10 Merchandising Mistakes Retailers Make That Lose Sales

Customer needs must be a priority for store merchandising. While the right products and price points are important, it’s the customers that make the difference. Without a combination of new and returning customers, retail businesses fail. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately two-thirds of businesses with employees only survive about two years. To increase the survival rate for your business, it’s essential to avoid certain merchandising mistakes.

1. Hidden Products

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Physical stores struggle daily to compete with online retail options — one click, two clicks, and boom, the exact item wanted is now en route for delivery. When customers choose to come into a physical store, finding their desired item should never be a hassle or take too much time. If customers have to guess where items are located, conversion rates drop. Natural groupings, easy-to-read signage, and clear displays are three of the easiest ways to increase a product’s visibility.

2. Traffic Flow Issues

Aisles that feel crowded because of bulky displays or sale tables that make pass-through areas congested are prime causes of traffic flow issues. Can customers with special needs or caregivers with strollers easily navigate your store?

Customers need to move through the space with ample room to stop and look at display items. Streamline with sleek, modular display furniture and hardware customized to fit your space. UK-based baby-goods retailer Mothercare knows this and keeps their aisles wide and appealing (as seen below).

Photo credit: Mothercare

3. Poor Customer Service

Poor customer service directly affects sales — especially when employees are rude, sarcastic or disrespectful. This behavior can obviously drive away customers no matter how amazing displays or products happen to be.

Indifference to customers as well as not being knowledgeable about the store’s products and services will hurt your bottom line. In addition, failing to open the store on time, closing early and not providing adequate staff during peak periods are frequent mistakes made by retailers.

4. Inadequate Budget for Displays

A solid merchandising plan for your retail store is a must-have, but it needs to go beyond a planning system for re-orders, the acquisition of new items, and timing markdowns. A comprehensive budget for displays includes items such as signage, props, lighting, and fixtures that range from slatwall accessories to wall-mounted shelving systems.

Keep display components up to date and in good condition with replacements as needed. Your in-store displays have real power in creating conversions but if their components don’t measure up, sales fall flat. Target has come a long way bringing their store design to the next generation (as seen below).

Target Store Opening - Houston Richmond
Photo credit: Target

5. Confusing Displays

If the customer can’t understand what item, brand or service is featured, your display needs to be reworked. Displays can tell a story, be simplistic, artistic or group similar items together, but the purpose must be clear.

6. Stagnant Displays

Not changing store displays often enough is a common mistake. Promptly replace any date or season specific displays, whether for holidays or sales specials. Keep track of customer engagement with new and old displays. If one isn’t working, change it. Finally, regularly update signage and consider incorporating technology to encourage customer interaction with the display.

7. Signage Problems

Display signs and or any general store signage — especially maps — must be clear and easy to read. Avoid flowery fonts and a point size that’s too small. Always measure for signage — signs that are too large can overshadow a display and detract from the product.

Another common mistake is trying to recycle signs too often. Re-using signage can help a budget and be beneficial for the environment. However, when the signs are tattered and no longer appealing, it’s time to invest in new ones.

There is such a thing as signage overload (as seen below). In this case, this does bring attention to the store however, its hard to focus on any product and overall looks too busy.

Photo credit: Kotaku / terribly

8. Poor Housekeeping

Take a walk through the retail space and view it strictly from the customer perspective. How clean is it — really? It’s essential that general housekeeping such as vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning of windows and mirrors are done daily. Customers don’t want to grab a shelf item and come away with dusty fingers.

Other issues to look for are displays with broken/missing pieces, lights that need replacing, peeling stickers, faded signs or fraying carpets that can become a trip hazard.

9. Not Maximizing the Checkout Zone

Once customers enter the checkout zone, they’re likely to make their purchase, but are you maximizing that space? Leverage the checkout space by creating an atmosphere that’s calm and well-lit. Display new or popular items on the wall behind the checkout and be sure associates can answer questions about these items.

Don’t overwhelm the customer with too many add-on products displayed on the counter or in the checkout aisle. Customers expect impulse items to be in this area, but too many can create decision fatigue.

10. Underutilized Window Displays

Window displays have the power to draw in new customers and excite regulars into checking out the latest products. Dimly lit displays, cluttered windows or visual presentations that haven’t been changed in weeks won’t get the job done.

Rely on modular pieces such as suspended displays to fully utilize the space — drawing the eye from top to bottom — or variable height display stands to create more visual interest.

Simple changes can make a huge difference for a store. Nothing guarantees instant success, but avoiding these 10 common mistakes can really help. From improving customer service to powerful displays, it’s time to rethink your merchandising strategies.


Refer to the Merchandising category for checklists, how-tos and best practices for merchandising.

amit adler (002)

Author bio: Amit Adler is Vice President of Sales at UDIZINE, established in 1995 and distinguished internationally for the diversity of its display systems. Adler has a background in international sales and business development. 

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