5 Retail Merchandising Mistakes that are Killing your Sales

Everything that customers perceive when they walk into your store falls under the category of retail merchandising –– from the curb appeal of your window display to customers’ experience with your POS system at checkout.

By merchandising products in the right way, you can keep traffic moving throughout your store, maximize inventory visibility, and turn customers who are “just browsing” into repeat buyers.

To run a successful retail biz, you need to know how to avoid the merchandising no-nos that can cause you to lose out on in-store traffic and conversions. Let’s shine a light on a few of the most common – and most devastating – retail merchandising mistakes and take a look at what you can do instead.

1. Poorly lit merchandise

Bad lighting can make even the most exciting inventory look drab and lackluster. When you consider that 70 percent of retail purchases aren’t decided until the customer is in the store, it’s easy to see how poorly lit merchandise can have serious negative side effects on your sales numbers.

Check out the example below. The retailer doesn’t make a big effort to creatively use lighting to showcase their merchandise. As a result, the products look lifeless and fail to “pop.” Avoid this practice at all costs.

pasted image 0
Photo credit: Francesca Nicasio

Another tip is to create a focal point in your displays. Doing so can increase retail sales by 229 percent. The Balance cautions SMB retailers to remember that the focal point is the product you’re selling, not a visual element you use to add to the story. In other words, don’t create a display where the scenery is more compelling than the product itself. Instead, make your products the center of attention by lighting them with the care and consideration that you’d give a professional headshot.

Here’a great example of retail lighting done right. In addition to using pin lights pointing at the products to keep them well-lit, the retailer also uses multi-colored lightings to create a striking playful effect.

2. Distracting signage

In-store signage is essential, but it shouldn’t be so aggressive that it steals attention away from the product. While displays with signs do get 20 percent more traction than those without, signage overload can have the adverse effect – making your store look cluttered, your inventory look cheap, and creating a space where customers don’t feel comfortable interacting with your products.

You can see this effect in the photo below. You’re bombarded with signage from all directions, creating a distracting and tacky look for the retailer.

pasted image 0 (1)
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

To avoid this, in-store signage should be used to enhance a display, not to overwhelm customers.

A good best practice is to use signs that are concise, bold and all in the same heading font (it’s important to note here that your outdoor and window signs don’t need to be in the same font as your in-store signage, but bold and easy to notice is still the way to go.)

And here’s a pro tip: unless you have a flair for art and calligraphy, avoid hand-written signage, as they make you look unprofessional. A small investment in professional signage can go a long way towards presenting a cohesive, welcoming in-store environment.

Have a look at the following example from Target. When the retailer introduced the Love Beauty and Planet collection, they used large in-store signage to draw shoppers’ attention. The signage was boldly-designed — but not in a way that felt tacky or overwhelming — and it contained useful product information to educate customers about the brand.

pasted image 0 (2)
Photo credit: Francesca Nicasio

3. Crowded display shelves

How much space you give a given product in your store displays determines how valuable your customers perceive that product to be. Think about it: luxury products are often placed on a table, or in a case of their own; while bargain bin products are simply chocked together for customers to sort through on their own time.

Since space denotes value, nothing lessens your customers’ perception of the value of your products like overly-crowded displays.

Instead of packing all of your inventory together on one shelf, show customers that your products are worth the investment by giving each item the space, lighting, and set-up it needs to succeed. Put high-margin merchandise front, center, and spacious in your store, then group the rest of your inventory together by department, so customers are always able to find the right product in minimal time.

4. Dirty testers

Customers are more likely to buy a product once they’ve had a tactile experience with it, but that doesn’t mean you can set up a tester stand near your cash wrap and forget about it for days. The availability and appearance of testers can make or break a sale, and your testers need to be sanitary and dust-free to appeal to customers. This doesn’t just apply to lotions and cosmetics; all of your displays should be clean and accessible to entice customers to interact with your products.

Encourage customers to give products the Touch Test by providing the appropriate disposable applicators for each tester, as well as a wastebasket where the applicators can be thrown out once used. Be sure to train your employees to clean your tester area regularly and to persuade shoppers to interact with your merchandise.

5. Creating uninspired displays

Using the same old merchandising tactics can put your store on the fast lane to Boringsville and will present fewer and fewer reasons for shoppers to swing by your store. Retail expert Neil Saunders said it best in a series of tweets back in December 2018.

“The majority of mainstream stores are uninspiring places,” he wrote. “Even in good malls, they are dispiriting and dismal. Investment is severely lacking. They are devoid of inspiration. There’s no reason for people to visit.”

Image 13

Saunders makes an excellent point. In an age when people can shop while they’re in bed, on a couch or on their daily commute, you have to give customers compelling reasons to get up and go to your store.

Your retail merchandising efforts play a big role in this, so step up your game by creating displays that pop.

Need inspiration on how to do just that? Our post on Instagram-worthy retail displays is a great place to start.

Stop leaving money on the table with poorly executed merchandising

Retail Merchandising Mistake: The Bottom line

The goal of merchandising is ultimately to get your products into your customers’ hands, so display your products in a way that lets each unique item shine. Avoid common merchandising snafus by being sure to give the products the lighting and space they need to stand out, minimize unnecessary signage, and keep things clean and easy-to-access in your store.

More ways to improve your visual merchandising standards and boost sales:


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

About the author:

Francesca Nicasio is a freelance writer and content strategist who’s dedicated to writing about retail trends and tips that help merchants increase sales, improve customer service, and be better retailers overall. Her work has been featured in top retail industry publications including Retail TouchPointsStreet FightRetail Customer ExperienceVEND, and more. She’s also a featured thought leader on LinkedIn, and is followed by over 300,000 professionals on the site.

Leave a Reply