How Visual Merchandising Serves as Marketing: Understanding the Impact Across Industries

How Visual Merchandising Serves as Marketing: Understanding the Impact Across Industries

How Visual Merchandising Serves as Marketing: Understanding the Impact Across Industries banner

A large part of the shopping and purchasing experience is visual for consumers. That makes visual merchandising an essential component of any marketing program in the digital age of e-commerce. As consumers browse the internet and online marketplaces, the visual impact of seeing goods from multiple angles and in multiple uses has become invaluable.

However, putting products in the best possible light via brick-and-mortar-based displays or printed catalogs, brochures, magazines, and newspaper ads has long been a vital aspect of marketing. These strategies were the predecessors of online visual marketing and are still used today.

In any marketing environment, consumers are more likely to rely on visual information in marketing during the later stages of the buying cycle, confirmed by results of a study reporting that 41% of consumers use visual elements to make their buying decisions.

Clearly, there is a need for visual merchandiser professionals, so it’s a path worth considering for college students pursuing a career in marketing and merchandising.

If you are thinking about this demanding but rewarding career path, there are some things you need to consider during your university studies.

Let’s explore this field of study to see if it’s the right career path to complement your interests, skills, and goals.

What Is Visual Merchandising?

Visual merchandising allows retailers to use retail space—whether virtual, brick-and-mortar, or both—to present products in their stores. This type of merchandising helps attract customers, using appealing elements to represent and promote specific products and their benefits and features.

The process of visual marketing and merchandising involves:

  • Conducting product and audience research to determine the best visual displays, such as a window display, mannequin, signage, or graphic.
  • Planning, designing, building, and displaying product displays within the store’s interior design layout.
  • Adding value to products using activities associated with communication and delivery.
  • Ensuring the display fits within the retail store layout and accentuates the product without overwhelming or disrupting the rest of the store’s effectiveness and customer experience.
  • Providing a display that allows products to sell themselves.
  • Motivating consumers to make a purchase and become loyal customers.

Its Purpose

According to All Business, visual merchandise highlighting is important for many reasons. It has been the marketing go-to for the past several years, focusing on charts, graphs, presentations, logos, infographics, GIFs, and videos to help brands develop, grow, and attract loyal customers. This practice has also been instrumental in improving business venues, thanks to an influx of new customers who stay with them based on the trust that powerful visual merchandising builds.

Here are three essential objectives for visual marketing, store design, and merchandising:

  1. Attract customers’ attention to the brand and product to create interest and lead them toward the buying process to generate profits.
  2. Increase sales by introducing and showcasing products in a way that is visually appealing and meaningful to customers, providing ideas on benefits and potential uses.
  3. Improving the shopping experience to ensure shopper retention and repeat business. This type of merchandising helps customers associate the visual displays with the brand itself, therefore cultivating an image, style, and integrity customers know and trust.

History of Visual Merchandising

As noted in the introduction, although visual merchandising did not begin with e-commerce websites like Amazon, eBay, and Shopify, it has become synonymous with online marketing.

You could probably go back hundreds of years to see that any time a merchant wants to sell something, they must include a visual element to the sales process. We’ll start with the first known example of visual marketing with Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1883, working at Marshall Fields.

Selfridge had an idea of placing products closer to customers, putting them within reach on designated counters and display tables instead of out in the store, blocked together with older products with less demand. He also brought the idea of window displays to life, attracting customers passing by and piquing their interest in visiting the store, whether they intended to or not.

Over the past few centuries, industry leaders have taken this concept and developed it using some basic marketing principles:

  • Incorporate display ideas and techniques into everyday shopping, making it practical for everyday shoppers who might pass by or stop in the shop.
  • Compare current displays and strategies to those of competitors to find ways to stand out and gain a competitive edge.
  • Pass brand and product messaging to customers to inform them of key products and keep them in the store.
  • Avoid leaving traces of the planning process, and keep everything organized, removing piles of boxes and other materials associated with constructing the display.

Different Types of Visual Merchandising

Since the inception of visual marketing and merchandising, merchants and their marketing teams have sought and tried various types of merchandising to attract, tempt, and entice customers to visit their shops, engage with store displays, and become customers.

Knowing that all customers are not alike nor lured by the same stimuli, marketers continually seek new ways to create displays that have an impact on customers at the psychological level, using lighting, color, messaging, storytelling, sound, scent, and technology. We’ll go into further detail about these elements later.

When it comes to brick-and-mortal retail, there are also four key elements of merchandising to consider:

  • The store layout, which includes the floor area where products are kept for sale, personnel space, and merchandising space.
  • The store exterior is an ideal space to attract customers, using window displays and marquees that lead customers to the entrance.
  • The store’s core interior, which typically features floors, lighting, fixtures, and wall coverings.
  • The store’s interior display is the way in which retailers display merchandise, including the location or locations, such as display tables or standing cutouts, etc.

