8 Tips for Creating and Executing Winning Retail Displays

Whether you like it or not, appearances matter a lot in the world of retail and CPGs. The look and feel of your products, and the way they’re displayed, can directly affect the purchase decisions consumers make.

That’s why it’s incredibly important to invest in the creation and execution of your retail displays. You won’t get a lot of opportunities to engage shoppers in-store, so you want to ensure that your brand makes an impression. If your company is having issues with designing or implementing retail displays, this article may help.

Below are 8 expert-backed tips on creating and executing retail displays that pop.

Choose colors and shapes wisely

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The rules for designing displays aren’t set in stone; every program is different. But, there are some best practices. According to Maureen Gumbert, the Marketing and Creative Team Manager at KDM POP Solutions Group, “design must have stopping power — bold, bright colors, hues that are vivid and clear. Be selective in color choice so that you communicate the proper vibe and align with your brand style guide. For example, warm colors trigger impulse and cool colors trigger a healthy feeling.”

Another piece of advice? Incorporate curves, and opt for shapes that people don’t see every day.

“Use unique display shapes and sizes to stand out on shelf and in the aisles within your product category. Curves are proven to generate more sales lift, especially in the beauty category.” – Maureen Gumbert, Marketing and Creative Team Manager at  KDM POP Solutions Group.

Stay on top of maintenance

Don’t neglect basic upkeep. Even the best-designed displays will lose their appeal if they look dusty or worn out. As Lisa Dawsey Smith, Board President for Downtown Whitewater, Inc. says, “a well-maintained display will certainly represent both the brand as well as the retailer itself.”

Smith, who worked as a general manager and operations manager for both Walmart and a subsidiary of Bed Bath & Beyond, adds that displays should be checked regularly, throughout the day, so they never appear shopworn (e.g. when they look like a dumping ground for items customers have discarded).

If products are showcased in a busy retail environment, then invest in strong, long-lasting materials. “Durability is critical. The display must withstand the rigors of store traffic in order to look appealing,” says Gumbert.

Think about message hierarchy and positioning  

Messaging is critical, but positioning and hierarchy are just as important. Remember, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.

How can you get the messaging right on your displays? Gumbert recommends having “a clear message hierarchy.”

“Keep [it] simple with just a few solid points (5 to 7 words) that best describe the reason they need this product. Use bold, easy to read type,” she says.

Gumbert adds that since today’s consumers “are typically armed with more pre-purchase information before they hit the store aisles,” you don’t need to talk about every product feature in your display. Keep your message succinct, but “make sure the pricing is easily identified by the shopper or they may overlook your product.”

As for positioning, Gumbert says, “the typical shopper’s view while pushing the cart through the store is between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 feet. Try to place your message in that strike zone whether it’s a floor stand display or an aisle violator.”

Stop leaving money on the table with poorly executed merchandising

Stimulate people’s senses

The best displays have so much more to offer than what meets the eye. Don’t rely on visuals alone to communicate your message. Find a way to appeal to the other senses of your customers.

Retail expert Jaymison Haeussler says Costco did an excellent job at this when the retailer promoted its Kirkland brand. “Costco hired a third party to give out samples of their Kirkland brand,” he said. This move allowed consumers to touch, feel, and taste their product, which in turn helped Costco “bring their own brand into the product mix forefront.”

Another great example comes from Harry’s — a razor brand that competes with the likes of Gillette. According to Haeussler, one of the best displays that he had seen in his retail career came from Harry’s.

“[It did so well] because it’s a whole end cap with a cardboard cutout of a cartoonish man shaving in the mirror. And the mirror is about head height with the average male,” he shared. “I can’t tell you how many people stop to look at that end cap and stare into that mirror or stop me to ask if I’ve heard of that product.” – Jaymison Haeussler, Retail Expert

Gumbert echoes this advice and says that brands must show people, not just tell people, about their products. This can be accomplished by creating experiential displays that delight people’s senses.

Simulate what it would be like to use or consume the product, illustrate the results or benefits, and make it aspirational,” she says. That said, if you do plan to implement experiential displays, see to it that they’re intuitive, adds Gumbert.

“Interactive, experiential displays must be intuitive. If sound, scent or motion technology is used to get shopper’s attention they must know exactly what they are supposed to do. Do this with direct messages like ‘Smell this’, ‘Press Button to Play’ and/or include arrows that point to the action desired.”

Consider digital signage

If it makes sense for the product and audience, consider digital signage. It could be just the thing to help you stand out.

“Shoppers’ attention spans last only a few seconds, so retailers have a split second to capture their interest and engage them.” – Kris Konrath, Director of Marketing at Convergent

“Digital signage can be effective – but the key is in the content. It needs to have a clean, straightforward message and design. Verbosity and visual clutter can cripple the effectiveness of content. Display aesthetic is important too. Often, we see static signage and lightboxes integrated into the environment and finished with detail and care, next to digital signs that were simply hung on the wall, with no apparent strategy or purpose.”

Implement displays that can evoke emotion

“Some of the best displays are ones that evoke an emotional response, especially when it comes to CPGs, because a lot of the brands don’t have a real big effect on a person,” Haeussler says. “How many people do you know get excited over buying a tub of dish soap or a bag of potato chips? I’m guessing not too many. But what gets people to impulse buy or to notice a display is when it evokes an emotional response.

