Friday, November 2, 2012

Making your VM Visuals more effective

We had been for the mandatory festival shopping of clothes recently to one of the apparel chain stores. The often quoted fact of how visual merchandising influences a shopper by as much as 60% of the time was very nicely validated. Here is what happened and some insights from the experience for Retailers.
After having browsed through the various racks of Kurtis and other informal dresses, we had selected a few dresses and it was being tried out in the trial room. Somehow none of the shortlisted dresses were WOW and triggering the final buying decision. When I was walking around waiting to pay the bill (!!) I happened to see a mannequin which seemed to be sporting a very nice and well coordinated dress. It also helped that the mannequin was the right height and size to represent the shopper and gave a very good idea about how that dress would look on a similar person. I asked the customer service staff for the same dress combination, it was tried out and bingo, the sale was through. Great VM work by the Retailer.
Now comes the other side of the story. While waiting near the trial room we noticed several large visuals of models in very nice dresses. The sensible part of these visuals was the inclusion of a short description and mention of the price. Instead of just being a feel good factor these VM visuals had become extremely powerful POP and sales promotion aids. We then asked the store staff for one of the dresses and the comment by the staff “We don’t have stock of that dress. A few pieces came and has sold out. Many customers see this poster and ask for the dress. We don’t have stocks.”
We persisted and asked about the arrival of fresh stocks and the staff had no idea. She was even doubtful if the stocks of that particular dress would come at all.
No doubts, VM and visuals are extremely powerful influence on shoppers and the Merchandising & VM team at that Retailer have done a good job of leveraging the same. However, it could have been even more powerful and the sales impact could have been significantly more if some more basic things had also been done.
Some inputs from this experience for all Retailers, especially fashion ones are -
  • Plan your mannequin displays and make it relevant. It is not only about the ensemble you want on the mannequin but also the size and proportion of the mannequins. A petite, very thin, mannequin might be a great idea to attract younger shoppers. It might be a better idea to use “plus sized” mannequins for stores where the shopper profile is in the older age group.
  • Needless to say, accessorize, match and present a holistic solution. We ended up purchasing the complete combination. However, the mannequin did not sport any accessory like a wide belt, etc. Maybe a display of such an accessory would have included that also in our purchase.
  • The use of VM visuals as POP and sales promotion aids was very impressive and I don’t see that being adopted by many Retailers in India. It is a great idea and if done tastefully it will not compromise the look and feel factor while having the positive spin off on sales.
  • The most important factor is to plan, track and replenish stocks of SKUS used in such display and visuals. It requires some effort but it is not difficult to create a separate inventory and sales tracking mechanism for only these SKUs. In fact, it could even be manual and done at the store level, then consolidated at a region or state level for reordering. Even assuming that this was being done at the store we went to, it was obviously not working and imagine the loss of sales opportunity
Lastly, as I often say in my classes and training programs, Retail works like a ball bearing and if each and every component of the bearing does not move freely while being interlinked, the whole bearing freezes and brings the machine to a halt. Good ideas need great, outstanding execution.