What is visual merchandising, display and store design?

Every shop, department store, supermarket and boutique is designed and set out in a certain way. Ever paid any attention to the luxurious looking window displays, the fact that the women’s clothes are on the ground floor and the men’s clothes are upstairs in Topshop/man, the ‘two for the price of one’ deals conveniently near the entrance, or the tempting packs of sweets near the checkout counter?

You probably don’t think about it when you’re storming into a shop, hungry for a bargain, but the fact is that everything in every shop is designed that way for a reason. More importantly, it’s somebody’s job to make those decisions and design everything accordingly.

Careers in visual merchandising, display and store design are all about enhancing the look, image and accessibility of a shop’s goods and services, with a view to improving sales. The clever people who work in this area are integral to making shopping enjoyable, allowing people to find things easily and making sure that people continue to make ‘impulse buys’.

These careers involve using a mixture of logic (driven by sales objectives) and creativity. The art of designing a store and its displays is functional, but still requires an expert creative command of space, colour, light, music, digital displays and interactive features.

Who employs visual merchandisers, display or store designers?

Careers in this area of retail can vary dramatically depending on who you work for. For instance, if you work for a large supermarket chain like Tesco, your responsibilities and creative vision will be very different to those of someone working for a high street fashion chain like Urban Outfitters.

In fact, many visual merchandisers and store designers work for agencies that provide services to a number of different clients in the retail sector. This allows people to get their teeth into loads of different challenging projects.

What does a visual merchandiser do?

Visual merchandisers’ responsibilities depend on the size of their team and what kind of organisation they work for. However, their roles tend to require a mixture of artistic, strategic and practical skills. For instance, they might be conducting research into lifestyle trends and regional habits, producing sketches of shop floor plans and physically dismantling displays in the same week.

Especially at entry level, you might be kept on the move a lot, going between your offices and shop floors, and liaising with buying, merchandising and distribution departments. It can be a really exciting job where you will be actively carrying out the work to set up new displays.

Visual merchandising managers will understandably take the strategic and managerial lead for visual merchandising projects, leading the creative process and using their expertise to maximise the space and functionality of stores. They will also utilise advanced visual persuasion techniques to help shops drive forward the sale of certain items.

What is window display design?

Some people even specialise purely in window display design. These designers are purely focused on what’s in the windows, and what’s enticing people to come inside the store and part with their hard earned cash. It’s their job to engage shoppers that are passing by and turn the window shoppers into actual shoppers.

It’s so much more than putting bras on mannequins. The talented people in these careers painstakingly plan and install displays which are creative, thought-provoking, imaginative and tempting to potential shoppers. Their jobs become even more exciting when different seasonal holidays come around, as they try to put a twist on stereotypical Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s Day window display themes.

Ultimately, their aim is to make their store stand out from the rest. These specialist careers equally require a great mix of practical skills strategy, innovation and genuine creativity.

So, if you think you’ve got the skills to subliminally convince people that they need a huge bag of Kettle Chips, reckon you could turn a small retail space into a thriving, money-making machine, or want to be part of the lucky, select few who get to build the Harrods Christmas displays, this might be the ideal career path for you to embark on.

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