8 Visual Merchandising Challenges and How to Overcome Them [PHOTOS]

This is a guest post by Jeff Hastings of Rose Displays, a division of Visual Creations, Inc.

Merchandising has always played an integral role in retail, but it becomes even more important in today’s increasingly competitive landscape. Customers have more and more choices and they have high expectations when it comes to the in-store retail experience.

But merchandising comes with its own set of challenges, and balancing space, time and budget with the pressure to step up your game is no easy feat. Every brand will have their own unique challenges, but many of them share similar hurdles.

Below, we look at 8 visual merchandising challenges and offer ways to overcome them, leading you to an effective merchandising strategy that will attract and delight customers both new and returning from season to season.

1. Limited Display Space 

Retailers need visual elements that help them make smart use of their available space, from floor to ceiling. This includes using displays that take up minimal floorspace so customers have plenty of room to walk around and see products from multiple angles. 

When putting together display options that bring the focus to new or featured products, it is important to consider the depth of the shelving being used, as well as which products belong on shelves versus on floor displays. Do you display a dozen of each product, or just two to three units? The number of products you display at a time will affect the depth and size of your shelving units and displays.

You’ll also want to think about your clientele when deciding how to use limited space. For example, a toy store could take advantage of ceiling space by hanging toys like kites, deploying them as a visual element while displaying them in a way that doesn’t take up floor space. 

The toy store example also presents an opportunity to use low shelving, since many shoppers will come in with children, and products on low shelving will be seen by their young visitors first. 

Space is money, so don’t settle for out-of-the-box display units that are bulky or not designed for your space. Take advantage of unique nooks and crannies in your space and consdier a custom-built retail display to fit any alcove, so you can make the most of your sales floor.

2. Limited flexibility 

New products come in all the time, so your display themes and sales floor layouts should always be changing. This means a retailer’s visual elements must be flexible and customizable while also being easy to move, adjust and care for. 

Layouts and displays that worked for the fall season are likely not ideal for the busier holiday season when foot traffic increases and shoppers are coming into your store with their arms full of shopping bags. 

Retail merchandisers need to be able to adjust store layouts and product spotlights to keep up with trends and demand, in ways that are engaging, flexible and affordable. Part of staying nimble involves observing customer behavior and product sales so you can adjust store and shelf layouts accordingly. 

3. Limited budget 

While some of your merchandising solutions may be needed for specific displays or campaigns, many others will be flexible enough to repurpose for a variety of uses over a long period of time. That’s why such displays need to be well-built, reliable and easy to update.

An out-of-the-box retail display shouldn’t break the bank to purchase, but if it falls apart while your team is trying to move it when rearranging the store layout for the holiday shopping season, it’s not worth the initial price.

Working with a retail merchandising partner to build custom displays that will be on-brand for years to come is well worth the investment, and not always as expensive as many retailers assume they will be.

Your display partner should be a thought-leader in the industry with the ability to not only accommodate your budgets, but also to provide on-trend options for your specific challenges and needs, whether you need one or one hundred units

Having a strong, solid sense of your brand, what you stand for, and the lifestyle your brand is representing is a great place to start if you decide to work with a custom retail display partner.

4. Getting your window displays right

 Enticing people with your window display is about finding a balance between grabbing attention without being overwhelming. Your window display is one of the biggest and most important pieces of visual merchandising. Be sure you’re using your window, no matter how large or small, to its full potential. Consider floor to ceiling, front-to-back, or easy-to-change display options.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the heights and the depth you have to work with. One-dimensional displays can go unnoticed, but be sure to choose a focal point to avoid the display looking too busy, messy or unapproachable.

Also, be sure to take balance into consideration (while a full window is great for product advertisement, you don’t want to block out all sunlight or overwhelm viewers, either)

5. Sales Staff Ease-of-Use 

Your sales team are your front line and no matter who decides what the visual merchandising plan is, they will be the ones installing and executing it. Your visual displays need to be easy to install and work with to ensure that your vision for your brand is reasonably executable by your team. 

Putting displays on wheels is one way to make your team’s job a little easier as well as prevent damage to your displays when re-arranging the sales floor.

 There are many easy-load options for sign holders and backlit displays as well. The right retail display partner will be able to guide you to the right products for your needs.

6. Creating a positive in-store shopping experience to turn new customers into repeat customers 

Building the best retail shopping experience for your in-store shoppers is just as important, if not more important, than the way in which you display your product. Your visual merchandising strategy should include innovative ways to keep your customers interested in coming back to browse your physical store.

Incorporating digital devices into your store is one way to keep your customers coming back, as is gamification, rewards programs, “instagrammable” retail design installations, and more! Creating areas in your store to lounge, using signage to help people find what they are looking for quickly if they want to make their visit short is also a great way to delight and entertain your customers.

7. Not understanding your customer and product price points 

Take the time to figure out what kinds of products your repeat customers are coming in for.

If repeat customers come into your shop for your selection of greeting cards, consider a custom, easy-to-access display that provides plenty of room for more than one customer to browse at a time. This will encourage people to purchase instead of wait awkwardly or walk away if there is no room in that area to peruse the product and will allow shoppers to come and go quickly if they are coming in for a specific intention (buying a card).

Depending on your customer demographic and product price points, the amount of product you display should change. Typically the higher the price point, the more your customers will understand space left between products and on the shelves and will expect that each product has its own space to be viewed. Most high-price-point retail stores do not over-stuff their sales floor.

Figure out if your customer prefers fewer quality items that are easy to browse without touching, or if your customer base prefers physically sifting through racks or visually browsing through eclectic shelves filled with many different products grouped together by theme, color, etc.

8. Educating your customers to encourage purchases  

Oftentimes we have products that have great features, ingredients, and benefits, but they’re all listed on the back of the packaging.

Using point-of-purchase displays, such as shelf talkers, is a great way to not only grab the attention of shoppers, but to educate them on the ‘fine-print’ that explains why your product is so great, all without the customer having to notice the product on their own or pick it up to learn what is special about it. 

If you have best sellers and customer favorites, advertise that with shelf talkers that stick out from your shelving, signage that hangs from the ceiling and can direct customers from any part of the store to the shelf with you most loved products on it.

If it’s on-brand for you, create a simple DIY sign by using a photo frame with a “Customer favorite” sign inside of it next to your best sellers to reflect the cornerstone products that reflect what your brand is popular for offering.

You will always have merchandising challenges to face, many of them the same challenges your competition face as well. But having great, flexible tools like the right custom retail signage and displays will help you solve these problems a little easier.

Having the right displays that are on-brand and easy to use can also help you stay creative when updating your store, increase sustainability by reducing the need to replace outdated or broken displays over time and help you build your brand and your loyal customer base.

Author Bio
Jeff is the Chief Marketing Officer for Visual Creations, Inc. A retail merchandising and marketing veteran, Jeff has over a decade of retail design experience, knowledge and insight from serving as the Senior Director of Retail Design, Director of Visual Merchandising and Senior Marketing Director for multiple retail and graphic companies across the United States. 

Visual Creations/Rose Displays is a full-service provider of cost-effective, custom fixtures, furniture, millwork and signware™ solutions. With decades of design and manufacturing experience, VCI/Rose partners with leading U.S. retailers and brands to create memorable in-store experiences.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.