How Do You Shop?



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

American Apparel

Marc Jacobs

Banana Republic

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?


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12 Responses to “How Do You Shop?”

  1. nenasadije Says:

    most of my retail pet-peeves deal with in-store issues that are likely out of your control as a merchandiser (which i assume is an offsite position). limited stock/sizes and messy/disorganized displays rank highest on my complaint list.

    keep in mind though, i’m NOT shopping at prada or even saks for that matter. in fact, the first and only time i ever entered a nordstroms it was to buy my akawedding dress.

    however, i do enjoy pretty displays. i shop at the better merchandised target in my area and will drive extra miles to the smaller but more well put together BR.

    and i love color coordinated displays. mostly because i’m a monochromatic dresser, which may be why i shop online a lot since you can usually aggregate searches by color. the style is easy and layerable, fits my job (professional position but casual office) and makes me feel modern without having to be trendy.

    i really want to know who you work for though i know you’d rather not say.

  2. elizabeth Says:

    Seriously, I could write a whole, blown-out post on this. Do you mind if I just link back my response on my blog? It’ll look like a freaking dissertation here, because this is a topic on which I have so much to say and I’ve given much thought–it’s the market researcher in me.

  3. pennyplastic Says:

    Not at all Elizabeth, rage on!!

  4. pennyplastic Says:

    I promise to tell if I get laid off ;-)

  5. Jess Says:

    I love when stores are color coordinated specially when I am looking for a specific color. Like the other day I was looking for a red dress (which btw is impossible to find) and I went into stores that where color coordinated and headed straight for the red section.

    I also prefer when stores stick all of the dresses together because I hate when there is one dress in one corner of the store and others all the way on the other side.

    A good makeup display will always catch my eye. I love drugstores like Longs because they always place the limited edition displays together which make browsing really easy.

    I think my one pet peeve is when they have a dressed up mannequin and do not have the clothes its displays any where nearby. I would like to look at the mannequin, go “cute” move my eyes down and bam! there is that item

  6. Unpossible Says:

    This is fascinating – I used to work for a publisher, and part of my job was executing direct-to-consumer sales events. We had 1-2 hours to set up a display of 200-1,000 units (60-250 different titles) under widely varying circumstances. My merchandising philosophy was mostly by category (cookbooks in one are, kids books in another, art & design in a third, etc.), and I tried to “pop up” as many of the more visually engaging (and higher price-point) books as possible. So, yeah, pretty basic. As you mentioned, organizing by color didn’t really make sense, but I did occasionally have brilliant moments that broke out of my standard utilitarian approach (like pairing a high-end photo book with a children’s book on the same subject).

    The way that I shop varies by product. For books and music, I go straight to the categories that interest me, and browse around there. For clothes, I actually shop by feel – I walk by the racks and run my hand through the clothes. Sounds weird, I know, but the feel of my clothes is important to me. I love looking at beautiful displays (be it clothes, books, whatever), and they do occasionally motivate me to buy something. For me, the most effective displays are the ones that make me think of the product in a different way and suggest a wealth of possibilities.

    I’m of two minds about organizing by color. I love the way it looks, but I think it can limit the shopper’s imagination. I know that I tend to gravitate toward some colors and stay away from others, but if I’m presented with an item I like in a range of colors, it gives me the chance to see the merits of turquoise or olive.

    p.s. – Forever 21 also used to organize their stores by color, do you know if they still do that?

  7. Jess Says:

    Unpossible- They still organize by color at least with the merchandise that is against the walls

  8. pennyplastic Says:

    As Jess said, I believe they do. I don’t really shop Forever 21, probably because I don’t shop for apparel by color and it’s too overwhelming!

  9. Claudia (Bluebears) Says:

    I am really bothered by harsh lighting for some reason, not necessarily overly bright but some lighting scheme that is, i don’t know, overly noticeable? If that makes sense. And honestly the overall decor of the store itself can play a role, like remember when Victoria’s Secret had that hot pink and gold color scheme? I literally couldn’t walk in a store without feeling a pre-migraine for years. I really like the way Banana Republics are organized, except for the sale sections which always feel crammed in a corner.

  10. London_Calling Says:

    This is always so interesting to me. I have no background, and no ability to do this, but I love learning how this works. Just another way to say keep on keeping on.

  11. nenasadije Says:

    hello jess! i am the same way. i need a purple top – NEED IT NOW – and i cannot find it. HELL. hell i say!!

    and yes, claudia, i have issues with lighting as well. sometimes on the sales floor but mostly in dressing rooms. overhead pot lights and lingerie DO NOT MIX!

  12. funnyface Says:

    I hate it when stores divide things by color. Having all the red things on wall really doesn’t help me, as I’d rather see outfits and things that coordinate near each other. It seems a lot of low end stores like Charlotte Russe and Wet Seal do the color thing, and it really frustrates me because the red things all blend together and I rarely want to dig through all the red things in order to see what’s what.

    My favorite store just to look at: Anthropologie. I can’t afford anything there, but sooooo lovely.

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