How to Build an Effective Store Display for Retail

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Learn how to leverage your retail space effectively by styling all of your retail displays to increase sales and welcome new customers.

Retail store displays have become such an iconic fixture in the shopping world that they’ve even inspired the creation of the term: window shopping. Most shoppers can relate to the electric allure of an interesting store display, inviting them to touch, try on, and explore the newest and most exciting products.

While you may not have had intentions of buying that item, or any item at all for that matter, an effective retail store display can stand in as your stationary salesperson converting mere lookers into customers.

So, how do you master the art of business feng shui and create retail store displays that will not only look good, but appeal to the purchasing impulse of customers? We’ve got some tried and true tips for you, but first, we want to explain a little more about why you should even care, let alone invest your time and effort into creating retail store displays.

What is a Retail Store Display?

Retail store displays actually make up all of the in-store collections of items configured throughout a location. This includes the shelves in front of the checkout counter, the pods of mannequins placed across the floor, and any other gathering of items or signs meant to try customer attention. The main purposes of in-store displays include previewing new merchandise, showcasing an outfit or set of clothing in its complete form, advertising a sale, or demonstrating a product’s use.

Photo of an in-store retail display, from Sandy Alexander.
Photo Credit: Sandy Alexander

Are In-Store Retail Displays Effective?

Constantly setting up and rearranging in-store displays can easily become the bane of a retail worker’s existence, so it’s valuable to share some insight into consumer behavior that demonstrate just how valuable these high-visibility display spaces can be in influencing a shopper’s behavior.

According to the research conducted by Dr. L.D. Rosenblum, Dr. Harold Stolovitch, and Dr. Erica Keeps, over 83% of the information that we process daily is done so through our visual cortexes. In other words, sight makes up most of how we perceive the world.

That may feel a bit obvious, so we’ll take the research a step further and into the context of retail. When it comes to capturing the attention of a shopper, know that a snap judgment is made about a product in only 90 seconds!

This gives you a minute and a half to take a customer through the purchasing process, and that’s if they’re even drawn to your items in the first place. But there’s an unusual display hack that gives you a leg up: color.

Within those 90 seconds, 90% of consumers will base their perception of a product based purely off of color.

So, let’s talk about the anatomy of a retail display. What can you do in that 90 seconds to stack the deck in your favor? Let’s imagine we’re a customer walking through your store. We’ll break up our tips in the way order they’ll interact with your display:

  • We’ll start with the windows, which should draw them in
  • Then we’ll talk about the in-store displays which should convince them to pick up a product
  • And finally we’ll cover the checkout displays which should increase the value of their order
Photograph of clothing for sale in an in-store retail display, from Double Impact Displays.
Photo Credit: Double Impact Displays

How To Create An Effective Retail Window Display

Managing the front of house area is akin to making your first impression with someone. It’s important that you utilize this space to not only grab attention, but to create intrigue. After all, you want people to come in and see more, interact with the space.

We’ve consulted with some interior and sales experts and here are the top tips for achieving those outcomes:

1. Go Green In Your Retail Window Displays

And no, we don’t mean environmentally friendly (although it’s never a bad idea to protect the earth). Joey-Michelle Hutchinson, associate vice president at CallisonRTKL, shared in an interview with Retail Focus that including elements of greenery in your display can make an environment more inviting. Fostering an environment that makes customers feel welcome is just the ticket for a window display. He went on to explain that by creating an inviting scenario can reduce customer stress and even result in them spending longer in your store. And for anyone who has ever spent more than 5 minutes in a Target knows, the longer you stay, the more you spend.

2. Don’t Be Afraid Of Going Seasonal

If there’s a space to get festive, it’s going to the front of house. Your window displays are going to be your most frequently changed display due to the fact that it’s the most viewed. So take advantage of that by using the space to celebrate holidays and special occasions!

Photo of a window retail display, from Harper's Bazaar.
Photo Credit: Harper’s Bazar

3. Utilize Text In Your Window Displays…Just Not Too Much

This hack is a pretty logical one when you break it down. Your goal with a window display is to get people who are passing by to stop. If a pedestrian has to read something, it increases the chances of them slowing down for a better look. However, the right ratio of text is key. After all, people aren’t stopping to read a small novel.

Including just the right amount of text, no more than a sentence, ensures people won’t take too much time to read, which tends to result in them feeling frustrated they stopped and wasted their time. It’s also important to make sure you choose a large and legible font. While creating intrigue is nice, you don’t want the curiosity to be based on debating if your sign says “Frightful Heat” or “Fortnite Here.”

Here’s a fun example with some reverse psychology from Urban Outfitters:

Photo of a fun window display from Urban Outfitters.

