What is Visual Merchandising?

What is Visual Merchandising?


What is Visual Merchandising?

As we addressed briefly in Merchandising Types and Examples, visual merchandising in the retail industry refers to all of the display techniques used to highlight the appearance and benefits of the products and services being sold.

The concept has traditionally been used to describe visual sales elements within brick-and-mortar retail stores, such as:

  • Floor plan layout
  • Color palette selection
  • Three-dimensional displays
  • Product and banner alignment

Increasingly, however, the term is encompassing all of retail, including digital experiences.

This expanded definition is a result of the expanded dimensions of the retail industry itself, which now includes the ecommerce experience that didn’t exist just a few decades ago.

What is visual merchandising?

Visual merchandising in ecommerce, therefore, includes related elements such as color palette selection, but it also contains several different categories. These categories include, but are not limited to:

  • Web design
  • Digital banners and ads
  • Real-time product recommendations
  • Email design
  • App design

As you can see here, the digital experience has many touchpoints, and visual elements of merchandising are used in all of them.

Whereas the in-store experience can include additional visual merchandising elements ranging from paper brochures to digital wallboards, the ecommerce experience can include everything from the use of a branded GIF in an email to an on-site search experience that displays products visually as the customer is typing rather than after they’ve typed their query and clicked submit.

Here’s an example:

Visual merchandising in retail

As you can see above, creating a visual experience in real-time can allow digital merchandisers to more quickly highlight the appearance and benefits of their products. The cliche “a picture is worth a thousands words” is particularly fitting here.


Color in visual merchandising

How does color work in visual merchandising?

The manipulation of color helps all types of merchandisers maintain some semblance of control over the customer experience.

Color can assist in the creation of feelings. For example, an environment of mostly white, clean lines can help a merchandiser create an impression of modernity or minimalism, whereas a highly colorful experience with reds and oranges can allow the merchandiser to create feelings of warmth and excitement.

Additionally, as in the example below, juxtaposing colors can pull the viewers eyes to a product.

What is visual merchandising?

Space in visual merchandising

The use of space is another foundational element in visual merchandising. Just as the use of color can control parts of the customer experience, so too can the use of space.

While a particular in-store experience may not stand out to you, think about the last time you went to a museum.

The study of spacing in museums can provide an excellent learning opportunity for merchandisers. Museum curators are superb at creating focal points so that the viewers can give their full attention to experiencing the objects or writings.

Here’s an example:

Visual merchandising: The art of space

Storytelling in visual merchandising

Lastly, the use of storytelling in visual merchandising is perhaps the most underrated element of all.

Since the earliest days of trading, stories have played a central role in the buying and selling of goods. Today, those stories continue. Consumers are increasingly interested in where products come from and even where the parts that make those products are sourced.

Beyond the product, they are drawn to brand stories. Consider commercials during the Super Bowl. In the most expensive television ad time of the year, very few companies actually show what their product does. Instead, they tell stories that convey who their brand is and why their brand does what it does.

Visual storytelling, done right, can be what persuades customers to choose one product over a similar product. A single story can even be what catapults a relatively unknown company to global superstardom. Take this video example from Chatbooks:



For students and merchandisers wanting to learn more about visual merchandising, be sure to check out Visual Merchandising and Display by Martin M. Pegler and Anne Kong:

Definition of what is merchandising?