Top Elements of Retail Visual Merchandising

Updated on :June 20, 2024
By :Namrata C.

Visual merchandising is at play every time we enter a retail store. 

The visual or the aesthetic appeal of a product or the entire store is one of the factors that we subconsciously consider while looking to decide between shop A and shop B, selling the same products. 

The best possible way to understand retail visual merchandising technique is when you visit a shopping mall. Have you noticed that some stores look more visually appealing than other stores even though, in reality, they are not more expensive? That is a typical example of a well done retail visual merchandising. Merchandising is a subset of retail management and marketing.

So, What is Retail Visual Merchandising?

Retail visual merchandising is one of the best types of subtle marketing tactics where every visual aspect of a retail store is created purposefully to catch the customers’ attention. 

A common misconception is that visual merchandising focuses only on how the products are displayed. However, that is not the case. Retail visual merchandising encompasses every facet of a retail store perceptible by the human eye, starting from the store layout, the store lighting, the colors of the walls, the floor design, positioning your inventory, and the placement and positioning of digital signage, and so on. Visual Merchandising is the trick of the trade in this era. What customers see, feel, turns out to be your profit!

Why is Visual Merchandising Important for Retail?

There is more than one reason why even the best retail brands put visual merchandising among their top five business strategies. 

Reportedly, the customer experience (cx)' will trump the 'price factor' and the 'product factor' as the prime differentiator of brands. That is why visual merchandising is so substantial, now more than ever. 

Visual merchandising employs a designer's creative skills to make a customer's entire shopping experience memorable. 

Visual merchandising lingers alongside a customer like an abstract, invisible guide. It tells them everything that the store has to offer for the customers. It promises them that this merchandise will benefit them. 

Simply put, visual merchandising helps to highlight your products, facilitates customers to make their buying decision quickly. This, in turn, helps the retail stores to increase their sales.

What Are the Top Elements of Retail Visual Merchandising?

When done skillfully, the elements of visual merchandising appear as one complete picture. And, that is exactly what brands want: not let the viewers be aware that everything they see is part of a bigger plan. 

Nonetheless, brands themselves need to be aware of the factors in play. In this post, we discuss the chief elements of visual merchandising.  Retail merchandising includes visual merchandising and in-store merchandising. It ranges from the selection of products, store design, and other techniques that can attract customers.


'Composition' is a term more frequently associated with painting and designing. It refers to the arrangement and positioning of individual entities within a given space. 

Painters and visual artists often play with composition to make objects look three-dimensional in a two-dimensional space, or vice-versa.

The concept of a composition may appear to be somewhat vague. However, the truth is that composition is everywhere. We experience composition whenever we look at anything. 

But, why is this element so significant for visual merchandising? 

In any design, composition helps to create a point of focus. It helps to systematically guide the viewers' eyes towards the desirable merchandise. This background science is what makes composition a designer's favorite element of retail visual merchandising.

Composition in retail visual merchandising entails aspects like store layout and landscaping.

Store Layout

Not even the best quality of products can compensate for an inefficient store layout. Because, when customers visit a store, they want to feel relaxed and comfortable. How would you feel if you entered a shop jam-packed with shelves, mannequins, digital displays, and wall fixtures?  Suffocated, isn't that right? 

Remember, nobody likes their personal space invaded, even by a well-dressed mannequin. That is why a crucial part of retail visual merchandising is the optimum usage of store space to display the maximum number of products while leaving enough breathable room for customers to see the far end. 

This is an example of a spacious store layout:

Spacious Store Layout

One of the thumb rules of designing a store layout is to leave an empty transition zone. If you notice carefully, you'll see that almost every store entrance gives in to a considerable empty area (without any fixture, signage, furniture, etc.). This is called the transition zone. It allows the customers to adapt to the store's environment. It also helps them to understand the entire store layout so that they can maneuver smoothly. 

The shape and size of the shelves and fixtures also affect how a store layout is perceived. For example, circular shelves are often found in clothing stores and bookstores because they offer a greater surface area that, in turn, allows more products to be displayed. Circular display racks also leave symmetrical space around them. It facilitates the smoother movement of traffic from all sides.


