September 20, 2016
Neutral Beauty
September 20, 2016

Photo: iStock/Halfpoint

Although traditional visual merchandising categories are still useful to consumers, some brands are creating sorting systems that foster discovery over obvious organization. Traditional categories are being replaced with emotional ways of organizing products. This technique is being applied across sectors from food and drink to lingerie.

Photo: iStock/zoranm

Photo: iStock/zoranm

[gdlr_stunning_text background_color=”#f3f3f3″ title=”WHY IT MATTERS” title_color=”#94d64f” caption_color=”#a0a0a0″]

A Nirma University research report points to a pivotal relationship between customers’ impulse buying behavior and window display, floor merchandising, and promotional signage. “When consumers are exposed to … visual stimuli, they more likely make purchase decisions on impulse. This suggests that these visual merchandising practices, serving as stimuli that provoke a desire that ultimately motivates a consumer to make an unplanned purchase decision upon entering the store, significantly influence consumers’ impulse buying behaviors,” the authors note.
Retailers need to consider innovative approaches to visual merchandising and create new sorting categories that appeal less to rigid logical classifications and tap into consumers’ emotions and desire for discovery instead.



Browsing, fundamental to discovery in brick-and-mortar stores, has been given a new twist as retailers tailor their offers to people’s personal moods. Brands are using emotional quotient technology to capture emotional data and make personalized recommendations. As a result, products are no longer organized by function, but by the emotional response they elicit. The spectrum of emotions that can be measured is growing, enabling brands to create even more personal experiences.

Photo: iStock/Halfpoint

Photo: iStock/Halfpoint

  • Flavor profiling. The drinks sector has old standbys for organizing menus and bar displays. Wines are broken down into red, white, and rosé, then by price. Hard liquor is often ordered by spirit category and then by provenance. But whisky barBlack Rock has abandoned ordinary taxonomy with a system that focuses on flavor above region or brand. A visit to Black Rock begins with a bartender asking about the flavor preferences of the guest. “We ask: ‘Do you prefer drinks that are richer, smokier, chocolatey? The flavor of figs or dates, for instance?’” explains co-founder Tom Aske. “We can point them in the direction of the cabinet that contains the style they would like. The guest then has the ability to explore these cabinets, and to introduce themselves to whiskies they might never have heard of before. It’s about exploration and empowerment.”
  • New decimal system. Discovery is built into bookstores’ DNA, but the traditional shelves of tomes aren’t enticing enough browsers away from the deep discounts and convenience of Amazon.Libreria, which opened in February, aims to bring a different experience to the bookshop. It has eliminated the usual categories of organization, such as genre and author name. Instead, the bookstore—which doesn’t offer any of the amenities of many competitors such as Wifi and coffee—arranges books based on changing themes such as “mothers, madonnas and whores” or “the sea and the sky.” The store’s director, Sally Davies, believes the space “enables you to get an overview of the intellectual landscape and immerse yourself in the experience of being in the store.”
  • Mood Retail. Anglo-Francophone brandDessù has also abandoned traditional notions of visual merchandising for lingerie. Lingerie is usually easily categorized into day or night, sport or fancy, but Dessù defines its lingerie by time of day. Its first collection consists of six items of underwear, embodying the spirit of different times of day: 9:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. The point is not to say that women need to change their underwear six times a day, but rather to acknowledge that women have evolving desires,” notes co-founder Lisa Douët. “The idea was to build a collection that would address all of the women’s aspirations in terms of fit, shape, and style.”

As visual merchandising is rethought and restructured to appeal to consumers’ emotions and open up new possibilities for exploration and discovery, brands should keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Create unusual taxonomies that enable consumers to delve more deeply into your brand.
  2. Consider how applying emotions to your categories can make your products more meaningful.
  3. View your digital and physical offer as one. Use your digital channels as an opportunity to enhance the sense of discovery of brick-and-mortar stores.
  4. Facilitate mind-wandering. Move away from being prescriptive about product categories and provoke new ways of thinking about the retail experience.
  5. Confusion can breed discovery. Visitors to the bookshop Libreria start by being confused, before embracing the browsing journey.

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