Merchandise displays are special presentations of a store's products or services to the buying public. The nature of these displays may range somewhat from industry to industry, but all merchandise displays are predicated on basic principles designed to increase product purchases. Indeed, merchandise displays are an integral element of the overall merchandising concept, which seeks to promote product sales by coordinating marketing, advertising, and sales strategies.
Many business consultants believe that small business owners are among the leaders in innovative merchandise display strategies. W. Rae Cowan noted in Chain Store Age Executive, for example, that "in many instances, smaller specialty chains are leading the way in store ambience supporting their overall marketing strategy in a broad range of categories from fashion through hardware and housewares and building supplies areas. By their very nature, specialty stores depend on their fixturing to generate a differentiation or niche in the marketplace. And being physically smaller in some cases allows for faster response to market trends and conditions…. Successful retailers today are using their fixturing to productively dispense their merchandise and communicate an appropriate environment on the retail floor."
Merchandise displays generally take one of several basic forms:
* Storefront Window Displays—These typically open on to a street or shopping mall walk or courtyard and are intended to attract passerby that might not otherwise enter the store.
* Showcase Displays—These typically feature items that 1) are deemed to be too valuable for display in storefront set-ups, or 2) are niche items of high interest to the business's primary clientele. These display centers are usually located in high traffic areas and typically feature multiple tiers for product display and a sliding door on the clerk's side for access.
* "Found-Space" Displays—This term refers to product presentations that utilize small but nonetheless usable areas of the store, such as the tops of product carousels or available wall space.
Storefront window displays and "found space" displays are particularly popular tools for publicizing and selling sale items.
KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL MERCHANDISE DISPLAY
Trudy Ralston and Eric Foster, authors of How to Display It: A Practical Guide to Professional Merchandise Display, cited several key components of successful merchandise display that are particularly relevant for small business owners. First, displays should be economical, utilizing only space, materials, and products that are already available. Second, displays should be versatile, able to "fit almost anywhere, exhibit almost any merchandise, and convey almost any message. Finally, displays have to be effective. The ideal display, said Ralston and Foster, "is readily visible to any passer-by and [should be arranged so that] there is no time or space lag between when a potential buyer sees the design and when he or she can react to it. [The ideal display] also shows the customer what the product actually looks like, not some flat and intangible picture of it. Few other forms of promotion can give such a vivid presentation of both the merchandise and character of a store."
The effectiveness of these cornerstones of merchandising display strategy can be increased by remembering several other tips as well, including the following:
* Allocate merchandise display space and expenditures appropriately in recognition of customer demographics. If the bulk of your business's customers are males between the ages of 20 and 40, the bulk of your displays should probably be shaped to catch their interest.
* Be careful of pursuing merchandise display designs that sacrifice effectiveness for the sake of originality.
* Make certain that the cleanliness and neatness of the display is maintained.
* Do not overcrowd a display. Customers tend to pass over messy, busy-looking displays. Instead, Ralston and Foster affirm that "a display should feature a single item or point of interest…. Every primary article [in a display] must interact with every other so that they all come together as a group. If they don't it will look as if there is not one design, but several.
* Combine products that are used together in displays. For example, pairing ski goggles with other outdoor apparel is apt to be more effective than placing it alone or with some other product that is only tangentially related to skiing.
* Small items should be displayed so that would-be customers can get a good look at them without having to solicit the help of a member of the staff.
* Pay attention to details when constructing and arranging display backgrounds. For example, Foster and Ralston counsel business owners to "avoid dark backgrounds when customers will be looking through a window, since this makes the glass behave as a giant mirror."
* Merchandise displays can sometimes be utilized to educate customers. A well-conceived display could, for example, illustrate a product use that may not have occurred to most customers. "In addition to selling actual merchandise, display can be used to introduce a new product, a fashion trend, and a new 'look' or idea," explained Martin Pegler in Visual Merchandising and Display. "Display can be used to educate the consumer concerning what the new item is, how it can be worn or used, and how it can be accessorized. The display may also supply pertinent information, the price, and other special features."
All of these considerations need to be weighed when putting together a merchandise display. But ultimately, the final barometer of a display's worthiness is its ability to sell products. As Martin Pegler bluntly stated, "The test of a good display today is: Does it sell?"