June 5, 2009
An enticing window display can turn a browser into a buyer
You do not have to be a marketing guru to understand the art and argument behind visual merchandising.
It helps, however, if you speak a little French. 'The French term for window-shopping is leche-vitrines,' says Marilisa Busatta, a French native who has worked here as an independent visual merchandiser since 2007.
'Translated into English, that literally means to lick the window,' says the 36-year-old, whose clients include kidswear boutiques and high-end lifestyle stores.
'So the window displays and the way the products are laid out have to look appetising enough to entice shoppers to go in and spend.'
That, in a tasty nutshell, is what visual merchandising means - eye candy that nudges browsing into buying.
It has been a crucial part of the retail business since department stores took off in the 19th century and their large street-front windows transformed staid avenues into attractive billboards.
Coming up with delicious shop windows and product displays can cost anywhere from $1,500 a month for an indie store to $5,000 a month for a large chain to $15,000 a month for a top-tier luxury boutique. Done well, this is money well spent.
Luke Lim, chief executive of branding and retail consultancy A.S. Louken, says effective visual display pushes sales up by showcasing the latest products or promotions and reinforces the brand identity. 'A fast-fashion brand, for example, should never allow its visual merchandising to become stale,' he says.
'It is definitely one of the easiest ways to push sales and reduce costs further down the line, removing the need for markdowns on items that don't move,' he adds.
Says Lin Pei Hua, assistant vice-president of marketing & communications for Tangs: 'A picture paints a thousand words and good window displays inspire shoppers to make purchasing decisions.'
For global luxury brands, uniformity in visual merchandising reflects consistently high standards.
Linda Krueger, vice-president of store design for DFS Galleria, an international retailer of luxury brands catering to travellers, puts it this way.
'It's important that our customers can count on experiencing the same luxurious environment whether they are visiting our stores in Singapore, Okinawa or Guam.'
For low-budget operations, visual merchandising is often the most cost-effective way to promote sales and brand identity.
Since Verena Raveton de Castelmur, 43, launched French luxury food and lifestyle brand Hediard at a Tudor Court unit in Tanglin Road four years ago, she has not spent a cent on advertising or glitzy public relations events.
However, she spends $1,500 each month on visual merchandising, including devoting a prominent area for the latest products in the centre of the store. The three shop windows are also updated monthly and often reflect topical themes like Formula One season and Chinese New Year.
'Every month, when people come back, we want them to feel a sense of animation; that something has changed. The customer is already in front of the shop. We have to find a way to make him come in. It's like a fisherman trying to hook a catch.'
Over at one-year-old lifestyle store Strangelets in Amoy Street, owners Yeo Wenxian, 31, Ong Ker Shing, 33, Joshua Comaroff, 35, and Schirin Taraz Breinholt, 35, have experienced first-hand how much of a difference a good store display makes.
When the store first opened, says Ong, there was very little walk-in business. 'People told us they thought this was an art gallery and they didn't dare to come in.'
Through trial and error, they got better at making their products seem enticing. Out went the art installation-like displays and in came conventional trinkets like jewellery or, as Ong says, 'pretty things that are obviously for sale'.
They also started displaying more items so that the store looked less like a museum. 'It took about four months to get it right. Since then, we have seen at least a 50 per cent bump in both the number of walk-in customers and sales,' says Ong.
Not that they are forsaking their favoured whimsical style. A stylish shelving system that takes the form of a life-sized polar bear ($4,130, inset, one of 50 pieces made by French brand iBride) currently takes pride of place in the store. Last Christmas, they put white ceramic wares at his feet so that it seemed to be wading in snow.
That sense of imagination is what more retailers here need to be reaching for, says Lim.
'Visual merchandising has become a necessity. Competition is keen and everyone is fighting for eyeballs.'
THE ART OF SHOWING OFF
We round up five iconic shop windows from around the world that elevate visual merchandising into a fine art
Led by flamboyant celebrity visual merchandiser Simon Doonan, the shop windows of this Madison Avenue institution in Manhattan has boasted themes like Divas & Deities and Vamps, Camps & Scamps. Doonan has designed elaborate set pieces such as using miles of ribbon to form the face of Queen Elizabeth II, as well as depicting the life story of artist Andy Warhol.
The windows of this posh department store are changed every three weeks and are widely acknowledged as a commentary on the news and tabloid trends of the day.
To mark the launch of its collaboration with Kate Moss in 2007, the trendy British high-street retailer got the supermodel to do what she does best in its Oxford Street flagship store's shop window: Strike a pose. Wearing a gown from her own collection, Moss pouted in the shop window for all of 10 seconds along with other slightly more plastic mannequins and guaranteed her clothing line a mountain of media coverage.
Founded in 1875, this department store in Great Marlborough Street in central London is housed in a Tudor-style building and is beloved for its whimsical shop windows. They have featured scenes like thousands of tiny toy figurines piled up together and Tim Burton-esque White Christmas tableaus.
This department store in mid-town Manhattan has been around since 1902 and its Christmas shop windows are a long-standing tourist attraction. Paying homage to the classic 1947 film Miracle On 34th Street, about whether a department store Santa Claus who works in Macy's might be the real thing, the store recreates scenes from the movie in its shop windows starting from November. This is accompanied by a second set of Christmas-themed windows that have included everything from animated storybooks to faux ice-skaters circling a miniature Rockefeller Center rink.
In February, the Italian luxury brand invited four top fashion editors - W Magazine's Alex White, Love's Katie Grand, Olivier Rizzo of V magazine and French Vogue's Carine Roitfeld - to design windows and product displays for its flagship stores in New York, London, Milan and Paris during these cities' fashion weeks.
White put mannequins with black mouse ears in the New York store, Grand used her own vintage Prada pieces to dress the mannequins in London, Rizzo went with a stark monochromatic theme in Milan and Roitfeld put real snakes in small plexi-cages in Paris' shop windows.
4.5 million Estimated number of square feet of retail space in Orchard Road
5.8 million Number of square feet of retail space expected to be added to Singapore between this year and 2013
3 Number of new malls opening in Orchard Road between July and December
1.1 million Number of square feet of retail space at the three new malls
2 Length of Orchard Road in km
800 Estimated number of F&B outlets in Orchard Road
7.2 Number of square feet of retail space per capita as of last year
15 Number of square feet of retail space per capita in South Korea as of last year
14 Number of square feet of retail space per capita in Hong Kong as of last year
21% Amount of Singapore's total private retail space concentrated in Orchard Road
39% Amount of Singapore's private retail space in other city areas
40% Amount of Singapore's private retail space in suburban areas