What Is Visual Merchandising? (Definition and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

29 September 2021

There are many exciting careers in the retail industry, and a career as a visual merchandiser is one of the challenging but rewarding careers in this industry. As a visual merchandiser, your primary responsibility is to make product displays interesting to attract shoppers to the store. Learning more about this career could help you decide if it's right for you. In this article, we answer the question, what is visual merchandising?, show how to become a visual merchandiser, list the skills you may use in this career and provide tips for effective visual merchandising.

What is visual merchandising?

Visual merchandising is a discipline with a broad reach in a variety of sectors. It involves operations, marketing, design and sales. It focuses on the design and display of merchandise in a retail store to engage shoppers with the ultimate aim of increasing sales. The product displays may highlight a product's features, benefits, appearance in an attractive manner. Stores also use visual merchandising for their online channels.

Related: What Is a Merchandiser and How You Can Be One

What are a visual merchandiser's duties?

A visual merchandiser is a professional working with retail inventory. Some duties of a visual merchandiser include:

  • monitoring the inventory levels of the warehouse and submitting detailed inventory reports

  • addressing customer issues and conveying them to the company

  • assisting with the warehouse organisation to allow for greater product accessibility

  • stocking displays and shelves on the sales floor to increase the efficiency of inventory management

  • creating visually appealing sales floor displays to feature pre-identified products prominently

How to become a visual merchandiser

Consider following these steps to become a visual merchandiser:

1. Earn an undergraduate degree

Although a university qualification is not required to become a visual merchandiser, some employers may prefer candidates who have completed their post-secondary schooling or an undergraduate degree. Consider earning a degree to help you qualify for more roles. Subjects typically taken for undergraduate studies may include economics, logistics and merchandising.

2. Complete training

Many employers prefer employing candidates with one or two years of experience in merchandising. When you start a position at a new company, you may receive several weeks of on-the-job training. During this training, you can learn about the store's products and policies and its inventory management software.

3. Gain relevant retail experience

Candidates may start their careers as a cashier, stocker or another entry-level position in the retail industry. To become a visual merchandiser, candidates typically have at least two years of experience in the retail sector. You can gain experience by taking relevant courses or completing on-the-job training.

4. Apply for the role of a visual merchandiser

After you have gained several years of retail experience, you can apply for the role of a visual merchandiser. If there are no positions available with your current employer, you may search for vacancies at other companies. Although most posts typically are in the retail industry, product vendor companies also use visual merchandisers.

5. Progress to more senior roles

After working for a few years, visual merchandisers can progress to more senior roles. For example, visual merchandisers can become sales executives. Related jobs include positions in sales and advertising or wholesale or manufacturing sales. Consider applying for advanced roles to help you progress your career.

Related: What Is Merchandising? (And How To Become a Merchandiser)

What are the skills of a visual merchandiser?

The critical skills for a visual merchandiser include:

Organisational skills

A visual merchandiser organises products in a store or website. They organise products on sales displays and help with inventory management by organising the warehouse's storage area where the company stores its products. Excellent visual or spatial awareness is useful when organising such large storage spaces.

Creativity

A visual merchandiser creates visually appealing sales displays online or in-store. The purpose of the product displays is to drive the sales of a product successfully. A creative flair helps a visual merchandiser to design beautiful displays.

Mathematical skills

A visual merchandiser needs mathematical skills to log inventory changes and the warehouse's storage capacity. They manage the space inside the warehouse to ensure there is sufficient space for the company's stock. They also use these skills to complete budgets.

Computer literacy

Computer literacy can assist a visual merchandiser with the computer-related functions of the position. They use inventory management software to log changes to the warehouse's inventory. Most stores provide newly appointed visual merchandisers with training on the software and systems they use.

Physical stamina

Visual merchandisers spend a significant amount of their work hours moving products between the warehouse and sales floor. They're typically physically strong and have the physical endurance to lift and carry products for long periods daily. They spend a large part of their workday on their feet, which is physically demanding.

Related: Top Transferable Skills to Include in Your CV

The work environment of a visual merchandiser

Visual merchandisers can work in a retail store or as the representative of a product vendor. They manage the product displays in-store or on the store's online channel, as either a representative of a product vendor or within retail and department stores. As a visual merchandiser in a product vendor company, they travel between the company's store locations and unload products into the warehouse, assisting with the building and maintenance of product displays.

When they're not constructing product displays, they log shipment and warehouse data for products for reporting to the inventory specialists. Depending on the store they work with, the type of products and whether they have a license, a visual merchandiser may spend time during their shift using a forklift to manoeuvre product shipments between locations. Visual merchandisers work full-time, but some part-time roles exist. Based on their employer's scheduling preferences, they may work after regular business hours.

Related: On-the-Job Training: Definition, Types and Examples

Types of visual merchandising

Most retailers and brands use visual merchandising but may use different types to display their products. The types of visual merchandising include:

Interactive displays

Many stores use touchscreen technologies to get people's attention to learn more about a particular product line or product. These displays can take different forms, including a "choose your own adventure" game format or virtual reality format. Some retailers use these displays in-store, but others use them as part of their cellphone applications.

Another method used for interactive displays is field marketing, where stores show information about a specific product to a customer in a way that involves the customer. The simplest form of field marketing is letting customers try different products and asking them for their feedback.

Window displays

Window displays aim to catch shoppers' eyes and interest to enter the retail store for a closer look at the product. Window displays are flexible and can convey messages about new products and product promotions to shoppers. An easy way to get customers' attention is by adding an unexpected item to your window display. An example of this is having a stuffed toy in your window display focusing on kitchen equipment.

Mannequins

Visual merchandisers can pose mannequins in unique and unexpected ways to get the attention of shoppers. Most retail stores use mannequins to show their customers what their clothing looks like on a person. Non-apparel retailers can use mannequins to display their electronics or household goods.

Signage

Signage is a simple and effective technique to convey product information in a digestible manner. Signage can include a poster with product information or a digital sign that entertains and informs. It is critical for signage to be short and easy for customers to read.

Tips for visual merchandising

These tips can help make visual merchandising more effective:

Develop a deep understanding of the customer

Your product displays may consider your customers' preferences. For example, in designing your physical or digital product displays, you can consider whether your customers are looking for low priced goods, luxury items or unique products. Customising the product displays to the customers' preferences may result in higher sales.

Related: What Is Good Customer Service? Definition and Guideline

Use storytelling

One of the most effective ways to get the attention of customers is to use storytelling. Start your story with an interesting introductory statement to grab your customers' attention. Once you have their attention, you can show them how they may benefit from purchasing the product.

Consider colour, mood and lighting

When designing product displays, consider their impact on all the senses to set the mood you desire. Use lighting to direct shoppers' eyes to your focal point. You can use different colour combinations to pique shoppers' interest. An interactive display is typically effective to get shoppers' interest and make them listen to more information about a product.

Look for opportunities to cross-merchandise

If the store sells products that complement each other, consider displaying them together to prime customers to purchase them together. Grocery stores use this strategy effectively by having toppings near bread to entice customers to buy loaves of bread with toppings. To use this method effectively, you can use retail intelligence for more information about products often purchased together.

Do frequent audits of your displays

Visual merchandisers may audit stores frequently to understand which displays are effective in driving sales. It is vital to audit both physical and digital platforms. Mixing up visual merchandising strategies gets shoppers' attention more effectively and helps you collect data about the effectiveness of the different approaches.