It’s time to talk about how you select all the pretty, practical, unusual and eye-catching items that make your shop unique and irreplaceable.
The View From Outside
Just as branding is important to visual merchandising, so are your stock choices. Branding should start in your windows and just outside your door to capture the attention of passersby who are looking in. This is especially helpful if someone isn’t familiar with your brand. They can look at your window displays and quickly understand what treasures they’re likely to find inside. An added bonus is that window and door displays help ensure they’ll think of you when looking for a specific type of gift or retail experience.
Placing Items Inside
Your power walls, particularly the one to the right of your door, are the prime locations for your signature branding pieces, new items and seasonal features. Items placed here should attract attention and pull browsers deeper into the shop.
Take a minute and think of which items bring your customers back time and time again. Those that come to mind are your primary product lines and should be placed toward the back. Alongside, stock items that complement your best sellers: Specialty hot beverages with your mugs, fuzzy socks with your skincare, sunscreen with your outside toys and tools, etc.
If your stock rotates constantly and you don’t carry replenishing goods, place your sale items toward the back. That way, customers must pass your new items and promotional displays on their way to look for deals.
Certain types of items should always be within reach as your customer checks out: low-cost but high-margin items (at least a 50-percent markup) that catch the eye. Included in this impulse-buy category could be candy, breath mints, small makeup items, etc. Kohl’s and Michaels do this particularly well; the line to the cash registers is delineated by impulse-buy shelving.
Know Your Customers
Now that we know to stock a mix of new items and old favorites, of seasonal and evergreen, and of high-margin impulse and consumables, how can you decide on specifics?
To know what’s going to sell, you have to understand the wants and needs of who’s buying. Who is liable to pass by your shop, and what are their goals? What are their ages, or the age ranges for which they’re buying? What are their likely interests, or what trends do they find attractive? And finally, what are the price points they’re likely to pay without flinching or wondering what your competitors charge?
For example, even in a hospital gift shop, the most impactful shoppers are the staffers who visit weekly, if not daily; they expect to see new items and still be able to pick up their favorite “necessities,” from an extra-large chocolate bar to a replacement pair of socks to travel-size cold medicine. For shops that cater to women over 35, stock products that manifest the day’s hottest trends as they’re still hot, like self-care and KonMari. Shops that offer items for children also should follow trends as long as you keep a careful eye on the trend’s life cycle and don’t overstock items that could soon be “so last week” (fidget spinners, anyone?). And there are plenty of updated options for old standbys like dolls and games.
Develop Your Niche
Customers will return to your store over and over again if they know they can get items they won’t find elsewhere. Cultivate this niche by making sure the products and lines you carry really stand out, like locally sourced or handmade items, unusual finds, etc., in colors, scents and forms your customers aren’t already used to. (Speaking of colors, remember the merchandising rule of displaying from lightest in front to darkest in back, and from smallest to largest.) Then let your customers help you develop your niche: Keep track of what sells well and in what sizes, and also what customers take the time to ask you about or tell you they’re looking for.
Build Customer Relationships
Remember that your customers aren’t just looking for stuff; they hope to build a relationship. Show them that you’re interested in the same thing by targeting a fair amount of your marketing to customer retention:
- Offer your existing customers special deals like periodic discounts, special deals for purchasing multiple items, or early access to sales in exchange for their email addresses.
- If your stock allows, offer a loyalty program such as stamp cards for repeat visits.
Encourage new customers to become repeat customers by going the extra mile for all customers, such as:
- Giving away free samples (again, if your stock allows)
- Offering free services like gift wrapping or shipping
- Throwing a little extra something in the bag as they purchase.
Since you’re a small business, feel free to get creative and offer friendly incentives customized to your shop that they won’t get from an impersonal chain store.
Stock the Essentials
Be sure to carry the low cost items that your customers can’t live without, such as toiletries, snacks, and over-the-counter medicines. Having these items on hand can help convert customers who are simply browsing into actual purchasers. In addition, these items can often become shopping cart fillers for those customers who are already committed to buying.
And finally, as you’re stocking your shop, simply prioritize quality. If your customers didn’t care what they buy, they could pick up any random thing at the corner convenience store. When you put care into selecting and displaying good-quality items in your beautifully organized shop, customers will feel your pride when they come in. And that is something they will remember, even if they don’t purchase that day.