As a visual merchandiser, I am constantly aware of how people interact within retail spaces. What I love about visual is the dynamic between the creative and analytical elements. Making a store or a display look “pretty” and compelling is great, but there are other considerations. Following are just a few:
- What does the product assortment look like?
- Are there promotions to be dealt with?
- What are the adjacencies?
- How will the customer interact with the product itself and what amount of employee engagement can be expected?
- Is there stock to support the presentation needs across the store fleet?
- How will the product interact with any POS signage?
And, perhaps most importantly, how does The Customer shop? This will vary by customer demographics and the product, naturally, but there are overlapping strategies used by most retailers. For example, most of you are probably aware of the concept of impulse buys, lower price-point product that is customarily displayed near the cash wrap/register. I challenge you to find a store that does not execute this strategy. It could be a Target, Chevron, Gap or Chanel boutique, there WILL be something near the register designed to catch your eye.
End caps (the ends of aisles, essentially) are a hot spot for vendors, who pay big bucks for the space in grocery stores and mass merchants such as Target/Costco. Have you ever noticed that tortillas are ALWAYS merchandised on a non-dominant end cap at the end of the aisle featuring “International” foods?
The same goes for eye-level merchandising, and you’ll notice that this remains consistent by vendor across all retailers, and it’s usually driven by price-point. Large food manufacturers, for example, can afford to buy this space for their mid-range product. Higher price-point items within the same category will be found above eye level, with lower priced items nearer the floor. The same goes for alcohol. When retailers develop their own competitive “generic” brand – as Target has with many products – they will merchandise those items alongside the brand name goods.
I once had an interview at Gap, Inc. for a visual manager job for Old Navy Baby. After meeting my interviewer in the lobby, I was immediately taken a few flights up, to a lonely corner, and placed in front of an open grid wall. Behind me were two rolling racks of spring samples for boys and girls.
“Pull something together,” I was told. I had an hour.
As someone who eagerly watches shows like Top Chef and Project Runway, after this interview I had a new-found appreciation for how difficult it is to execute a challenging task in a short period of time. The hour felt like 5 minutes. My process went something like this: I took stock of the samples I had to work with, there were some assortments but only a piece of each, so I would not be able to bulk anything out. I figured they probably worked on the same grid walls to develop their visual standards for stores, so I tried to determine how they went about this. Do they coordinate outfits or split items by category or color? I hadn’t been to an Old Navy in ages and hadn’t had the time to hit up a store before the interview. I opted to merchandise by coordinating items, including accessories.
He wasn’t impressed. But, he was kind of a bitch and I didn’t want the job that much, so it was a win-win. An experience, at the very least!
I’ve lately become more and more intrigued with color. In my current position, I do quite a bit of merchandising my color, although I have fought against it with some categories as I don’t feel it makes sense with how the customer shops. These can be difficult determinations to make, and as I said above, it greatly depends on the customer demographic.
For example, take American Apparel. They merchandise by color within particular styles. Stores like Banana Republic tend to split out their merchandising by theme or collection, with a focus on newer, on-trend items at the front of the store. A department store may not have the same flexibility as they often are required to split out merchandising by vendor/designer. Within a designer boutique, like Marc Jacobs, however, you may see all items merchandised by color
With some categories, it makes absolutely no sense to merchandise by color; such as books or vinyl. It would look pretty, but talk about a nightmare for the customer. CVS does not merchandise all eye-shadows together by color, as customers will customarily be looking for a particular brand before a certain color.
I’m still waiting to see a grocery store merchandise produce by color, I think that would be beautiful AND customer-friendly.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on how you shop. Are you fairly observant or do you keep your head down and focus on what you’re after? Does a beautiful window or interesting merchandising enhance your perception of a brand? Any hang-ups or pet-peeves about retailers?