The best brands make extraordinary things very simple. And the clever use of visual merchandising does not need to be complex or sophisticated to define a brand and create unique experiences.

I was involved in the research for the Channel 5 documentary about TK Maxx. The interview with one of the producers made me distill why the shopping experience of TX Maxx is so compelling to so many customers. After my visit and presentation to the International Creative Display Conference in Dublin, I thought it worthwhile considering again that Visual merchandising comes in many shapes & guises.

Clearly, the ability to satisfy the desire to ‘expect the unexpected’ is an important element. That in itself is no easy task. Become too predictable on the expected front and the proposition will become dull and boring. However, overstep the mark on the unexpected, and the customer will fail to find what they want and expect. They may find nothing suitable to buy. Customers can be such awkward and contradictory things.

For sure, TX Maxx has cleverly developed its buying strategy over the years, from a situation where the assortment could vary significantly, visit by visit, depending what brands and product categories were available in the market. Through analysis of sales and collaboration with brands it has now been able to build more predictability where customers want it, whilst still having the freedom to introduce new, dynamic and surprising drops.

If i had to condense everything into a single element that defines TK Maxx’s success, it is the ability to make every customer think that this is their lucky day. To convince them that they are always absolutely in the right place at the right time, down to the minute, the second that they browse those shiny rails.

That is where the visual merchandising ‘slight of hand’ plays it’s master hand. Many might be surprised to even hear the words TX Maxx and visual merchandising in the same sentence. And it is true to say, of course, that their shops are certainly not full of stunning displays, or creative concepts. In deed you will never even see a mannequin.

But there is more to visual merchandising than creative displays. VM is as much about conveying commercial strategy, and assortment structure. It does not always take its inspiration from catwalks, and grand designs, and in the case of TK Maxx the inspiration is drawn more from the charity shop. The humble charity shop where the excitement of scarcity is what gets the customer’s pulse racing.

The TK Maxx masterstroke? To separate sizes. To create a customer journey where we begin with gender, then category and then size, and then option. It is a subtle difference but compare this to the classic clothing shop where gender and category are followed by option and then size.

Swap option then size, with size then option, and a shopfloor that offers only conformity and predictability, is transformed into anticipation and discovery. The journey rapidly develops from a room full of visual chaos, to a personal world of opportunity. Rapidly.

TK Maxx transforms an Aladdin’s cave for everyone to a gleaming silver rail that is just for me. There is just one option left, and it is in my size. This is my lucky day.

It is illusion of course. but we all like a bit of trickery, especially when we enjoy the experience so much.

I’ve often stood and surveyed the assortment on the rails. You can of course see the same options in all sizes scattered on nearby rails. But of course, the customer does not look nearby. Why? It is not their size! It would be fun to re-group a category or two, by option and size. The shop would look very different, predictable and static, but actually no easier to shop.

There is method in the TX Maxx retail madness. Achieved largely through one strategic decision, and one visual twist.

Visual merchandising where creativity of thought, trumps any amount of creativity of display.

‘Meaning in the Retail Madness’ How to be an Essential Retailer

Published by Wordzworth Books 2021

‘Meaning in the Retail Madness’ explains how touchpoints have replaced channels, how linear supply chains will become circular, why assortments are increasingly virtual, how physical is turning to local, and why products and shops are not necessarily made for each other anymore.

It supplies a blueprint for retail’s new ‘agile organisation,’ its structure and its processes. How retail must integrate people with technology, generate commercial sales through sustainability, stimulate customer loyalty through ethical behaviour, and achieve profit without profiteering.

This book is an essential must have. A life time of experience packaged in a clear, simple and methodical way.

Many publications about this subject tend to be whimsical speculation, but founded on front-line experience this book collates relevant/current case studies and pairs them with simple action plans and guidelines.

Jolyon. Brand Strategy Director & co-founder of BlendUs

“Wonderful read !!”

A really insightful book, the author clearly shows that you can be ethical, sustainable, and still make money as a retailer

Sarah Roberts

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Barnes & Noble – – – –