5 Tips for Using Retail Store Fixtures to Improve Customer Experience

By Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

The retail store fixtures you choose say a lot about your establishment, impact the customer experience and influence your customers’ perceptions. “Although traditional gondolas are cost-effective and allow for high-density merchandising, customers respond to more creative ways of displaying merchandise,” explains Todd Dittman, executive director of the Association for Retail Environments in Hollywood, FL.

Here are 5 ways to turn browsers into buyers, and lookers into loyal patrons with visual merchandising:

  1. Reinforce your brand. Brand identity is supported by many details, including fixtures, so they should reflect your brand’s feel and colors. “Everything about your store must be brand consistent,” says T.J. Callaway, founder and CEO of Onward Reserve, a boutique retailer with stores in Charlotte, NC, and Athens and Atlanta, GA. “Fixtures are one of the most prominent visual features of the store environment, so they must be consistent with the brand message you are trying to deliver. Both fixtures and props around them can drive experience and therefore loyalty.”
    Action item: Look to major retailers and successful competitors for inspiration and guidance on your visual displays, then put your own spin on what they do.
  2. Set the stage. Help customers visualize your products outside the retail environment. “Tables and desks allow you to show merchandise as it might be used in the home or office,” Dittman says. Set a table to show off tableware. Display books or objets in traditional bookcases. Provide comfortable seating for trying on shoes or to create a spot for sales associates to discuss a higher-ticket purchase. And don’t forget mannequins if you’re a clothing retailer.
    Pro tip: “The first mistake is buying a fixture because the fixture itself is cool,” cautions Georganne Bender, a retail strategist with Kizer and Bender in St. Charles, IL. “That beautiful — and expensive — armoire may look good empty, but if it’s a bear to merchandise and it takes up too much space on the sales floor, it severely limits your display options. A good fixture enhances the product by making the product stand out.”
  3. Make it easy to find and buy. “Make sure your shelving and cases put your product at a comfortable level for browsing — nothing too high, nothing too low,” says Laura Taylor, “top dog” at Woofables, a gourmet dog biscuit bakery in Coralville, IA. “Don't make people bend down or have to stretch their necks to see everything they would want to see. It's OK if some product is up high or down low. Just don't expect people to be able to select those items.”
    Action item: Place products within clear sightlines and easy reach. Reserve the lowest and highest shelves for storing additional inventory that you can easily restock as needed on central shelves.
  4. Call attention to specific merchandise. Use lighting and fixtures like merchandisers or wall displays to draw customers to sale, limited-quantity or seasonal products. “When used sparingly, strong colors such as red or orange or a signature color have been used effectively by retailers to drive traffic, particularly when the rest of the store has a more neutral palette,” Dittman says. “Add LED shelf lighting to bring attention to merchandise; shadows from overhead lighting don't allow the merchandise to ‘shine.’”
    Action item: Budget-conscious? Skip the special retail store fixtures and pull together different items in the same palette to create a concentration of color that you can change with evolving tastes or the seasons.
  5. Don’t be afraid to experiment with visual merchandising. You want your store to feel familiar, but not unchanging, Callaway says. His motto: “Always keep it fresh.” For example, alternate slipcovers for chairs, change lighting with the seasons — brighter during darker months, softer during warmer ones — swap out or spray paint smaller pedestals or accent tables.
    Pro tip: With the exception of seasonal retail store displays, don’t change it up too often. “Consistency builds trust,” Taylor notes. “Your customers want to know what they can count on from you every time they come to see you.”

Is all this fuss over retail fixtures worth it? Yes! “Fixtures should never compete against merchandise for the shoppers’ attention,” Bender asserts. “Your store is the biggest marketing piece that you have; everything on the sales floor should work together to tell your story.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance journalist and owner of The Word Factory, a creative agency in Carrboro, NC. Raised in her parents’ gourmet grocery, she went on to become a journalist covering small business, retail and restaurants for several in-flight magazines, the L.A. Business Journal, Playboy and Monster.com. Follow Margot on Google+.

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