The way a brand showcases its products can affect customer perception and desirability over time. Today we share key aspects in a brand’s visual merchandising strategy.

The visual experience of a brand integrates all aspects of communication touch points within its audience. Retail, seen from the omnichannel perspective, is continuously evolving and merging inputs from physical outlets to online destinations. Customers are currently  looking for brands that show their purpose and activate it through experiences, storytelling and emotive imagery. 

The brand’s visual strategy has to be consistent through values, aesthetics and recognizable elements associated with the brand. It is the only way to connect and leave a memorable impression. 

The pandemic has accelerated all business digitalisation. By 2025, the online sales will represent 21% of total retail spending, according to a forecast of Euromonitor International. They stated that the market opportunity to make additional e-commerce sales coming into the pandemic for brands was $77.7 billion. 

Michelle Evans, Senior Head of Digital Consumer at Euromonitor International, stated in a Forbes article that e-commerce has been the fastest-growing channel over the last ten years, and apparel and footwear are expected to drive the greatest absolute value growth in the next lustrum. 

However, with lockdowns in major cities, restrictions in travelling, and limited social interactions, customers are willing to take back the streets and retail stores to do “revenge shopping”, a reaction after quarantines, making  up for the “time lost”. This coined term explains, for example, the Guangzhou phenomenon last year, when Hermès Paris, reopened its flagship store and made up $2.69 million in a day, according to WWD.

Omnichannel Perspective and the Shopper’s Experience

Darrell K. Rigby, a pioneer author on the subject, considers an omnichannel “an integrated sales experience that melds the advantages of physical stores with the information-rich experience of online shopping”. Researchers Kamel and Kay, complement this vision with the desire to serve the customer “whenever and wherever they wish to purchase merchandise”. It is the customer-centric perspective that allows the integration of various channels serving their choice. 

Frazer and Stiehler, argue in “Omnichannel Retailing: The Merging of the Online and off-Line Environment” about a seamless shopping experience from an experiential marketing approach: “focusing on the contact points where the retailer could evoke shoppers’ sense, feel, think and act reactions”. In this case, physical retail is the king, though, online experience is richer in communication interaction and reach, in addition to  integrating a faster and flexible way of testing elements. 

Visual Merchandising: Creating Amazing In-Store Experiences

Visual merchandising is the process of presenting and displaying merchandise through any trading environment. The discipline focuses on catching client’s attention and interest, a physical way to enhance the product, raising brand awareness and hopefully, encouraging a transaction. 

The visual retail strategy aims to present the product at its best, increasing their perception value through creative-display atmospherics setting the tone of a concept presenting a collection or a brand’s identity

A good visual merchandising strategy can lead into PR coverage, to demonstrate, famous department stores such as Harrods or Selfridges, unveiled their seasonal storefront to the public with incredible set design and decoration. The work of David Hoey, senior director of visual presentation at Bergdorf Goodman and pioneer window dresser, is a good example of conceptualisation, craftsmanship and vision, to develop a point of view to attract customers. 

“Nowadays, people are looking for a re encounter with nature, craftsmanship, raw materials, sustainability, reuse. It is not new because some brands (our client Loewe, for example) have been doing it forever”, states Jose Luis Suarez, CEO of DPS Production a company specialised in visual merchandising to develop and communicate creative concepts, with clients such as, Celine, Berluti, Dyptique, Chanel, John Lobb, Stella McCartney, Hermès among others. 

For Suarez, the craftsmanship in visual merchandising and store atmosphere is more than a fad. “We love to work with Potters, wickerwork or plaster objects; there is a richness in the hand work, an unexploited natural perspective”

There are key elements in the field of a good visual merchandising strategy such as, logical positioning and adjacency, clear labelling of information, a balance in sensory experience, clear garment disposition and colour coordination – all to help the client to understand how to wear the product, and where to find it-, and a punch innovative style concept

The quality and design of a store is a fundamental part of the marketing mix, as it is the brand’s core distribution place, as well as part of its communications strategy as a promotional tool.

© Photo: Christian Dior.

For example, the Dior boutique aesthetic was created by Victor Grandpierre, a Christian Dior’s long-life collaborator. He created the Versailles inspiration, merging together the Louis XVI chairs, the Austrian shades, the signature grey-and-white palette, evoking a “cabinet de curiosités”. 

Last July, the brand unveiled a new boutique on Rue Saint-Honoré, showcasing the Dior’s heritage and codes designed by famous architect Peter Marino. It is a new stone edifice with double-height glass windows on the lower floors’ blends with the remaining portions of the 18th-century building. On the walls, the classic Toile de Jouy canvas, nods to the founding couturier’s first boutique in Avenue Montaigne and a key element in the brand’s visual aesthetic. 

“The physical shop allows you to have a complete experience. The customer is immersed in the brand’s space, it is the perfect spot where the brand can transmit its message, values, identity, with strength and passion, “without passion, there is no branding”, comments Suarez, as physical stores still are a key driver for sales.

© Photo: Christian Dior.

Understanding Online and Physical Channels as One: Insights to Develop an Effective Dynamic

With the consumer behaviour changes, with the last months in mind, a clever approach for any brand or business now is to accelerate its digital development. Showcasing products online – the right way-  is crucial too, in order to offer an alternative experience to the client with a faster approach and variety of products to decide. 

“The experience must be 360°, what the customer sees online must be represented in the physical space, and vice versa, both image and visual departments could create concepts and atmospheres together  developed in a way that best suits each channel”, states Daniela Cataldo, Art Director and Stylist, who has worked for international fast fashion apparel Inditex group brand, Oysho, styling the campaigns and coordinating photoshoots of the collections. 

The e-visual image in a website is crucial to digitally build what the brand has done in physical channels. Editorial shootings, video campaigns, and of course, the product itself. A photographed garment has not the same level of attitude as the real piece, however, the duty of an e-stylist is to create the same effect, to raise desirability and to present it in sync with the style recap of the season. 

E-commerce models wear clothing that would be held in mannequins within the store come to life. From the client’s perspective, the result is different in both occasions, in-store they can touch it and try it on; online, they can be reflected in a human model, generating an aspirational connection. 

The mind is a powerful driver for imitation. “There are models that really sell everything they put on! Of course, you need to develop good creative concepts and adequate lighting and photography, yet it is the casting that really gives the image its strength” comments Cataldo, as the results are very evident in terms of product sales. 

The focus on market needs requires continuous commercial analysis and coordination with visual merchandising teams for visual coherence between online and physical outlets; only  some of the back-office tasks to create an efficient omnichannel visual strategy. 

You need to be very User Experience (UX) oriented to test the e-commerce platform, simplifying steps, giving recommendations of products or similarities, in addition to delivering amazing photoshoots with a high level of production and retouching to make the garments shine without creating false expectations. “I call e-styling ‘the silent hand’, it is a job that requires a lot of attention to detail, being in many places at once, but when it is done well, it goes unnoticed”, Cataldo states.

As for the “revenge shopping” phenomenon, Suarez believes in the power of the experience as a driving force for people to return to physical stores. “Online and Offline should not be seen as a dichotomy, because both worlds mix together. Some product categories may not be a dream experience, however if you want to buy an Hermès Carré, the online shopping experience cannot replace walking into an Hermès boutique and being immersed into the brand’s world”, concludes. 

The importance of visual merchandising from the omnichannel perspective is crucial to all fashion brands and lifestyle businesses, who want to lead the new worldwide dynamics, where physical and digital merge.

In a “Zoom” world, we are yearning for a reality check, to have tangible experiences without giving up technology, as life itself is more than staring at a screen.