The Future of Visual Merchandising: A Priority of Questions

In the wider retail context visual merchandising has suffered from a pre-occupation with the question “How?” The future of visual merchandising will depend very much more on addressing the other questions.



Visual merchandising both past & present is witness to many examples of beautiful and perfectly implemented displays both in windows and internally throughout the store.

The techniques, skills and creativity continue to develop into an ongoing master class on the question of “how?” to display, always advancing, improving and making use of new technologies and materials.

However, as VM has developed, firstly from just a windows based discipline to an embracement of all internal displays and presentation, from an isolated and rightly revered band of specialists into a fully integrated department within a retail business collaborating with buying & merchandising, marketing and store operations, and from the domain of luxury into the mass market and even value segments, and from an apparel focused industry to all sectors of retailers from home to beauty, toys to telecoms, sports to food – other questions have become much more prevalent and relevant to the effective delivery of best practice visual merchandising.

Of course “how?” is still as important as ever when we talk about individual displays, however the questions “Where?” When?” “What?” and “Who?” are at least equally important to many businesses and in a world where retailers are often run by non-retailers without a natural “taste” for visual, and where budgets are being squeezed like never before then the question “Why?” has perhaps become the most burning of all when it comes to visual merchandising today.

In this wider retail context visual merchandising has suffered from a pre-occupation with the question “How?” The future of visual merchandising will depend very much more on addressing the other questions.


The challenges of expansion into a wider range of international markets, and the increasing impact of Omni-channel retailing are also very much instrumental in making “the other questions” increasingly pressing and important, as every retail day goes by.

The process to resolving the dilemma and finding answers to the questions for your retail business lies in addressing the questions in an order very much in contrast to a traditional approach, where the “how?” should be the final piece in the jigsaw.`

To answer the questions “When?” and “Where?” visual merchandising needs to collaborate closely as always with buying, merchandising, and marketing to develop the correct calendars and schedules for visual impact and implementation times.

However, only by considering the constantly shifting sands of multi-channel, the changing seasonality of merchandise, ever-diverse buying patterns, and the evolution of 24/7 marketing from 12 windows a year campaigns, can the answers to the questions “When?” and  “Where” begin to be addressed accurately.

And so from this situation of clear objectives the answer to the intrinsic “Who?” can be developed. The skills, structure and visual merchandising organisation required to deliver the “Where?” and “When?” essential for any modern retail business.

Finally, when the scope of the job in hand is clear, and the scale and the size of the visual merchandising resource required can be properly estimated; and with the brand objectives and sales targets firmly in mind, then the burning question of “Why?” can be assessed in the cold light of the visual merchandising day.

The answer to “Why?” or more relevantly the extent of “Why?” is very much a question for each individual retailer based both on the tangible and measurable direct commercial merits of visual merchandising, and the more intangible emotional impact on brand equity, customer loyalty and ultimately the conversion of product in the store into profit in the bank.

Does the “Why?” justify the “Who?” Unfortunately, more than ever, retailers cannot afford to be “visual merchandising charities!”

To have a clear strategic plan on the objectives, role and returns of visual merchandising within any retail business, is a huge step closer to defining “What?” your visual merchandising should be.


And so we come full circle to the question “How?” A perpetual series of displays, product presentations, visual initiatives implemented practically and perfectly, but now put into the context and with the reassurance of knowing as a business “What?” they need to be.

As with many disciplines in retail, the customer sees the graceful swan, unaware and unconcerned by the mechanics beneath the water. And in terms of visual merchandising the customer will always see, and be excited by the “How?” of the process, blissfully and rightly unaware that it can only be made possible by the “What?” “When?” “Where?” and “Who?”

After all, this excitement, this emotional response from our customer, our audience, is the “Why?” we all love visual merchandising… isn’t it?



VM-unleashed works with a variety of international retailers helping them define and deliver the answers to the questions surrounding visual merchandising strategy, implementation and organisational structure, processes and skills training.

For more information, please get in touch…