4. Utilize Good Lighting To Feature Your Products

If you’re looking to be a little more subtle than a sign that says “HEY YOU LOOK RIGHT HERE,” what you need is good accent lighting. You want to ensure your window display is well lit, especially with accents pointed directly at the products you want to feature. Good lighting not only creates visual interest, but it helps your products pop!

Photo of a lighted window retail display, from Retail Design Blog.
Photo credit: Retail Design Blog

How To Create Effective In-Store Retail Displays

Congratulations, your customers have made it in the story and they’re ready to browse. You captured their attention with stunning window displays, now you need to keep them interested with dynamic in-store displays. Before we get into specific tactics: here are some general tips you should always keep in mind:

  • Utilize blocks of color to draw attention
  • Keep your displays clean and focused
  • Don’t clutter items. Instead of showing everything, showcase a few.

Now, for a deeper dive into in-store displays, here’s what you need to know:

1. Make In-Store Displays Interactive

Unless you’re a museum or a high-end jewelry store, there’s no reason why your customers shouldn’t be able to experience your products with all of their senses. Make your displays interactive to really draw folks in. Put out a sample toy, include swatches of fabric, have a tester ready for demo. If you’re skeptical about putting the merchandise out there just look at every Apple store. They draw in curious customers who want to interact with their devices making their stores virtually irresistible to techie and non-techie folks alike.

Photo of an Apple store display, from iDownload Blog.
Photo Credit: iDownload Blog

2. Utilize Cross Merchandising

Presenting your products as a set or matching deal is both visually appealing and a great way to fill out a space in a cohesive manner. It’s also an excellent upselling tool. Cross merchandising also appeals to people who have brand loyalty of preferences. For example, if you’re running a market or grocery store, you may want to display one brand of granola bar together so fans of the snack can check out new flavors!

Photo of an in-store grocery display, from Pinterest.
Photo Credit: Pinterest

3. Supplement With Instructions When Necessary

Just as text can be a great tool for window displays, instructions or product descriptions . can . be an excellent supplement to in-store displays. Curious if you should include some kind of informational aspect in your display? A good indicator is if the product you’re showcasing has a lot of frequently asked questions about it. By preemptively anticipating questions and needs you satisfy the curiosity of all your onlookers. Without it, they may leave a display interested, but unmotivated to make a purchase because they don’t have enough information.

Photo of an end-cap in-store retail display, from Adam Hayes.
Photo Credit: Adam Hayes

4. Use Technology In Your Displays

A growing trend in retail is the incorporation of technology within in-store displays. Video screens and tablets being the most popular to name a few. A great way to combine technology and marketing in your display would be to text-enable your retail business and create a keyword specific to your display. Shoppers interested in the product can text in that keyword to your number to immediately receive a coupon or discount on the goods/services. Not only can that motivate a sale, but it also gives you the opportunity to continue to follow up with at that customer with more promotions of interest down the line!

For example, a sign on your display could read: Text NIKEAIR to 555888 for $25 off your purchase of the new Nike Air sneaker.

Photo of an interactive retail display, from D’Andrea Visual Communications.
Photo Credit: D’Andrea Visual Communications

How To Create Effective Retail Checkout Displays

The checkout area is your final customer touchpoint. Your last opportunity to convince them that this item or another is something they can’t live without. With customers standing idly in line, this is often the best chance you have to target their boredom and inspire a last minute impulse buy.

For this reason, it’s always best practice to stock all your smaller, low-value items at the front. The chances are higher someone will throw a chapstick in with their haul vs. a new iPhone. Impulse shopping is largely driven by visual influence, so set yourself up for success with these tips and tricks.

1. Keep Checkout Displays At Eye Level

You want to make it as difficult as possible for customers to avoid looking at the treats and tchotchkes you have at checkout. Studies conducted by Nielson suggest that shoppers are more likely to buy from a checkout display if they can easily see the item from the aisle. So keep your displays elevated for the most impact.

Photo of a checkout counter retail display, from Shopco USA.
Photo Credit: Shopco USA

2. Let Customers Explore The Entire Store With Interactive Digital Displays

This idea came to us from a case study evaluating the success of the makeup chain Sephora’s checkout display revamp. The popular brand rolled out interactive digital displays around their shop and in their check out line. This now enabled their guests who are waiting to check out to browse their entire catalog of 14,000 products with featured products stocked for the taking directly by the display.

Photo of a customer using an interactive retail display, from Perch Interactive.
Photo Credit: Perch Interactive

When it comes to today’s consumers, shoppers have more choices than ever before. Appeal to the smart retailer by giving your retail displays the perfect blend of function and fashion. As a result, you’ll find yourself met with a fresh and profitable brick-and-mortar experience.

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