perfect understanding of one's business strategy filtered into highly creative solutions" (8).


Everything that meets the eye of the customer is a part of visual merchandising. One cannot over - simplify the VM imperative, since it is not just about the physical contents of a store.


The store derives as much of its identity, character and gravity from its physical contours, as from the products it houses and the individuals who manage the transactions there in.


In tangible terms, it includes not only the products on sale but also the decor, the shop floor and ceiling, restrooms and trial rooms, staff uniforms, lipstick color of female personnel and tie knots of male personnel. It is also inclusive of the attitude of your personnel who interact with customers. Hence everything that makes an impact on the perspective customer is part of visual merchandising.


 

What Exactly Does Visual Merchandising Do?


Visual Merchandising is an important support for fashion retail operations. It gives the business an edge over competition. Strategically used, visual merchandising can even create a brand identity. It establishes a connection between merchandise and fashion.


The right kind of Visual Merchandising boosts the sales graph rise upwards. This is achieved by creating an environment not only to attract a customer but also to retain his/her interest, create desire and finally augment the selling process. Generally, the store makes use of a publication generated by them called the VM guidelines. These guidelines discuss in detail how the store is set up ranging from what type of fixtures to use in each area, use of store logo to distance of shelves from each other and many more.


These guidelines are based on a Visual Plan (Fig: 1). The visual plan is an actual photograph, a hand drawn illustration or graphic presentation of a display. It is also known as a plan-o-gram.


A plan-o-gram is nothing more than a picture of how various fixtures, shelves and walls will present your merchandise. It is a simple but a very powerful concept because it takes into consideration research on buying habits of consumers.


Creating a plan-o-gram forces the retailer to carefully evaluate which products go where and how many will be displayed (7). Of course, it also includes building and designing a store space that understands the theme, functionality and commercial viability of the fashion retailer. An effective store design can in many cases bring about much more sales than a substantial expenditure on an advertisement campaign (5).

How Exactly Does Visual Merchandising Work?


As it is said, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression". In order to make VM work, the retailer needs to utilize VM to develop a powerful store-image effectively. Image can be described as the overall look of a store and the series of mental pictures it evokes within the beholder.


Everything you do in the store must fit into the image you chose to create. Creation of a recognizable image that will be applied and communicated effectively through multiple media to gain customer recognition and loyalty. "Image is everything" (Fig: 2).


Studies indicate that a retailer has roughly seven seconds to capture the attention of a passing customer. The following elements combine to from a distinctive image that not only reaches out and grabs the customer's attention, but also makes a positive impression within those precious seconds. The image makers are: an identifiable store name, a powerful visual trademark, an unmistakable storefront, an inviting entrance and a consistent and compelling store look and hook (3).


The entire store experience would be said to have an effectively working visual merchandising if each of the above would be consistent in reinforcing the brand image.


For example: an inviting entrance is crucial in stopping the customer and establishing a positive first impression, (Fig: 3) but all is lost if the inside of the store does not reinforce this message instead create feelings of confusion. This signals to the customer that exterior image will not be fulfilled the inside. Truly impressive stores consistent in all efforts from the store front through to the stock room.


If the above constitutes a powerful visual look, visual hooks are a call to action that diverts a customer's attention to your store with a "Stop - there's thing here for you". An exciting entrance presentation, an effectively promotional offering, a powerful interior display, in-store animation events all serve as magnets to draw customer in.


 

What are the Tools of Visual Merchandising?


According to Apurv Satdeve of Rex "Visual Merchandising is about appeal and attracting the customer to all the sensory pleasures" (8). So that can be designed and put to create a unique sensorial experience for the customers should be used.


Broadly these comprise of fixtures, props, lighting, graphics and signage. Fixtures (Fig: 4) include fascia design, interior store design, window and entrance door, flooring & ceiling, display systems, merchandise display systems, stock keeping units (skills) and furniture.


Props (Fig: 5) are items used for display purposes like mannequins, theme based products and accessories. Highly specialized props fabricated from a variety of materials are available/created by experts for VM.


Mannequins are the most widely used props for Visual Merchandising in fashion. Today, one can choose from various types like abstract, articulated, custom, ethnic, headless or junior, to name just a few.


The Indian retail industry is estimated to have a market size of $180 billion accounting for a national GDP of 10%. It is poised to see a growth of 11 -12% per year. India is placed sixth in the global retail development index and it is predicted that there will be 1000 - 1500 stores in each of the metros by next year. The Indian retail business has the capacity to employ over 2 million in new jobs within the next 6 years. About 60% of these are expected to be in the area of fashion and lifestyle, and visual merchandising is one key area for the same.

Lighting (Fig: 6): An often overlooked and underestimated tool available to retailers is store lighting. Studies show that proper lighting can increase merchandise sales by up to 20%. Effective lighting is a key in the sale of merchandise in helping to create that favorable first impression of the merchandise and its surroundings. Good lighting can guide the customer's eyes, reveal the color and cut of the merchandise, show the styling and tailoring details and emphasize the good qualities of the outfit, helping the merchandise to be pre-sold to customer (9).


Signage: (Figs: 7 & 8) Proper signage has been shown to increase the sale of an item by over 40%. As much as 80% of all sales are generated at the point of purchase (POP) by signage, displays and events within the store.


