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Visual merchandising: The art of display

VM? What is this?

Visual Merchandising (VM) or Window Dressing is the art of presentation, which puts the merchandise in focus. It educates the customers, creates desire and finally augments the selling process. Essentially, visual merchandising is the selling of a store's goods through visual means, incorporating advertising, window displays, and interior sales floor design and display.

Visual Merchandising has been around since the dawn of civilization, since humans started selling merchandise to a customer. When a vendor arranged his goods to be more attractive for a customer, or when a farmer put the biggest and ripest apples on top of the basket for consumers to see and touch, that is visual merchandising.

Today, Visual Merchandising has become more sophisticated and more encompassing than arranging merchandise for easy access to customers. Visual Merchandising elements are put into practice from designing the floor plan of the store to the beautiful mannequins that grace the store floor.

With the specialty marketing of the 1990s, visual merchandising is a necessity to the retail industry. An integral part of any store or commercial space today, VM gives it a competitive edge over other establishments dealing in the same or similar products or services.

The need for VM

Visual merchandising is the art of decorating retail space and much more. Merchandise presentation refers to most basic ways of presenting merchandise in an orderly, understandable, ‘easy to shop’ and ‘find the product’ format. In this era of ‘open market’ competition VM is very important. As festival season arrives our city shopping malls are decorated colourfully to attract more and more customers. Store layout and visual merchandising influence consumer’s buying behaviour.

VM is about being familiar with the latest methods of merchandising and using the tools to give the window a look consistent with the brand message. It is, therefore, more about visual marketing and advertising. Visual merchandising helps all brands to directly explain its unique selling proposition (USP) to the consumers.

The new generation retail business owners are very keen on developing effective visual merchandising. Given that window displays need to change regularly and acquire the 'theme look' on festivals, there is no dearth of work. In metropolitan cities, big shopping malls redesign their windows every week. This is because the customers flock to the showrooms on weekends.

VM in India

Unlike the western countries, where VM receives highest priority in commercial planning of a product, the Indian industry’s understanding and practice of the concept of VM is inadequate. With phasing out of quantitative restrictions after the year 2004, the textile industry will have to compete purely on the competitive edge of the products and VM will be a helpful tool in projecting the uniqueness of the products and thereby increasing the market access and sales. It is high time that the Indian textile and clothing industry, therefore, understands and adopts the scientific and professional system of VM rather than the traditional practices of display of products and communication.

Presently the understanding of visual merchandising is very low in India. Retailers do not understand how much visual merchandising can actually help them. For many retailers, visual merchandising is just dressing a window, or just an unnecessary expenditure.

Customers of today are driven by desire and latest trends. Stores have become a lot more glamorous. In the current day and age, VM has become increasingly significant with more and more international design trends entering the Indian market.

Clusters of product are a definite no-no. On the display window, it is essential only to showcase a few and the rest to be displayed on the counter. VM in India is going to be the link between brand communication and the product.

Key pointers in clever visual merchandising:

  • Fixtures within a store need to be movable and dismantable
  • Ambience plays a very big role in ensuring value for money to customers.
  • Bright strong colours and illuminated back light are interesting concepts
  • Use of graphics which compliments your display and design
  • Freedom for customers to touch and feel the product.
  • Daylight being brought back into the stores via skylight.
  • Use of colours, sizes, style in a logical sense while arranging products.

VM as a career

VM could become the hottest profession in the next five years as all new shopping malls and boutiques are hiring professionals. Visual merchandising a comparatively new career field which has sprung up with the growing popularity of window and floor displays.

It is also fast coming up in the metros as a lucrative career choice for those who wish to be self-employed and prefer to work on either a retainer or contract. The new breed of visual merchandisers are much in demand in shopping plazas, fashion boutiques, emporia and at exhibitions. Even five-star hotels hire these professionals to decorate their lobbies and French windows during festival time.

There are two alternatives for a person aspiring to be a visual merchandiser. Work with an established visual merchandiser as an apprentice/assistant and learn while you earn or be daring and start small. Opportunities abound especially during festivals like Diwali and Dusshera, Christmas, Valentine’s Day etc. Visual merchandisers main area of work is to create impressive window displays. They are also engaged as shop floor managers. They can also do freelancing on contract basis for window displays in exhibitions, fairs and other places. 

There are many allied fields that can expand the scope for a visual merchandiser. Exhibition displays, birthdays, set design (theatrical sets included), theme parties, hotel lobbies, home and wedding decorations are some of these areas. Many up market, chic departmental shops, like Shopper's Stop, Ebony, Big Jo's, Akbarally's, Benzer's et al and several prominent business house maintain in-house teams. On the other hand, single shops can rely on experts on a 'per display' or contract basis.

Do you have the qualities to enter VM?

Window dressing is for those with a creative flair and an instinctive feel for interior decor. The window becomes the canvas: the space is small, but the professional reworks these spaces and infuses life into every nook and corner. Even small details become important. A professional, therefore, must have an eye for minute detail.

Designing and drawing skills, familiarity with woodwork, metal and other materials and the ability to think visually in terms of the store layout are some of the prerequisites. Most showrooms prefer to hire full-time shop/floor/window managers with strong marketing and advertising skills. Even good interior designers can't resist the temptation of doing a window job.

Institutes and courses

VM is an area where the Indian textile and clothing industry, particularly, the small scale enterprises lack adequate knowledge and expertise. This inadequacy is best reflected in poor presentation/display and communication in various national and international exhibitions. Therefore there are several training programme being conducted to fill this inadequacy.

Courses in visual merchandising and window display are offered at a few fashion schools, although elements of visual merchandising are incorporated in the curriculum of fashion merchandising, retail management, fashion design, graphic/visual/interior design and other management and fashion courses. At some institutes it is also offered as a specialized option or a diploma course.


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