The following are typical forms of visual merchandising:

Window Displays

Effective window displays can draw in customers who had no intention to visit a shop. Different window display elements include:

  • Mannequins
  • Dioramas and scenes
  • Murals
  • Photographs
  • Live demonstrations


Mannequins can be incredibly and uncannily lifelike, or they might provide a ‘skeletal’ framework of the human form and have no head. Regardless of the form, mannequins have been used to demonstrate fashion and styles for clothing shoppers since the late 16th century.


Signage and graphics might stand on their own, or they can be used in conjunction with a larger marketing strategy. Many retailers create everything from billboards and sandwich boards to website banners and digital bulletin boards to alert current and prospective customers about their products. Whether words only or combined with images, signage and graphics are an essential part of a healthy marketing strategy.

Vehicle Wrapping

Vehicle wrapping is an extension of signage and graphics, letting a vehicle become a moving post for signage and graphics. It turns a vehicle into a digitally mobile billboard, bringing the branding to the people any time the automobile is driven in public. Vehicle wrapping also helps businesses that lack a visible storefront or only have an online store.

Crucial Elements of Visual Merchandising

The strategies of visual marketing often have an underlying psychology component, leading marketing teams to try to get into the minds of their target ideal customers.

Let’s look at the most important elements of working as a visual merchandiser.


Color often influences emotion, communicating through different tones and different colors. Since colors have different meanings, it’s important to try to create positive color associations between displays and potential customers.


Illuminating a display is important for attracting customers, but the right lighting can ensure that customers see products the way they are meant to be used.


Storytelling gives retailers an opportunity to tie the product to the brand and to each prospective buyer. The right messaging, including high-impact words and phrases, can significantly impact consumer buying decisions.


If sound is an option and appropriate to the display, many retailers pipe in music or feature some recorded narration that helps tell the product’s story. Customers might feel a kinship with a brand that uses a certain music genre or song, or they may feel comforted by the narrator’s voice.


Marketers know that any time they can incorporate scent into a display, they should do so. Scent is nearly as powerful as the impact of color on moods and emotions.

Point of Focus

Essentially, the point of focus is where the display is and how it focuses on the product. This hotspot serves as the centerpiece of merchandising design, along with props, mannequins, and signage.


A location for merchandising could be the store’s front window, the awning out front, a specific table, an end cap, a website banner, or a vehicle or billboard.

Benefits of Visual Merchandising

Visual merchandising is a lot of hard work for marketing teams and the employees creating the displays. That means that it must offer many benefits to make the investment worth it for a business (an increase in retail sales for example).

If you plan to work in marketing, you will need to reassure your employer and help them understand the benefits and value of effective visual merchandising.

Increase Revenue

Information overload and constant distraction are par for the course in modern society, making it challenging to get and keep people’s attention. With powerful visual product displays, businesses can attract customers via storytelling. Strong and eye-catching visuals can increase messaging by 42%.

Build Brand Awareness

When your company’s visual displays align with your brand messaging, you’re on track to building brand awareness and attracting customers who share your core beliefs, especially about the products and their uses.

Expand Customer Base

Visual marketing and merchandising allow your business to expand the reach of your message and expand your customer base when you tap into their needs, desires, backgrounds, and how they think and feel.

Challenges of Visual Merchandising

As beneficial as visual marketing displays are, they come with some challenges, including:

  • Limited display space or flexibility due to store layouts can make it difficult to create the display as envisioned.
  • A limited budget might prevent merchandisers from bringing the vision to life per the design.
  • Finding the balance between catching people’s attention and overwhelming them.
  • Ensuring staff can manage the displays, especially if there is any need for human involvement.

Future of Visual Merchandising

Technology continually impacts the retail industry, and marketing and merchandising are not exceptions to this rule. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing because technology can support merchandising efforts. However, it’s important that merchandisers avoid letting technology overpower the messaging and artistry. It means that visual merchandisers like you will need to find ways to use technology while ensuring displays and messaging foster a personalized shopping experience.

As e-commerce visual merchandising becomes increasingly important, finding new ways to highlight products in the most realistic way possible is essential. For example, technology might allow for more 3D modeling to help products pop off the page.

Are You Ready to Start Your Path to Becoming a Visual Merchandiser?

Do you have the perfect combination of a mind for business and a creative streak? Those traits can serve you well as the foundation for this university study track and career path.

At JWU, you can pursue a certificate in visual merchandising, BS in Digital Marketing and Social Media, or MBA in Marketing to enter this exciting profession at your ideal comfort level.

For more information about completing your digital marketing degree or certificate in visual merchandising online, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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