Profitable Times Newsletter

The Difference Between Merchandising and Display

Typically merchandising a store includes building displays, but for the purposes of this article merchandising is defined as the placement/presentation of products in the store from which customers make most of their selections. The vast majority of store space and fixtures are dedicated to merchandising. Displays are defined as vignettes that incorporate multiple products with a common theme that capture the visitor's attention, tell a story, visually suggest add-on purchases and encourages the visitor to linger.

I believe it is retail arrogance to expect a visitor to come into the store and slowly walk through the space looking at all the merchandised products. This expectation is especially high for museum visitors, other than those who are inveterate shoppers, who have already been on their feet for a while going through the museum or may have a tour bus waiting in the parking lot.

While there is no universal answer and reliable empirical data isn't available, primarily for the reasons above, stores that are merchandised by product category seem to best meet the visitor's needs. Most customers, not just those who are short on time and have sore feet, prefer to be able to see all the products that are available in a category in which they have interest at the same time. If they are a book person they respond well to a book section, those who typically buy t-shirts prefer to compare all the images at the same time, and from an operations, staffing, security and customer experience standpoint, jewelry displayed in one area is also a strong preference.

Effectively cross-merchandising a store takes a special skill, can be compelling and adds to the adventure of finding something unexpected as one moves through the space. It is easy, however, to result in a visually jumbled mess and is probably not best suited for the museum visitor.

If visitors are only going to spend a limited amount of time in the store it's effective to build displays that in a sense say, "If you're only going to give us fifteen minutes we want to make sure you see these products". Some themes that can be used in displays include those built around:

  • Permanent or temporary exhibits that are currently the main attraction of the museum.
  • Seasonal and special events that are drawing unusually high visitation.
  • Add-on suggestions that increase the average transaction by hinting at related products.
  • What's new! There is a large group of customers who like to be first to buy new products, this display appeals to them. It's also a way to help store staff become aware of at least some of the new products in the store.
  • Best-selling! There is another large group of customers who take comfort in knowing that they are buying something that is popular.

I love to cook and an example of a very effective merchandising and display combination was one I helped to build in a friend's cooking store. The elements included:

  • A large format cookbook of relatively easy recipes, splayed open in an acrylic holder at the highest point of the display so that a picture of the prepared meal was on one page and the ingredients and instructions on the opposite page.
  • All the utensils and ingredients used in the recipe, which were sold in the store, were then displayed/merchandised around the cookbook.

You could just see customers look at the appetizing picture, think that the recipe didn't look too difficult, realize that they didn't have some of the ingredients and utensils and then buy the missing items.

Perhaps the most important display in a museum store is the one on the fixture closest to the entrance to the store, which will help to draw visitors across the threshold and start the process of turning visitors into customers. This display should be crisp and uncluttered, easily understood from a bit of a distance and feature products that are focused on what's contemporaneously popular with the visitor.

Some believe every inch of a store should be merchandised, I would argue the focusing, suggestive selling and visual respite value of a reasonable number of displays is an effective use of space.

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