Maximizing the POS environment

All senses are channels of communicationVisual merchandising is now being referred to as visual selling by those companies that realize it is where the action is; both in terms of where the customer is making his or her buying decisions and...

All senses are channels of communication

Visual merchandising is now being referred to as visual selling by those companies that realize it is where the action is; both in terms of where the customer is making his or her buying decisions and where marketers are putting their resources.

‘More sales are generated at the point of sale than all other media combined,’ says Joseph Weishar in Design For Effective Selling.

Regardless of what channel of retailing you are in – grocery, department stores, category killers, specialty stores or auto dealerships – how you present your product will have a great impact on building long-term customer relationships and on-going profitable growth.

‘The more your customer sees your store as an enjoyable place to shop, the more time and money they will spend with you,’ Paul Alofs, head of HMV, told the Retail Advertising Club in October 1992.

Traditionally, visual merchandising has focussed on in-store elements such as fixturing, shelving, product presentation, ticketing, feature displays, seasonal/ promotional signing, pegboard presentation and power walls.

Today, the emphasis has shifted to include all the ways a company communicates with its customers/ prospects at the point of sale.

Everything from window displays, to entrance signing, use of video and interactive kiosks, video carts, in-store and on-fixture couponing, product sampling and demonstrations, staff look and dress, color graphics and transparencies.

In fact, all of the sensory ways such as seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting, that have an impact on the conscious and subconscious, are channels of communication.

A total balance of store layout and merchandise presentation is crucial in order to appeal to all of the senses and to communicate.

More and more, visual merchandising and selling specialists are being judged by the impact they have on sales per square foot, sales to traffic ratios, sales to staff hours and average unit sale.

‘It is the combination of product, plus both the tangibles and intangibles at the point of sale that create store uniqueness,’ says Tom Peters in Liberation Management.

The driving force behind this broader view is the customer, now more demanding and with growing expectations.

When the value customers of the 1990s talk about the qualities that appeal to them in terms of the look and feel of a store, they talk about uncluttered aisles, easy-to-find merchandise, logical item groupings, ample quantities of right sizes/colors, pleasant lighting/music/colors, ease of movement, informative/accurate/simple signage, displays that provide ideas and information and fixtures that facilitate buying decisions.

‘Over 66% of all buying decisions are made as a result of in-store decisions. The majority are not pre-planned. They happen because the customer went through a satisfying experience,’ according to the POPA/Consumer Buying Study; 1987.

Over the past three decades, consumers have gone from buying whatever they were told to buy to becoming the world’s most competent shoppers.

Buying only what they want, and when and where, they feel their expectations are not only being met, but exceeded.

‘The secret of successful retailing is to give your customers what they want, to exceed expectations in everything you do,’ says Sam Walton in Made in America.

The winning retail marketers are replacing history, myth and ignorance with information, knowledge and real customer insights on how to design and present their merchandise at the point of sale.

They are using focus groups, customer panels, exit interviews, and self-administered questionnaires to find out more specifically the wants and needs of their customers.

They are finding out that the more they can help the customer decide and find what they want, present it in an informative and exciting way at an affordable and competitive price, the more enjoyable the overall shopping/ buying experience will be.

‘Be aware of the myths in your organization and challenge them – it is the only way to fly in the ’90s,’ says Kevin J. Clancy in The Marketing Revolution.

Some of the best examples of the new trends in visual merchandising are right here in Canada.

The new Safeway model in White Rock, b.c. is one; Loblaws in the St. Clair Centre in Toronto; the new Kmart prototype in Orangeville, Ont. and Canadian Tire in London, Ont.

Specialty store formats such as Fairweather, Melanie Lyne, Northern Reflections, The Body Shop and The Gap in the Eaton Centre in Toronto are other examples.

There is no other retailer in the world like Alive & Well, the fashion discount store that has put enjoyment back into apparel shopping with its service, promotional and visual merchandising approach.

Aikenhead’s Home Improvement Warehouse concept is setting new standards of presentation for the warehouse category.

‘Be special, be unique, be anything but mediocre,’ says Anita Roddick of The Body Shop.

All over the world marketers are realizing that the winning bottom line retailers are the ones that excel in visual presentation.

The Limited turns merchandise over seven times per year, while the average number for the typical competitor is three.

The Gap has annual revenue growth of more than 25%. Toys R Us has annual profit growth of more than 23%.

Stores such as L. L. Bean in Freeport, Me.; Sainsbury, the British supermarket chain; Ikea around the world; Carl Sewell Cadillac in Dallas; FAO Schwarz toy department store in New York City; Miksukoshi in Tokyo; Printemps in Paris and Harrods Food Hall in London are concepts that consistently outperform the marketplace in the worst and best of times.

‘The new Mall of America has some of the latest trends in visual merchandising,’ says Paul E. Beck, editor of Integrated Engineering.

‘It has a seven-acre amusement park, four major anchors, including Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Macy’s and Sears; and over 400 specialty retailers,’ Beck says.

‘It has Camp Snoopy, an 18-hole miniature golf course and a 14-theatre cinema complex,’ he says.

‘The average visit lasts three hours, compared with industry average of about one hour, and average expenditures are $84 versus $32.’

What does the future hold?

As the financial problems of consumers and retailers begin to ease, as we get more and more out of the 1980s and into the ’90s and 21st century, we are going to see a new wave of creativity in store layout, design and visual merchandising.

This new wave is working mainly because the consumer is responding to it.

Also, it is working because of the on-going lowering of computer technology costs, resulting in a dramatic increase in the speed, amount and quality of in-store information.

‘Insights and creativity equal store concepts that work, that build businesses, that retailers can be proud of and consumers respond to,’ says John C. Williams of John C. Williams Consultants at the 1993 Retail Council ‘WOW Tour.’

From the minute you walk into The Nature Company you are enticed by the sounds of water, images, products, ideas and sales associates all coming together to create a new kind of shopping excitement.

Nike Town in Chicago is as much a theatre as it is a store. Disney’s 300 retail outlets at Disney complexes all over the world are each geared to the visual environment in which they are located.

In Paris, there is a disco that has music, food and all the right merchandise looks. The Boogie’s Diner in Chicago does the same thing.

Tomorrow’s supermarket will be an electronic, interactive battlefield with electronic coupon dispensers, news on tv monitors, traffic scanners, the store’s own radio station, debit cards, information kiosks, supermarket data bases, loyalty programs, video carts and ads everywhere.

‘The store is the only place where the customer, product, the advertising, promotions and staff all come together in one place to make it all happen,’ Williams says.

So what do you have to do to be an important player in the future?

You have got to start by examining your basic concept, your strategy, to ensure it is right for the times, that it has a competing, competitive advantage built into it.

Then you need to bring it to life – larger than life – at the point of sale with a fresh, new innovative look at visual merchandising/visual selling.

John Torella is principal and senior consultant with John C. Williams Consultants, a retail and marketing consulting firm with offices in Toronto, Halifax and Chicago.