Coke and Pepsi distributors are good at this around the time of the Super Bowl. As you can see below, Pepsi uses a creative display of soda cases to catch the eye of customers shopping for a Super Bowl party.

Think of all those neat displays in the stores that are in the shape of a field or in the shape of a goal post. That’s the kind of thing that get people excited for the game!”

Make sure you have the appropriate amount of stock on display

“There is a fine line between not having enough merchandise and having too much that it becomes a liability,” says Smith. CPGs and retailers must determine the appropriate number of products to be displayed, and make sure they don’t go overboard.

“Be easy on the eyes. Give shoppers a link between the visual and the message in an uncluttered design that includes white space.”- Maureen Gumbert, Marketing and Creative Team Manager at  KDM POP Solutions Group

And always make sure that someone restocks the shelves whenever necessary. You don’t want your displays to look empty.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Ensure proper execution

Designing a winning display is one thing, but ensuring that it makes it to the sales floor and that it’s implemented correctly is an altogether different ballgame.

“The power of POP has been proven time and again to drive sales lift as high as 200%,” says Gumbert. “Brand Marketers and Point of Purchase Suppliers develop a campaign, produce the POP materials, and then ship them. There is an expectation that a program will, in its totality, make it to the retail floor. Yet, according to the POPAI/ARE Compliance Initiative Report, only four out of 10 planned display executions are compliant.”

“Materials either never reach their intended location, are often obsolete by the time they are received, are not placed in their proper location, or are simply never installed and end up in the trash.”- Maureen Gumbert, Marketing and Creative Team Manager at  KDM POP Solutions Group

So, how can CPGs ensure that their programs are implemented correctly? Gumbert shares the following 6 considerations:

  1. Understand the basics of a retailer’s “requirements,” including chain’s style guides, visual merchandising standards, rules for type usage, changing store formats, and display authorization procedures.
  2. Design appropriate display footprints for the promotion scope and allotted store space to ensure the best possible display compliance.
  3. Promote ease of set-up. Ideally, a display that arrives ready to go, already assembled with merchandise, will have a higher execution compliance. If assembly is required, be sure it won’t be too complicated, cumbersome, or time- consuming. Include detailed planograms to aid in assembly and proper display.
  4. Ensure on-time delivery. Failure to get all campaign elements in-store and displayed on time can cost a retailer and a brand thousands of lost dollars in potential sales.
  5. Use store profiling data that manages your POP program by automating the process of what goes where and when. Assign rules that only allow item x-y- z to go to Store A, and x-y- a-b- c to Store B. Eliminate tedious spreadsheets that leave room for error.
  6. Keep the displays well stocked. Make sure displays are restocked by either the store personnel or a third-party vendor.

And once your displays hit the retail floor, make it a point to audit your programs to ensure compliance. Schedule a merchandising audit in advance, and, if possible, use an electronic (preferably cloud-based) auditing system to carry out the task.

Most cloud-based audit programs are equipped with features that can make your team’s job a lot easier. Such features may include geolocation, calendars, and analytics, among other things. What’s more, solutions that run in the cloud can sync across multiple devices, so data can be shared easily.

After you’ve completed the audit and analyzed the data, follow-up with the retailers.

“[CPG reps] come into the store to check how their product is performing, but they aren’t doing everything they can to make sure it is top notch.” –Jaymison Haeussler, Retail Expert

According to Haeussler, “If the store is behind on putting their end cap together, they usually just ask for us to get it done and that’s about it. There’s no follow-up to the follow-up.”

Don’t make the same mistake. Check in with your retail partners after you’ve completed your audit. Communicate with them. Share your findings. In doing so, you’ll do more than improve compliance; you’ll setup your next program up for success.


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


Refer to the Consumer Packaged Goods category for checklists, how-tos and best practices for the consumer packaged goods industry.

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 TouchPoints, Street Fight, Retail Customer Experience, VEND, and more. She’s also a featured thought leader on LinkedIn, and is followed by over 300,000 professionals on the site.

What other consumer trends are making an impact in the CPG space? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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8 thoughts on “8 Tips for Creating and Executing Winning Retail Displays

  1. This is an excellent article, however it does not mention that removing stock that is not selling makes all the other work much easier.

  2. I like that idea of creating displays that create emotion. It’s always wonderful when a consumer can connect through that. I’ve heard that’s an effective way to market a product.

  3. I like how you suggested implementing displays that evoke emotion. I am designing a display for a trade show. Thank you for the tips on how to creating a winning display.

  4. I like your point about understanding the retailer’s style guides and visual merchandising standards. I can see why keeping a consistent theme for displays would be important for branding. This seems like a great way for customers to feel comfortable and familiar with the store.

  5. Thank you for the tip about using a unique display type to make items stand out. My sister has been thinking about getting a professional to help her with her store that she is trying to put together so that people buy more of her unique products. I will be sure to send this to her so she can know more tips for having good displays.

  6. It’s helpful to know that items sell better when the display isn’t overloaded or looking bare. My wife and I are thinking of starting a corner store near our home. Setting up displays in an eye-catching way would help us be more successful.

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