In-store sales accounted for 80% of all sales during the 2018 holiday season. That’s huge!
And every retailer knows it. That’s why we see hints of Christmas and other winter holiday promotions creeping into stores as soon as the first leaves turn brown.
So how do you differentiate your brand and your products to customers who visit your store? How can you captivate them and create an in-store experience so compelling that they just have to buy it then and there?
But visual merchandising in Q4, retail’s Golden Quarter, isn’t the same as it is the rest of the year. You need to consider the context in which consumers are visiting your store, their immediate needs, and how to appeal to those needs.
Here’s how you can use visual merchandising to boost holiday sales:
How Shopper Behavior Differs in Q4
Q4 marks the busy holiday season. These shoppers are different. They have different priorities because they are not shopping solely for themselves, and they need to get the *right* gift for every special person on their list. Additionally, those “right” gift needs fluctuate throughout the quarter itself.
“During the Golden Quarter, customers spend in waves,” says Chris Guillot of Merchant Method. “For most, shopping occasions can vary by week — hostess gifts in late November, presents for teachers in early December, items that need to be shipped by mid-December, and more.”
Remember, most of 2018’s holiday sales happened in-store. That means lots of foot traffic, and lots of chances to engage shoppers through visual displays.
“The Golden Quarter is typically the heaviest quarter for foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores,” says William Alzamora, Director of Operations for DanaTyler “The holiday shopping season gives stores the opportunity to highlight new and exciting items. Our average transactions are typically much higher and in-store footsteps increase dramatically.”
But your competitors are aware and making changes to their stores to captivate holiday shoppers too. “It’s important to stand out so your visual merchandising doesn’t look like every other store,” says Alzamora. “Customers have the opportunity to buy your products on a multitude of platforms. For most, it may be the first time they’ve ever seen or heard of your company. It’s always important to make a good first impression.”
So, how exactly can brands do that during the busy fourth quarter? Let’s take a look at some visual merchandising tips to help you make the most of Q4.
Visual merchandising tips for the Golden Quarter
Many retailers equate “the holidays” with only Christmas and New Year’s. But there are numerous other events and holidays to consider so you can capture additional sales. “Keep it inclusive to all shoppers,” says Alzamora. “Holiday shopping isn’t just Christmas shopping.”
A quick-hitting calendar:
- Yom Kippur 10/8–10/9
- Diwali 10/27
- Halloween 10/31
- Day of the Dead 10/31–11/1
- Veterans Day 11/11
- Thanksgiving 11/28
- Black Friday 11/29
- Cyber Monday 12/2
- Hanukkah 12/22–12/30
- Christmas Eve and Christmas 12/24–12/25
- Boxing Day 12/26
- Kwanzaa 12/26–1/1
- New Year’s Eve 12/31
Make a plan
The best successes typically start with a well-thought-out plan. Not only does this contribute to a smooth holiday season, but it also helps you see the bigger picture. For example, you can invest in visual merchandising displays that you can repurpose to use year-round.
This also helps your internal teams stay in sync, which is especially important during this busy time. Retailers and brands need to work together to create a cohesive in-store experience, avoid stockouts, and keep promotions synonymous.
Understand your space
It’s tough to self-edit and prioritize during the holidays, especially with so many shoppers on the floor. This can make space hard to come by.
“Many brick and mortar retailers struggle with limited floor space to showcase visual displays and their product selection,” says Amy Munoz, marketing analyst at Wondersign. “The furniture industry is a perfect example of this. Many retailers are now moving towards the help of in-store touch screen kiosks for visual merchandising with features like room ideas to help customers visualize what these items would look like in their own space.”
This is key during the Golden Quarter when stress is at an all-time high. “Consumers need to find what they’re looking for — fast.”
Therefore, ensure your space allows customers to move about freely so they can purchase your products to check off that list.
Look at the bigger picture
While visual merchandising drives sales, and that’s the ultimate goal, you need to consider how this affects the rest of your store. “Take the time to review how your visual merchandising plans impact your scheduling and payroll,” recommends Guillot.
It’s also important to get your merchandising, inventory, and marketing teams on the same page so each can anticipate accordingly.
Visual merchandising can fuel other channels and initiatives, like social media, email, and loyalty programs. Share your visual displays on other channels, and encourage shoppers to do the same with prompts, hashtags, and other visual cues and calls-to-action.
Turn your displays into the reason why customers come to your store in the first place. For example, Macy’s partnership with home goods retailer Grandin Road resulted in a Halloween pop-up shop that was Instagramable from every angle.