Signage is the "silent salesperson" for the retailer and must reflect the correct brand image.


There are various types of signage. For example:

  • promotional signage which informs the customer about off price events or schemes;
  • location signage which directs the buyer to specific departments or merchandise;
  • institutional signage which gives information on store policies, charitable events etc., and
  • informational signage provides product related information like special features, benefits, sizes, price etc (4).


Visual Merchandising in India


With the business of fashion in the country getting more competitive, VM is the only differentiator, especially in a scenario where consumers encounter that the same fashion designs almost uniformly.


The last thing the customer needs is another store just like all the other stores. Boredom, sameness and mediocrity pretty much summarize retail store designs in India today. There is lack of innovation. Too many retailers look at a store chain that is successful and then try to "Knock Off its look.


Indian consumers are turning increasingly global in their outlook having become much more aware of design trends in the business of fashion; and, emphatically or not, are demanding the same levels of design and innovation from store spaces.

 


The point-of-sale (POS) promotion is steadily gaining a bigger slice of the promotion pie. The year 2006 saw some big spends, with large department stores like Shopper's Stop, Lifestyle and Westside spending in the range of Rs. 30,00,000 - 40,00,000 per season on visual merchandising. Visual Merchandising spend doubled in 2006 compared to the last couple of years. In earlier years, fashion retailers traditionally used to spend approx. 1.5 to 2% of their turnover on visual merchandising. But the spend figure now stands at about 4% of the turnover. The Indian retail industry is waking up to the need for VM and the Indian society, attaining an international outlook is subconsciously creating a demand for it.

The idea is to create euphoria in the fashion market by trying out new retail techniques and profiting by building more on store presentation. Fashion companies must make sure that they use effective Visual Merchandising (VM), which involves shopper research, creating a distinct identity for the retailer (5).


Estimated at a $ 180 billion market size and accounting for a national GDP of 10% the Indian retail industry is poised to see a growth of 11-12% per year.


Further, India is placed sixth in the global retail development index and it is predicted that there will be 1000 -1500 stores in each of the metros by 2009.


According to a CII analysis the Indian retail business has the capacity to employ over 2 million in new jobs within the next 6 years. About 60% are expected to be in the area of fashion and lifestyle, and visual merchandising is one key area for the same (2).


As both fashion brands and retailers in India strive to convert brand thinking into retail thinking, point-of-sale (POS) promotion is steadily gaining a bigger slice of the promotion pie.


The year 2006, for instance, saw some big spends, with large department stores like Shopper's Stop, Lifestyle and Westside spending in the range of Rs. 30,00,000 - 40,00,000 per season on visual merchandising.


Visual Merchandising spend had indeed doubled in 2006, compared to the last couple of years. Where fashion retailers traditionally spent approx. 1.5 to 2% of their turnover on visual merchandising in earlier years, the spend figure now stands at about 4% of the turnover. The Indian retail industry is waking up to the need for visual merchandising and the Indian society, attaining an international outlook is subconsciously creating a demand for it (5).


Various institutes in the country and overseas are offering courses in visual merchandising. The government is also gearing up by organizing various training programs and allocating funds for participation in world trade fairs & exhibitions. There is a mushrooming of companies manufacturing fixtures, props, display systems etc. as well as providing complete visual merchandising solutions for fashion retailers.


Finally, as the Indian consumer now demands state of the art service, global standard of the product, and international level of shopping experience, the retailer can either meet the demand or give into international competition.


With all this in view there seems to be a very bright future for Visual Merchandising in India and is fast emerging as a professional, lucrative and much sought after business and profession.


The Indian consumer now demands state of the art service, global standard of the product, and international level of shopping experience. In view of this trend the Visual Merchandising (VM), in India, is fast emerging as a lucrative and much sought after profession. There are various institutes, in the country and overseas, offering courses in visual merchandising. There is also a mushrooming of companies manufacturing fixtures, props, display systems etc. as well as providing complete visual merchandising solutions for fashion retailers.



 

References


  1. Albuquerque, Usha. "Design a Future in Fashion Merchandising", The Tribune, Wed, Jan. 10, 2007.


  1. Chowdhry, Jhinuk, Plenty in Store, Times Ascent, Thurs. 26 July 2007.


  1. Curb Appeal: Developing a Powerful Store Image Through Effective Visual Merchandising (http://www.visuaVmerch.com)


  1. Manchanda, Sonia, Nagasubramanian, Mani M. Shekhar, ASC. "Design as Differentiato!", Images Yearbook, Vol. 4, No.1, Chapter 4.


  1. Maier, Ron, "Know the Ins and Outs of Your Store". (http://www.fibre2fashion.com)


  1. Pancholi, Radhika, Experiential Clothing, Hindustan Times, July 25 2007.


  1. Pegler, Martin, M. Visual Merchandising and Display.


  1. Satdeve, Apurv, Visual Merchandising: Myopia Reigns, Images Fashion Forum, Feb. 2007.


  1. Visuals (http://fashionwindows.com )


About the Authors:


Ms. Sharmila Dua is associated with the Dept of Fashion Communications, NlFT, New Delhi and Dr. Anjali Karolia is associated with the Dept of Clothing & Textiles, The M. S. University of Baroda, Vadodara.


Appendix:

List of Figures: