Whether you’re a visual merchandising manager for a retail chain or you run a small business, understanding the basics of Visual Merchandising will go a long way to stepping up your sales. We’ve created a list of the 6 most important elements of Visual Merchandising for you. Armed with these insights, you can start to leverage the power they have to get your products popping!

It all starts with Colour!

No Top 7 list would be reliable if it didn’t begin with the power of colour. People who ride motorcycles or mountain bikes often learn the hard way that if you focus on the rock, you’re going to hit the rock. This is no trick of the mind, the underlying rule is that your feet will seek to follow your eyes to their destination. Colour leverages this strong motor-neural connection by forming points of attraction for the eyes which draw us in. At least, this is how colour has traditionally been used in retail (think about a sign for a sale in a store that grabs your attention, is it red in your mind?)

The power of colour also lies in its ability to link components together into a harmonised story. Even if our display is physically disorganised, colour can pull physical components together for customers to understand them as a whole.

Use Focal Points in your displays

Borrowing from photography for a second, a focal point is that part of a photograph that pulls the interest of the eye towards the most important part of the picture or the part of the picture that you want to emphasise. Interestingly, studies have shown that it actually frustrates the viewer if there is no focal point because the brain develops a kind of restless irritation if the eye isn’t easily drawn to any part of what it’s viewing.

With Visual Merchandising, we’re dealing with the same visual principles. As a result, we’ve got to first be clear about what we most want to draw our customer’s attention to in our display and then ensure that the visual composition is supporting our intention. Have a look at your existing displays and ask a friend where their eyes focus first. Ask them if anything about the display confuses them or if they’re struggling to settle on any one area. Focal points increase sales because they start mental conversations with our customers.

Now, use the focal point to draw attention to a hotspot. A hotspot isn’t a visual element that you’ve pulled into the display to add to the story, it’s your actual product or products. Focal points draw the customer into the story you’re telling about your products and so a hotspot is essentially the visual destination of the visual journey you’ve created.

Tell a story

This leads us nicely into our next critical component: The Story. We’ve got to be very clear right up front with how we believe we can provide value to our customer. With one glimpse of your display, they should be able to identify the advantages of the product, how it could improve their lives or meet their needs.

Story-telling in Visual Merchandising is a visual exercise supported by short and punchy clips of text. Very often, stories take the form of pure visuals of the lifestyle we’re offering our customer or of how our product augments that aspirational lifestyle. Think about a smartwatch on its own. It’s a nifty tool and it’s great that it can measure my heart rate, but the watch on it’s own lies at a lower emotive level with my customer than what my customer aspires to have as a lifestyle: Their greater desire is to be fit, healthy and admired. Our job is to ensure that we get the smartwatch fitting into their aspiration or higher-order need rather than getting the customer to fit into the smartwatch.

Empty space

In retail, the most wasted space sits between the top of the product shelves and the ceiling. Unless your retail brand seeks to create an ultra-minimalist experience for customers, you need to start leveraging this space more.

Head room can be used in all sorts of ways:

  • Hang signage to help orientate and direct your customers to different products in the store,
  • Introduce customers to profiled suppliers of your products especially if your products come from smaller suppliers or designers with good stories to share,
  • The space could be used to connect your customer to the lifestyle that your products are associated with.

In brick-and-mortar stores, we often carry heavy overheads to operate out of our rented spaces. Dead space that isn’t being used to connect with the customer in some way is basically burning a hole in your pocket.


We had a great experience with a Surf Shop chain recently, just getting to the basics of layout for his stores. As a retailer, they sell new surf gear and equipment but also provide an equipment rental service. Every morning, they wheel out the large rental surfboard rack and the hanging rental wetsuits. You can imagine that this rental stock looks quote worn and patchy.

Apart from the negative visuals of the rental gear, these two racks took up so much space out front that the door and window display of the surf shops could barely be seen from the road. With just a little bit of rearrangement, foot traffic into his stores picked up by 20%. And that’s just the start of landscaping.

Now that we’ve got our customer inside, how we guide them through the store will determine our rate of conversion to buying products from us. Our MerchMaverick service provides retail customers with expert guidance on store layout and customer experience to increase their conversion rates. But the basics for consideration always hold true:

  • Walk your customer journey first. What would you want to be shown first about your store? How would you like to navigate through the rest? How do I set up to help guide this pathway? Am I making it easy for products to be identified? Am I making it easy for my customers to identify the paypoint?
  • Keep the transition zone clear. This is the area right at the entrance into your store. Studies have shown that customers need a little space to transition from the street or mall into the new environment of your store. Keep this zone clear of merchandise, bold signage or brand information and give your customer a clear moment to adjust to your lighting, music and the visual arrangement of the store,
  • Don’t clutter your store. It’s important that you expose your customer to as many products as possible but this must be done with an organised design so as not to overwhelm or frustrate them,
  • Eradicate narrow aisles. Scan your store for any bottleneck or pinch spaces and narrow aisles which can create the “butt-brush effect”. US research has identified that, US customers and women in particular, really value their personal space while shopping. Aisles which look like they might instigate an awkward physical interaction between customers are avoided by them. Make your space pull your customers.