How do you do this? Stan Tan, digital marketing manager at Selby’s, recommends aligning calendars. “[Retailers] need to ensure all their creative is aligned — and make sure the signage arrives in stores before you publish a Facebook post, email your marketing campaign or website update,” he says.
Don’t sacrifice the customer experience
While you want to sell your wares, it’s still important to prioritize the customer experience. This is what earns your brand a reputation over time. While sales-forward approaches might work in the short term, a better long-term strategy is a customer-first one.
“As sellers, we take the lead role in the merchant-customer relationship,” says Guillot. “During the holiday season, this can be an asset or a turn-off, especially if the selling cues are too aggressive and out of sync with how your customers want to be marketed to.”
It can actually be a tool to enhance the customer experience. “Visual merchandising doesn’t only mean putting in décor to make the store look nice,” says Tan. “Visual merchandising can also mean using informational and directional signage to aid customers in their purchasing decision when they’re in your store.”
And those aren’t the only ways visual merchandising improves CX. It can aide product discovery or add convenience as being a “one-stop-shop” for gift-givers.
Refresh displays often
One thing you want to avoid is going stale. Guillot recommends accounting for refreshes to displays as you make your visual merchandising calendar for the Golden Quarter.
“As a retailer, frequent re-merchandising will help with your inventory productivity and, therefore, profitability,” she says. “You’ll find that you’re responding to slow-moving stock earlier in the season.”
“Plan for something that’s dynamic and can be refreshed frequently,” she says, meaning something that is exciting, ever-changing and continues to draw people in. “One of the most costly things you can do during this period is to take a static approach visual merchandising a la ‘set it and forget it.’” In other words, don’t let your displays go stale.
She says by refreshing your displays, you can present products in new ways. Customers might have overlooked these products otherwise, but seeing it on display in a creative way can inspire a purchase. Regularly refreshing displays also keeps staff on their toes and familiar with all of your products.
How frequently should you change it up? At least weekly, Guillot recommends. “Plan this on a Monday, after you’ve reviewed last week’s business,” she advises. “You’ll be glad you’ve dedicated time to focus on dynamic, profitable merchandising. If you don’t need to change anything that week, you’ve regained the time back into your day.”
To make an extra splash with your visual displays consider teaming up with another brand. This expands your reach and puts your brand in front of a new audience. Plus, brand partners can bring new ideas to the table for unique visual displays that you may not have thought of on your own.
The holiday-shopping mindset is different than your everyday customer. They’re on a mission, and time is working against them. Create product bundle ideas or merchandise around personas so your display is a gift guide of sorts.
“You can increase brand loyalty by serving your customers in a new way,” says Guillot. She also recommends changing up the displays according to what shoppers might need at that time of year.
Appeal to emotions
The holidays are an emotional period. Stress, sentimentality, and excitement are at all-time highs, and the retailers who know how to appeal to these heightened senses see the most success.
Tug at the heartstrings with a visual display that tells an emotional story — this is a time of year when people are feeling sentimental and family-oriented, play on these themes to connect with them.
Moving forward with your visual merchandising
Visual merchandising is important during the holiday season. You want to stand out but not get in the way of busy seasonal shoppers. In sum:
- Be inclusive: Remember, it’s not just about Christmas.
- Make a plan: The holidays are busy; a plan will make it go more smoothly.
- Understand your space: Make the best use of it.
- Look at the bigger picture: How do your visual displays fit into your overall Q4 strategy and campaigns?
- Go omnichannel: Think of social media in particular.
- Don’t sacrifice the customer experience: Displays should enhance the experience, not detract from it.
- Change it up: Keep it exciting and fresh.
- Collaborate: Take some of the pressure off yourself and invite brands to partner up with you on displays.
- Offer conveniences: Holiday shoppers have unique needs, cater to them.
- Appeal to emotions: Connect with consumers on an emotional level to instill trust and encourage more purchases.
Need more inspiration? See the blog list below! Q4 is an exciting time. Make the most of your visual merchandising to boost those in-store sales and ensure your brand has a happy holiday season.
OTHER MERCHANDISING RESOURCES
Refer to the Merchandising category for checklists, how-tos and best practices for merchandising.
About the author:
Alex is a copywriter who works with B2B companies in the retail, e-commerce, and travel sectors to create strategies and expert longform, website, and blog content. You can see her work on sites like Shopify, Vend, Stitch Labs, Money Under 30, and more. thealexsheehan.com.