Visual Merchandising, The First Line Of Offence For Retail Players

Mumbai: | Updated: Sep 30 2003, 05:30am hrs
Visual merchandising (VM) can be called the silent salesman for retail formats. The mannequins, the general merchandise placed in the stores, the lighting and even the uniforms worn by the customer service personnel form part of the VM exercise of any retail format. As organised retail evolves in the country, VM has become the first line of offence to capture consumers attention. Even as the industry expands, the need is to fuel the interest in the medium which players feel can become an industry by itself.

VM today combines the element of art and science, fusing creativity with the arithmetics of space utilisation within retail space. In the retail format, utmost care is given to the merchandise displayed on the rack, the mannequins and the colour of the facade displaying the brand image in synergy with other mediums. Retail players as they expand are taking care to ensure there is consistency as far as the visual presentation is concerned.

For Tanishq, the jewellery business of Titan Industries Ltd, visual merchandising formed an important area of focus when it had taken a hiatus from audio visual promotionals. After a gap of three years, the company has produced an audio visual for its products. Meanwhile, the concentration has been on in-store promotions and incorporating the various elements of visual merchandising at the stores, said Titan Industries Ltd divisional manager Tanishq V Govind Raj. Even while undertaking in-store promotion, visual merchandising comes to play as the mood and ambience has to match consumers expectations, said Mr Govind Raj. Even in newer formats like shop-in-shops which Tanishq is experimenting with, the visual appeal has to be in sync with the image that a customer would find in a stand alone Tanishq store. Even in limited space, one has to bring out the Tanishq look and feel which one finds at our store. That;s where visual merchandising comes into play, explained Mr Govind Raj.

Visual merchandising begins at the time when a store is being set up at a particular location. Shoppers Stop Ltd managing director and CEO BS Nagesh said consistency is maintained even as new outlets are being opened across the country. The new outlets have to maintain the look and feel which one comes across in existing outlets. Therefore, aspects like lighting and ambience at the focal point are understood and implemented, added Mr Nagesh. For each store there is a visual merchandiser, who works with the VM head of the particular region. While the overall look is maintained, each region has its own VM initiatives which are implemented depending on the season or festivities pertaining to that region.

These examples reflect the fact that visual merchandising takes place both in store and even before the stores are launched. However, industry experts feel that while research is undertaken to understand consumer buying behaviour and patterns, adequate research has not gone into understanding what the consumers perception is as far as VM is concerned.

Wellingkar School of Retailing associate dean and head Prof V Gibson said consumer research is undertaken to understand consumer behaviour and buying pattern in purchase of products but no dedicated research is undertaken to understand their perception of VM in a retail format. The consumer behavioural data is sourced to understand or analyse what the consumers have liked about the store. But dedicated research which delves into details like which part of the store did the consumers like or what attracted the consumers to a particular section of the store are not happening, Prof Gibson said.

Agreed Research India country manager Sunil Karve, who said the importance of VM is seen in organised retail players especially in lifestyle and apparels but there is still a long way to go.

Mr Nagesh, however, differed on this. His rationale was that the need for second level of research in VM would only come into play when the retail expands and the consumer start maturing. While its true that one needs to be ahead and be perceptive towards understanding consumers, you cannot run ten paces ahead of consumers. Organised retail is still growing and with the growth, changes in various parameters will happen. And that applies to VM too, explained Mr Nagesh.

Growth is also bringing in shortfalls which players say needs to be looked into immediately. Most glaring is lack of experienced visual merchandisers, who imbibe both creativity and management skills. Rex Studio director Apurv, who specialises in visual merchandising and architectural design, said for visual merchandising to grow as a sector, there is an urgent need for people who are just specialists in VM. The trend is to employ architects or creative people as VMs, whereas there is need for people who have been in the retail industry and specialise in the art of visual merchandising, said Apurv.

Agreed Prof Gibson who said VM has the potential to evolve as an industry by itself provided adequate infrastructure in terms of education and training is spent on it. It has to be both waysindustry players should pay equal impetus to it. Likewise, the government and educational institutions should also contribute, he added.