Swati Bhalla
September 1, 2011

Perception Is Reality

Perception is reality!! You have read it many a times. You have heard people say it many a times. You might have even said it yourself. But how does it really work? How can visual merchandising create a store image that speaks to its customers?

The store image is the idea of a store in people’s minds. Store image is created by visual merchandisers through the use of various tools. The image of a store should be different to what the image of the competition is. A successful retailing business requires that a distinct (discrete) and consistent (constant) image be created in the customer’s mind that covers all products and services offered. Being consistent increases the recall value of a brand. Visual Merchandising can help a retailer create that positive customer image that leads to successful sales.

A Retailer and a Visual Merchandiser should clearly understand the target market. All decisions made by a Visual Merchandiser are based on what image a retailer wants to maintain of a store. In this decision making process, what helps a visual merchandiser the most, is his understanding of consumer behaviour. VM is the science and art of selling more. Since it is a science, everything we do, every decision we make has a reason, a logical approach and an aim!

Keeping the store’s image in mind, we define all other aspects of retail. But what are the elements that define a store’s image? There are many aspects of retail, all of them affect the way a consumer thinks of the brand. From the employee that greets him at the store entrance to the odour in the store. From the colours used in the store walls, the kind of fixtures, the music playing in the store to the kind of signage in the store. All together form an image of the brand!

The retailer employs sales staff to match the selling and image needs of his store. A specialty store like an Audi Showroom will not have many employees, but the few that they will heir will understand the brand well, will understand the engineering of the car well & and will be very presentable. In contrast, in a large department store, like a Big Bazaar, the density of staff would be quite high but they might not be very highly educated.

Like the employees the fixtures too have to compliment the value of the merchandise. A jeweler uses a lot of expensive woodwork and stones like marble and granite to add value to his merchandise, whereas a sportswear goods store uses more of metal and plastic.

Sound too is an image building factor. Sound can be pleasant or unpleasant & can have a direct impact on the store atmosphere. A pleasant sound, like music in a department store or the sound of the balls rolling and pins falling in a bowling alley adds to the intensity of the experience. An unpleasant sound like motor traffic, on the other hand, can have a negative effect. The category of the merchandise determines the type and density of sound. Soft instrumental music is generally used in stores that need longer decision making time, like is jewellery stores. While the casual and youth fashion wear segments are complimented by contemporary sound tracks. Like sound, odour too has a positive or negative effect on the store atmosphere. Positive odours like that of fresh coffee beans or flowers add to the shopping experience in the men’s wear and cosmetics departments in the store. Negative odours like that of a musty carpet, cigarette smoke etc. can drive the customers away. The strength of the odour is also important. Even the right odour, if it’s too strong, can have a negative effect. Odour intensity can be divided into the following categories according to intensity: 0 - no odour, 1 - very weak (odor threshold), 2 – weak, 3 – distinct, 4 – strong, 5 - very strong, 6 – intolerable. This method is most often applied by having a dilution series tested by a panel of independent observers.

Elements like lighting and colour can be controlled to make customers buy more. Warm yellow shades of light compliment gold jewellery as they add to the richness of the products. Natural shades (daylight colours) are good for garments as they bring out the true colour of the merchandise. Bright colours like bright red or yellow are said to increase the pulse rate and trigger impulse purchases (FMCG goods use this effectively). Softer colours like pastels keep the pulse rate comfortable and are used in merchandise backdrops that need a longer time for inspection and selection (like watches and jewellery).