Visual merchandisers are in charge of creating attractive visual displays in retail outlets. These guys make shops look the way they do, using their creativity to enhance the aesthetic appeal of window displays, walkways, counters and in-store displays.
The main objective of visual merchandising is to increase sales and buyer attention, capitalising on the human tendency to ‘window-shop’. Displays are frequently changed to promote new product launches and reflect festive or seasonal themes, such as Christmas, spring or summer.
Most visual merchandisers are employed by retail chains and large department stores, such as Marks & Spencer, Topshop and Harrods. Some are employed by agencies that provide contract services to various clients who do not have an in-house team. Other employers include promotions and event management companies.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be creating sketches of visual displays based on the requirements set by your client’s store management department. Once these preliminary designs have been approved, you’ll be finalising the design and creating detailed floor plans. Following this design process, you’ll be sourcing the necessary props, materials and accessories required to bring the designs to life.
Sometimes you may be responsible for actively setting up the displays, but other times you will simply be responsible for supervising the staff tasked with turning your creative designs into a reality. Furthermore, you’ll be working to ensure the uniformity of displays across multiple store locations.
Throughout all these processes, you will frequently be liaising with other retail professionals, such as buyers, marketing executives and retail merchandisers, to make sure each and every store has the right visual impact.
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Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for entry-level visual merchandisers range between £16,000 and £20,000.
Senior professionals with plenty of experience and managerial responsibilities can earn anywhere between £25,000 and £65,000 per annum.
Senior-level managers employed by large, national and international retailers tend to earn salaries at the higher end of this scale.
Although design, conceptualisation and planning work is completed during regular working hours, the actual installation of displays is carried out after stores have closed to the public. Consequently, late evening work is common.
Visual merchandisers responsible for more than one store may need to travel across their assigned areas to plan and install the latest displays or supervise contractors hired for this purpose.
The typical entry requirement for a career in visual merchandising is a degree or diploma in a subject such as graphic design, fine art, spatial design, interior design, business studies or retail management.
Furthermore, it’s essential that you gain a decent amount of work experience through internships and develop a comprehensive portfolio of relevant design work.
Training & progression
Structured graduate training programmes are common in the retail sector, usually covering functions such as buying, merchandising, store management and sales and marketing.
There may not be a specific programme directed towards visual merchandising, but you can move into this area once the general training programme is complete and you have the necessary skills and qualifications for the job.
Alternatively, you could begin your career as an assistant visual merchandiser. Here, you would work under the supervision of a senior professional, learn the trade and develop a comprehensive portfolio of experience before branching out on your own.
Opportunities for future career progression generally involve getting promoted into a senior management role or moving laterally into a different area of retail, such as buying or retail merchandising.
Alternatively, you could become a freelance visual merchandiser and offer high-quality and innovative services to a range of different clients.