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The term 'merchandising' means selling goods at a profit by displaying or advertising them. Visual merchandising focuses on positioning the products in a manner to attract the attention of customers and increase their sales. Hence, it ensures that products are available at the right price, at the right time and in the right amount to the customer. An attractive display, a neatly stacked shelf, and promotional campaigns are aspects of visual merchandising to attract the attention of customers. Brands hire visual merchandisers to assess customer demands, plan the product range and determine pricing and quantity breakup accordingly.
Why is it essential for retailers to leverage visual merchandising? This is because 90% of the information sent to our brain is visual. People don't remember the text on display as much as they can remember the colour or the manner in which the products are arranged.
If you have sound visual communication skills and a flair for creativity, consider a career in visual merchandising. Digitisation, focus on customer experience and the emergence of new-age design courses have provided a fillip to visual merchandising as a career. Discussed below are visual merchandising trends that are redefining this field.
Convergence of offline models and e-commerce for a phygital experience: Leading retail brands with brick-and-mortar models are now making a digital presence. Both online and offline models co-exist to offer a holistic experience to customers. The shift to an omnichannel model has led to the emergence of 'phygital'- derived from a combination of physical and digital experience. While e-commerce ensures convenience and doorstep delivery, and an offline store offers a 'buy what you see' experience, phygital combines both elements. The convergence of these platforms helps retailers widen their customer base.
Better Collaboration through Technology: Technology has had a pervasive impact on retail. Digitalisation implies that visual merchandisers need to work in sync with digital media with in-store simulations to be executed in a much faster turnaround time. The future of visual merchandising indicates little scope for old-school methods. Having the right tech tools in place will help professionals optimise resources, boost productivity, and ensure a smoother workflow and better collaboration.
Environmental sustainability as an important paradigm of customer experience: One of the current trends in visual merchandising is increasing emphasis on environmental sustainability. In the past few years, companies have become more conscious of their environmental impact. A recent customer survey has also shown that 83% of customers considered it "important" for brands to act sustainably, of which 39% said it was "very important".
This has led to a greater focus on using sustainable materials and developing products that are not harmful to the environment. The use of natural and organic materials is gaining currency because these materials are often more environmentally friendly than synthetic materials. Companies are now looking for alternative eco-friendly packaging options instead of plastic. They are also exploring novel ways of displaying products. For example, some brands now sell bulk products so customers can buy them in smaller quantities. This enables customers to reduce their environmental impact by reusing or recycling the products.
Inclusive Products in the Mass Market: Retail brands are now seeing inclusion as integral to their product offering, which has fuelled the rise of niche segments, especially in apparel and beauty. Adaptive apparel and footwear designed for persons with disabilities is an example. Kohl's and Marks & Spencer have launched a dedicated product line for persons with disabilities. Similarly, plus-size offerings have moved beyond jeans, tops and dresses to sportswear, intimates and bridal dresses.
In the beauty segment, too, companies are building niche categories around life stage and age, such as a dedicated skincare range for menopausal women.
Localised merchandising to gain currency: Brands must understand customers' tastes, habits and preferences. Localised merchandising is not only sustainable but also incorporates the preferences and interests of different communities.
Pop-ups and street fashion play an essential role: One of the current trends in visual merchandising is street fashion. Retailers are using pop-ups and temporary installations to showcase their products. This allows retailers to display their products interactively, which makes it easy for customers to find out what they are looking for and test products before buying them. Retailers are also leveraging street fashion, such as creating unique designs to stand out from the competition.
Luxury brands investing in experiential marketing campaigns: Luxury brands are increasingly investing in experiential marketing campaigns involving activities such as tours, tastings, and meet-and-greets. Such campaigns create a closer connection with customers, boosting sales and building their trust and loyalty. For instance, leading brands such as Ligo, Gucci, Coca Cola have embraced the Metaverse to offer an immersive experience to customers. Similarly, Ralph Lauren and Balenciaga have collaborated with Fortnite to offer digital fashion to gamers.
Use of interactive displays gaining currency: One of the current visual merchandising trends is the use of interactive product displays. These displays enable customers to interact with the product in various ways, leading to increased sales. The LED lighting, motion graphics and catchy content are finding their way into these displays to attract customer attention. Emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality have facilitated immersive experiences, lending a new dimension to the customer experience.
Subscription and Rental Models to move towards maturity: The rental and subscription are reaching a new level of maturity which might mean consolidation of the market through mergers and acquisitions in this segment. High customer acquisition costs related to customer churn, hefty investments in scaling up, and the costs associated with fulfillment have challenged the sustainability of subscription models.
Given this complexity and prohibitive cost, it is foreseen that established retailers will partner with established rental firms instead of developing their in-house rental models. These partnerships mean rental specialists will provide services on a white-label basis for leading retailers or serve as marketplaces to tap rental demand.
Shoppers to adopt Aftercare and Closed-Loop Models: Sustainable shopping behaviour is making inroads, and more consumers will walk the walk by limiting purchases., recycling and reusing products. With pre-worn apparel and renting apparel becoming mainstream, the aftercare segment will also grow in scale. More shoppers are expected to turn to service providers that recycle and restore clothing, footwear and accessories. Retailers will also partner with service providers to offer apparel aftercare services.
Closed-loop models are expected to gain currency, especially in the apparel segment. Subscription, membership and leasing programs that let customers return worn clothing for recycling in exchange for fresh garments will thrive, backed by increasing consumer willingness to adopt ‘retail as a service’ models, where they use products on a subscription basis rather than purchasing them.
Evolving skill-set and job roles: The retail sector is rapidly evolving, and visual merchandising is at the heart of this change. Today, retailers are looking for professionals who are not only abreast with the latest visual merchandising trends and have the know-how to develop visual concepts and build attractive store displays but are also equipped with the ability to work in teams with tech solutions to increase their productivity and maximise the customer experience. It's not enough anymore to creatively build a store display using products, take photographs, send the completed work to head office, and wait for compliance comments and feedback. New-age skills such as problem-solving, interpersonal skills, design thinking and leadership are more important than ever. This will inevitably provide a fillip to new-age design courses which equip students with dynamic skills in line with the requirements of the evolving job landscape.
The increased focus on branding and customer experience has elevated the significance of visual merchandising. Moreover, brands are facing stiff competition from their peers, which implies that it is essential for them to highlight their unique value proposition and forge a bond with customers. This has expanded the scope of visual merchandising as a career. Moreover, emerging trends in visual merchandising, such as curated experiences, focus on sustainable fashion, phygital presence, experiential communication, and the use of new-age technologies such as Metaverse, Blockchain and Augmented Reality, implies that the future of visual merchandising entails bright prospects.
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