‘Appearance is everything in retail.’ May be. May be not. But it sure holds an important place in the overall fashion retail segment, and the industry agrees. The success of a fashion brand is not only owed to the designing and manufacturing process, but also to how the brand and its merchandise are marketed. Visual merchandising (VM) is a vital marketing technique in the fashion world, employed by retail stores to maximise sales with the help of floor plans and three-dimensional displays. Everything ranging from window installations, in-store displays, shelving, point-of-sale displays, posters, promotional or seasonal displays, mannequin styling, etc. come under VM techniques.
The times before the COVID-19 pandemic had seen brands spend millions on store appearances. Months of lockdown and consumers’ inclination towards online shopping for safety reasons negated the value of visual merchandising efforts to a great extent. However, with the world and industry returning to normal, VM has started regaining its importance. Retail brands are re-evaluating and re-strategising their visual merchandising techniques that would make consumers feel safe and welcomed during the current times.
Significance of VM during COVID-19 era
VM focuses on enhancing the aesthetic appeal of a product/store to bring in more footfall and encourage impulse buying, thereby maximising sales. However, lately, with stores experiencing lesser footfall and the overall retail scenario changing owing to fears of coronavirus, retailers are adopting innovative strategies to bring the consumers back to the stores.
While few might argue that the role of visual merchandising during the current times has diminished, it surely has amplified. Today, the importance of visual appeal has increased, and moving towards omnichannel retail, fashion brands are innovating in every aspect, and one thing that shoppers/consumers cannot overlook in the new sales spaces is extravagant or welcoming window display.
Sandeep Gonsalves, Director & Co-founder, Sarah & Sandeep, agrees, “With the advent of COVID-19, I wouldn’t suggest abandoning retail merchandising, and as the Government initiated the unlock stages, it’s crucial to be smart in implementing your merchandising strategies to boost sales. Brands need to adapt to the post-pandemic consumers by using visual merchandising as a medium for communication. By analysing trends in the market, brands need to diversify their product range and start visually merchandising only the relevant ‘essential’ products. I’d say the role of VM has certainly amplified. Although it’s not ‘business as usual’, display still plays a crucial role in driving impulse and adds on purchases. This is the time one can target to showcase budget-friendly products that are also in line with the ongoing trends in the front segment or the window to attract consumers and convert to sales.”
While retail brands are innovating to attract consumers who are more inclined to buy online, Rahul Sharma, General Manager – Marketing, Red Chief, stresses on the need to communicate with the consumer through VM across channels, “We will continue to use VM to position ourselves as a home-grown brand that offers affordable, value-for-money products to customers. With customers also opting to shop online post COVID-19, visual merchandising can play a key role on e-commerce platforms too. Brands may use virtual reality to create a holistic multi-dimensional experience for customers. Hologram technology could be used to bring any merchandise alive through holographic projections. In fact, COVID-19 could be a game changer for VM. Leveraging effective VM strategies not only has the power to transform a brand, but also define what the brand stands for.”
During these times, shopping experience has become far from pleasant with masks and gloves on, and retail brands need to rely on window dressing and merchandising to reconvert their shopping spaces into a place where a consumer would want to come.
New trends for the new world
VM is used to tell brand stories to customers and transform an outlet into a destination. With the present times changing the way people shop – appointment-based shopping coming into play, social distancing inside and outside the store, no trial rooms, minimum touching of the collection – brands now need to heavily rely on everything that makes the store soothing and enticing to the eyes.
Akhil Duggar Jain, Executive Director, Madame, explains, “Visual merchandising plays a very important role during these times because it’s all about presenting and displaying products in a way that makes them visually appealing and desirable. Our team of visual merchandisers works closely in setting up the decor to make the shopping experience hassle-free. We strive to keep up with display and mannequins arrangement to make a great first impression and portray the brand image as soon as customers enter the store. Different ways of displays have been adopted to ensure that customers don’t need to touch to browse products. We ensure that our top selling categories get top shelf space, so shoppers can move about and quickly get the items of their choice. Customers are fine entering vanilla stores like ours, where the footfall is always manageable. Realising consumer preferences in the new normal world will be the key. We are investing in technology and communication campaigns to create consumer awareness and brand recall. We are implementing Try-On technology which brings the store garments and apparel to life in the form of a virtual dressing room to attract more customers at stores.”
Retail brands across categories are experimenting with many VM strategies in order to bring the consumers back to their stores. The upcoming festive season has also given hope to the industry and the excitement is quite visible through the bright and vibrant window displays at various stores. Shoppers Stop has recently re-strategised its VM strategy and has welcomed the new season with display of bright coloured garments on its windows. Similarly, FabAlley and many other brands are displaying festive collections with coordinated masks to entice the consumers.
Tanvi Malik, Co-founder, FabAlley & Indya, asserts, “Now that people have started venturing out on the roads or to the shopping malls, VM will play an important role in getting their attention. One has to keep an aura of security, safety and efficiency at this point of time. We have signage like ‘we are safe’ and even point by point instructions and guidelines on what we are doing to keep our clothes hygienic and safe. Also, offering the right merchandise to customers is actually a very important visual merchandising element right now, and that’s what we are doing.”
VM has taken a big leap in the recent times and its significance has increased manifold. Nirdosh Kapil, Vice President – Sales & VM, Blackberrys Menswear, agrees, “It is often considered the direct reflection of a brand’s persona and helps in increasing the brand’s market share by highlighting product features, thereby attracting customers. We lay special emphasis on making in-store experience for customers engaging and on enhancing the look and feel of the store. We use lighting for aided browsing and pay due attention to the utility of focal point area, high point props, and mannequin cluster with product styling, façade with window display and entrance. We feel visual merchandising will further bring positive changes for the retail brands, thus help them in strengthening their positions in the market.”