Visual merchandising is the art and science of placing displays and items in such a manner that your customers naturally flow through your shop without their eyes ever leaving your wares. Much more than just tossing up a couple of shelves and wall brackets, visual merchandising helps you perfect your shop layout and provides valuable guidelines on product placement. The goals for your merchandising are to:
- Maximize your shop’s brand image
- Positively influence your customers’ purchasing behaviors
Just like any larger business, your gift shop has a brand, which is what customers think, feel and remember about your shop. Proper branding makes you stand out from the competition. Consider the uniquely blue ribboned boxes of Tiffany & Co. or of the crisp black and white decor of a See’s Candies store.
To develop your branding, think of your shop’s brand as its personality and then expand it. Is your shop big and breezy, offering an expansive collection of items to a specific type of customer? If so, your brand should reflect how your customer envisions concepts like “friendly,” “breezy,” and, for example, “the best place to find a unique and thoughtful gift.”
On the other hand, a smaller location benefits from a tightly focused brand such as “the one-stop shop for females ages 16-25 to find the latest releases from best-selling accessory brands.” No matter the statement that sums up your brand, begin thinking about what your store should look and smell like, what sort of music should be playing, etc.
Once you have your brand vision in place, it’s time to plan your displays so they reflect your brand. First, consider your “power wall,” the area just inside and to the right of your front door as customers are coming in. This area is the place to establish your brand by showcasing appealing “signature” products that encourage visitors to come in and look around. (For more on exactly what to put there, see the related blog post on stocking your gift shop.) Keep in mind that any area that naturally draws traffic – whether it’s a wall or not – should be planned like a power wall.
Next, think about additional product positioning. What are your evergreen vs. seasonal products, and how much space do they need? Where should you put limited availability and sale items?
And finally, here are some tips to maximize your merchandising:
- Best-selling products and regularly replaced consumables should be placed toward the rear. For example, even in a gift shop, many buyers are going to need wrapping supplies and cards. Placing these items at the back of your shop allows customers to eye other products as they walk to the back, giving you a better chance for extra sales.
- High-markup items and floor displays should be positioned along the paths to the back of the store.
- Keep seasonal displays in prime areas in the front of the shop throughout the season.
- Don’t place high-theft items in the back of your store; keep them visible near the register and within clear view of your security cameras.
Fixtures and Displays
Once you have your store layout and a product mapping plan, it’s time to consider your fixtures and displays. Fixtures are the permanent elements of your shop such as lighting, built-in counters, fixed shelving, etc. Displays do exactly that – display products – and tend to be movable and customizable. Displays often effectively used in gift shops include:
- Clothing racks
- Multi-tiered displays and tables
- Slatwalls: An excellent space-saving choice, these fixtures accommodate many different hanging and display options like rails, shelving, hooks, etc. They can be wall-mounted or freestanding.
- Gridwalls: Another good way to maximize versatility and space, these metal grid panels come with display accessories like baskets, hooks and sign holders.
Your goal for your fixtures and displays is to coordinate them with your branding and your product collections so that your customers’ attention stays on the product, not your shop itself. Versatility and the ability to move pieces easily is also important in a smaller space.
Another good source of display options are your vendors and manufacturers. Many offer low-cost or free specialty displays designed to best showcase their products; they might also offer merchandising and display advice. Don’t hesitate to ask for their help.
Revisit Your Map
You did your layout map along with the last blog piece, right? Well, get it back out! Along with your traffic flow, make sure you’ve represented your fixtures, and then play around with display options. Remember that many smaller shops use a combination of layouts; one option is to include aisles laid on the diagonal and visible from your register, as this makes it easier to view the whole shop at once and discourages theft.
Finally, remember that visual merchandising is never officially complete. Once you’ve implemented your merchandising plan, watch how customers actually browse your store. Do they move through the space smoothly? Do they ever seem confused, or ignore certain areas? If so, you know those areas need to be reconsidered. Add some space here, refocus the collection there, make your seasonal adjustments – and next thing you know, your gift shop looks fresh, inviting and well-organized year ‘round.