Every item on display may not be equally important to the customers at all times. Some products may be on sale; some may be new arrivals. Other times, certain products may be hot-selling in certain festive seasons. Naturally, stores will want to highlight such products. One way to do that is by creating an asymmetric display that guides the customers' eyes towards the more desirable merchandise. 

There are many other ways landscaping can be used as a tool of smart visual merchandising, such as:

  • Elevating a profitable product amongst adjacent products
  • Adding exclusive digital signage promoting the desirable product
  • Placing certain products with their complementary products (increases the chances of cross-selling).
  • Housing the most attractive or expensive products within an isolated space like a casket or a glass case. It makes the item more sensational and intriguing to the customers.


The element of color is vital for retail visual merchandising as it is directly associated with human emotion and mood. So much so that large brands like Coca-cola are known to consult with behavioral scientists for their product design and packaging. 

For example, red is typically associated with strong emotions like passion, anger, or danger. However, red is also attached to sweetness (red cherries, red strawberries). In an interview with the Smithsonian Magazine, Professor Charles Spence of the Oxford University recollects how a participant of his study found the salted popcorn served in a red bowl to taste sweet. 

Color Combinations

Specific colors complement each other as they are all associated with a visual cluster that we are used to seeing together. For example, blue, white, grey- we must have seen all the three colors in the sky at some point in time: blue sky, white clouds, grey clouds.

Let's see what makes the color combination in this picture a hit:

Colour Combination

The colors of the cups are all warm- shades of red, yellow/ochre, and beige. That's why they are kept adjacent to each other.

Color also helps to set the vibe of the store. A tee-shirt store that targets millennial shoppers will choose to offer cool and trendy or, at best, a funky shopping environment. Such stores can be a little generous with bright and cheerful colors like yellow, black, and purple.

On the other hand, a shop selling herbal cosmetics will prefer a much toned-down combination of white, brown, beige, and green for the store decor. That is because these color combinations create a soothing and earthy ambiance that goes well with the brand's line of organic products. Furthermore, decorating such stores with indoor plants or bonsai plants can elicit strong and positive responses from the customers.

Although responses to colors are subjective and vary across cultures, there are certain paradigms of colors-response relations.

Color contrast

There is more than one way that colors can be allied. One is complementing (color combination); the other is contrasting. In the case of contrast, one color helps another color to become dominant.  That is why you will find that many clothing and accessory brands tend to use either absolute black or absolute white as the background. This visual contrast makes the color of the products stand out in a very alluring fashion. 

Bright colors can also promote other bright colors. Take a look at this:

Colour Contrast


The use of lights in visual merchandising has more to do with the brand storytelling than with the actual intent of illuminating the store. The store lighting is such a powerful tool that it can easily make or break all the positive experiences that are achieved through composition and color. Therefore, using lights to the advantage of brands can be a bit of a tightrope walk. 

Lighting in retail visual merchandising is somewhat an extension of color in the sense that it can highlight your store merchandise by creating a contrast with the negative space. 

For instance, products like jewelry and watches are often given a spotlight against a dimly-lit store interior to create a surreal shimmering visual. This experience adds incredible optics for the merchandise. 

Besides making the merchandise appealing to customers, lighting also helps to set the mood. A well-lit store is perceived to be comfortable, charming, and social. On the other hand, a low-light interior is more captivating and tends to offer more personal space to the customers; this proffers greater exclusivity. 

For example, in the following image, the warm yellow light of the store complements the rustic wooden interior and light colors of the merchandise on display. These elements together tell the story of a brand that is posh, elegant, and classy.


Therefore, the lighting needs to be decided based on the brand vision and the product USP (Unique Selling Proposition).


Balance is something related to all the elements discussed above viz: composition and landscaping, color, and lighting. Balance is the feeling of weight that a viewer experiences just by viewing something within a frame of vision. 

It doesn't necessarily have to do anything with the actual weight of an object, just how it appears. Balance contributes a lot to the brand storytelling. Different types of balance invoke different responses from customers. 

The symmetric balance represents order, precision, and delicate nature. The asymmetric balance represents excitement, inspiration, and novelty.

Take a look at this image.


Even though all the bottle hanger racks (at the sides) are not arranged in the same order, their equidistant positioning alongside the central positioning of the shelves and the central positioning of the chandeliers altogether make impart the store interior a fine symmetric balance.


