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What is visual merchandising?

The field of visual merchandising has grown as a career area and this introduction will provide you with a good understanding of the field.

Visual merchandising is often called the “silent salesperson,” visual merchandising refers to the design, development, procurement, and installation of merchandise displays that enhance the ambiance of the environment in which the displays are shown.

Effective visual merchandising aims to create an image that reflects the company and, most important, sells the company’s product lines. Some visual merchandising efforts are institutional, such as Macy’s large boulevard windows that feature holiday extravaganzas of mechanical dolls and a twelve-foot tree made of glass lollipops. Others are product-driven, such as Tiffany’s shadow-box windows that highlight new jewelry pieces.

Visual merchandisers are the people responsible for window installations, in-store displays (see examples below), signage, fixtures, mannequins, and decorations that give a retail operation aesthetic appeal and a distinct image.

An in-store display at Lord & Taylor, New York showcasing mannequins dressed with their Fall line of fashion clothing.

Lord & Taylor, New York.
Bergdorf Goodman, New York.
Lord & Taylor, New York.

Visual merchandisers are stylists of sorts; they have the ability to look at the merchandise selected by the buyers and, through their creativity and expertise, create an image of the store that entices customers to enter the store or website and purchase merchandise. Think about an outfit displayed in a retail window or on a mannequin.

As a result of seeing the presentation of the garment and accessories, you may have decided to buy the items on display. This purchase can be attributed, at least in part, to the successful work of a visual merchandiser.

The field of visual merchandising has grown as a career area and as a spin-off of the tremendous growth of interiors businesses and e-retailing, as well as the value consumers place on image and branding. Promoting the image of a product line, store, or service through visual merchandising is an effective way for fashion firms to market their products to prospective customers.

The visual merchandiser is responsible for several key tasks:

  • designing an aesthetically appealing environment that reflects the company’s image
  • creating exciting visual displays to educate customers and to sell merchandise
  • presenting the merchandise in ways that will maximize sales, such as displaying the full range of colors of a new handbag and matching footwear.

Frequently, the visual merchandiser consults with the retail operation’s buyers to determine which merchandise should be featured. Because one of the main goals of visual merchandising is to increase revenue, merchandisers will ask the visual merchandiser to create displays for new, fashion-forward key items that have been purchased in-depth, (for example the image above featuring the display at Lord & Taylor in New York).

Alternatively, the buyer may ask the visual merchandiser to feature products that are not selling well to increase sales on the items so that the merchandiser will not have to mark them down, thereby decreasing the retailer’s profit. Some visual merchandisers have numerous job responsibilities in addition to designing and installing window displays.

They may set up new stores for openings, locate and purchase props and fixtures for installations, create in-store displays and department floor arrangements, and produce signage for display windows and the sales floor.

What is a prop-house? Next, we discuss this growing area of visual merchandising.

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Careers in Fashion: Styling, Curatorship, and the Ancillary Businesses

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