Should VM be “as good as possible?” or “as good as it needs to be?”

As a firm believer in the mantra “Things should alway be as good as possible” I have always been a little unnerved by those who work by the alternative principles of “things only have to be as good as they have to be”



The problem with the second way of viewing visual merchandising standards is that in the world of visual merchandising and store experience there is a lack of absolute knowledge on what “they have to be!” is.

The result across a thousand retail boardrooms is a perpetual argument regarding the role of visual merchandising and particularly the elements which constitute the discipline, as to their worth, their impact on sales, their ROI and ultimately their value to a retailer. The 2 camps sit across a valley of ignorance from “VM is an essential” to “VM is a luxury.” And in the cost efficient times in which we live, the ability to justify the elements of VM and categorically prove that “they have to be good” with the resources in place to ensure that “they are good!” becomes more pressing than ever.

We all have experiences, and hunches, and personal trials where initiatives increased sales yet to an often doubting audience these are just here-say.

Ironically, the truth can be found with a discipline which in itself struggles to break free from the label of “luxury” and implant itself firmly in the necessity camp. Even the mention of the words video analytics will instantly have half of retailers holding their head in their hands.

But as someone who has been equally dubious of technology in stores but equally fascinated for many years by the retail bible of Paco Underhill’s  – “Why we Buy!” the jigsaw has fallen into place. VMAnalytics simply gives proof to the principles of shopper psychology, in an unforeseen way, with unforeseen accuracy and scope than could ever have been envisaged at the time of the birth of customer behaviour and Envirosell.

The magic of VM analytics used by someone who knows what they are looking at, and looking for, is that the impact of VM elements from space location, display principles, POS, mannequins, props, fixture types and any other display element you care to mention can be measured in how it attracts passing traffic, how it engages customers at a specific place, how long it engages them for, and whether it converts the customer into a purchaser.

Through precise testing we can know unquestionably what is the driver of improved sales and how it impacted the journey to sale – the display, the POS, the bust or a combination of all. We learn where to invest our money and what level of investment is justified by the return.

The bad press of VMAnalytics comes from non-visual people pointing blindly in hope of revelations. The blind stay blinded for life with analytics.

Whilst there are undoubtedly principles and common experiences across the industry the fact is that every retailer will find different success with different VM elements, and indeed will judge the particular element “essential” or “luxury” upon different criteria. And at the risk of belittling analytics we should always take into account that shopping is emotional and critically buying is emotional. Having said that, correctly positioned and interpreted analytics measure the commercial impact of emotional behaviour. Now that’s a holy grail we’ve all been searching for.

So, bite the bullet, run the risk of being wrong, and accept the reality that not all visual elements of the store experience are essential for all retailers to be commercial, or even emotionally viable to a customer.

Perhaps at the end of the day the two doctrines are not that far apart with “As good as possible” in fact being “as good as they have to be!” but importantly where correctly interpreted VM Analytics give a clear mandate on which VM elements need to be “as good as possible” and in fact which elements of the store experience we need at all.

Don’t compromise visual merchandising standards, just prioritise your scope.


VM-unleashed works with a variety of retailers on benchmarking and identifying where to invest in store design, visual merchandising and environment…


…here are a few people that we’ve helped that you may have heard of too…

Ferrari, Luxottica, Marks & Spencer, Primark, AllSaints, Carrefour, Camper, Cortefiel, Boots, Sainsbury, Sonae, Otto Versand, BonPrix, National Geographic, Flex, Gruppo Vestebene, Alessi, Eroski, Coin, Oviesse, Bally, Adidas, Sony, Clarks, Benetton, Orange, KappAhl, Imaginarium, Porcelanosa, Trucco and Ben Sherman.

some of our clients…

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if you would like to know more about our expertise, and how it could work for you, then please drop us a line.

+44 (0)7967 609849


  1. Hi Allyson,
    Agree completely with your comments and I have seen very talented people folding jeans as you say. In this commercial world creativity has to be seen, and be shown, to effect the bottom line. And in many ways, as commercial businesses, why should it be any other way. So the new technology where I see it used correctly, shows areas of creative indulgence sometimes, but more often shows how creativity adds to sales. Show this and retailers invest in creativity to be creative, and operational to be operational. My hope is that proving creativity to be commercial will give a new life to true visual merchandising. Allyson, if you want to link in, then just look me up. Thanks for getting involved.

  2. VM is essential and should always be looking to get better, or in other words build on successes and continue to experiment and learn along the way. Getting someone to stop and admire a display doesn’t always translate into revenue but sometimes it does but it still might not be a productive use of the space given ROI for the VM and other uses of the same square footage. Where VM comes into its own is helping to define the brand and creating an atmosphere that sets each store apart creating value and helping consumers separate you from the competition. This has been done very effectively by a number of retailers but then the lack of expertise, attention to detail and the difficulty of finding the right person with the passion to execute leads more and more stores to accept good as it has to be. What ever happened to the merchants who understood this intuitively? So what happens is that the retailers of today now need analytics to justify VM existence.

    • Sadly you’re right. The fact is many more retailers are no longer run by retailers so as you say there is not that intuitive feel for display or the natural sense that it is worth the effort and the investment. In this context analytics, when used correctly, will prove the financial value of VM to the non-retailers and at the very least continue to feed investment into it as a discipline. Ideally analytics are run alongside other surveys and customer feedback so the financial and the emotional can be measured together.

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