Texture refers to the nature of any surface. Wood and leather have completely different textures. Wood is hard, leather is soft. Wood gives a more rustic and primitive feel. Leather gives a more luxurious and expensive feel. There are several textures that designers can play with to communicate with their customers, such as:

  • velvet (smooth, soft, lavish, attractive)
  • leather (urban, chic, modern, trendy)
  • silk  (smooth, rich, sophisticated)
  • wood (tough, rugged, sturdy)
  • paper (creative, unique, hip, casual)
  • stone (rough, expensive, subtle, elegant)
  • Iron (industrial, efficient, determined, less-drama-more-power)

There are all kinds of textures, each having its unique touch and feel. 

In a retail store, every physical and visual thing can contribute to imparting a collective texture. Texture can come from physical components like walls, ceiling, floor, carpets, furniture, artworks, installations, light fixtures, and display shelves. Texture can also come from a visual component like light, color, the images within the digital signage, etc. Visual texture can result from gradient colors, light reflection, and so on.

The following image can be a fine example of texture representing the fresh, natural, or organic nature of the items.


Digital signage

Oddly enough, digital signage is often less talked about when it comes to visual merchandising. However, it is a critical element that retailers use to attract customers.

Digital signage has a role to play both inside and outside of the store. 

As mentioned before, retail visual merchandising starts right from the store window. Consider this: you know that your store has a fantastic collection of merchandise to offer to its customers. But, how do you convince that to the people who have never stepped inside your store? That is where digital signage can come up as a game-changer. 

High-resolution screens, video walls that play dynamic content offer customers a dramatic larger-than-life experience. Therefore, it is a clever idea to place digital signage screens in those areas of a store that are exposed to the maximum number of crowds, such as:

  • Store windows
  • Billing counters
  • Trial zones
  • Sitting areas/waiting zones
  • Parking lots, etc. 

However, one must prevent overdoing with the displays. That is to say, having too many screens in one place or showing too many contents on the same screen will only confuse your customers and create decision fatigue. It is better to avoid that.

Traditionally, digital signage helps in the following:

  • Product launch, promotion, playing of commercials
  • Announcing sales, discount offers, and other deals
  • In-store entertainment
  • Brand storytelling and trust-building
  • Customer assistance, guidance, and way-finding

Digital Signage

However, with the evolution of technology, digital signage software has started to allow the amalgamation of retail marketing with direct customer interactivity. Using Artificial intelligence, stores are now delivering their customers an extremely personalized shopping experience. 

Intelligent digital signage also gathers crucial data on consumer demographic and consumer purchasing tendencies. The analysis of these data allows retailers to set their business goals based on peak shopping hours, top-selling products, and other customer responses.

Therefore, a well-thought-out strategic placement of digital signage can influence the customers' purchasing decisions. 

Let's explain that with an example. 

Some of the top digital signage software can play real-time and live social media feeds on your store's digital signage. Now, imagine this scenario: A customer walks into a clothing store, browses through the merchandise, and the moment she/he picks up an outfit from the shelf, the digital display next to it starts showing various social media reviews recommending the product. 

This type of visual merchandising technique has a sheer positive impact on the customer's purchasing decision. Besides, it builds better trust in the brand as consumers themselves turn into brand ambassadors. 


Many people visit the stores and shopping malls nowadays simply because they love the overall experience and ambiance, even though they don’t have anything to buy in particular. This form of entertainment even has a name: window shopping. Window shopping is getting more popular among the millennial communities and shoppers. 

Often, people visit stores to simply know what's trending or maybe check out stuff that they don't urgently need. As a retailer, your target is to invent necessity for your customers. A significant portion of retail sales come from the buyers' impulse purchases. Remember, your visual merchandising speaks a lot about your brand identity and it has higher impact on your brand equity. It also helps in your inventory management, as products gets cleared quickly and replenishment becomes easier with an inventory management software.  There are several inventory management software that comes synced with visual merchandising features. To know more about this, do take time to read our buyers’ guide on inventory management software systems.

Namrata C.
Namrata C.

Namrata C. writes for Pickcel Digital Signage , a leading SaaS-based digital signage solution provider. Her area of expertise is where art meets science and technology.

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