Online visual merchandising: what it is and how to do it in 5 steps

Online Visual Merchandising is a marketing strategy widely used by retail companies, especially in stores and shopping centers. It is used to attract the attention of customers, enhance product presentation within the display space, and facilitate the purchasing process.

A well-arranged storefront with warm and inviting colors, products showcased in illuminated frames, soothing and relaxing music, and unique and captivating designs are just some of the factors that entice customers to enter a store in search of an unforgettable shopping experience.

It’s not easy to pique the curiosity and captivate people passing by a storefront, and that’s where all the dynamics and activities of this sales strategy come into play.

In this article, I will delve into various aspects of Visual Merchandising, including:

  • what it is and how to do it on the internet;
  • strategies to use on your e-commerce website;
  • the role of a visual merchandiser;
  • the importance and value of this retail practice.

Furthermore, I will present three successful examples that can inspire you to find new solutions, making the products in your e-commerce more appealing and interesting.

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What is Visual Merchandising

What does Visual Merchandising mean? The “merchandise visualization,” is a highly complex and elaborate marketing strategy based primarily on sensory stimulation and creativity to generate customer interest and increase store sales volumes.

The main objective of this new art form is to maximize sales by capturing the potential customer’s attention through the use of display spaces within the store that facilitate product selection and the desire to make a purchase. In the practice of Visual Merchandising, involves exposing and meticulously managing the store’s image with targeted communication to win customers who will become loyal clients in the future.

To make you understand the meaning of Visual Merchandising simply and immediately, I’ll give you a very concrete example that you have undoubtedly experienced on several occasions.

visual merchandising marketing

As you walk down one of the streets in your city, your attention is suddenly drawn to a well-arranged storefront with captivating colors, inside of which products are positioned and illuminated to optimize their display. You will most likely stop to look at the products and offers, and your curiosity will lead you to enter the store.

Once inside the store, you will be greeted by relaxing music and an evocative atmosphere, furnished with uniquely designed furniture with soft shapes and captivating colors, but most importantly, with a fresh, light, and pleasant fragrance that will immediately put you at ease. It’s also possible that you might find a small food area to satisfy your palate with snacks and little treats.

Unknowingly, your senses will be awakened, and almost without realizing it, you will be inclined to browse the shelves, where each product has been placed according to a specific criterion, and, above all, according to the sales needs of the business. Even if you initially didn’t intend to buy a product, if the Visual Merchandising strategy has worked, you are unlikely to leave without making a purchase.

What really happens here? Without realizing it, every detail inside the store stimulates your senses through the specific organization of colors, sounds, shapes, fragrances, and tastes, defines the brand’s identity, and plays an important role in the communication process to lead you to the checkout with your purchase, excited and satisfied.

Studying customer psychology, observing their behavior closely, and monitoring KPIs, which are key performance indicators of a business organization, play a fundamental role in Visual Merchandising because they enable the creation of an effective shopping experience and help improve sales results.

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How to do Visual Merchandising online

Visual Merchandising is now essential to strengthen the brand reputation of businesses, especially online. The reasons that drive businesses to choose to sell exclusively online or to complement a physical store with an e-commerce platform are primarily the search for greater visibility and the need to expand their customer base to achieve higher and more substantial revenue and earnings.

On the other hand, technology is no longer a problem as it was in the past. There are numerous tools and solutions available to create and design an online store in just a few steps, at very affordable costs, and with attractive graphics.

With the rise of the e-commerce sector, on one hand, and the emergence of online stores on the other, there has been a cooling in the relationship with customers. They are now more distant, facing a screen, and less inclined to make purchases. It has become more challenging to attract them.

In this case, Visual Merchandising can be helpful in bridging this gap by creating personalized experiences that encourage purchases, thanks in part to the involvement of the Visual Merchandiser. Their task is to make the online store as captivating as the physical store, making shopping easy and satisfying.

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E-commerce has revolutionized consumer habits, with an increasing number of people using it for their purchases. They also use it to take a break or relax after a day at work. Furthermore, even online, people are looking for experiences to live and remember over time. If the adopted strategies and all sensory elements work in harmony, customers will be ready to return.

The reasons why people often prefer to shop online are the simplicity and speed of making purchases without leaving their couches at home. More importantly, it’s about engaging in interesting, fun, and playful experiences that aim to stimulate the unconscious and pleasure-related part of the human psyche.

online visual merchandising for ecommerce

In fact, numerous studies have shown that, in most cases, people don’t buy a product out of real necessity, but for the intense emotional experience it allows them to have. This stimulation of the five senses fulfills dreams and desires, creating strong engagement through storytelling. A customer who experiences such emotions is more likely to become a true brand ambassador.

To achieve this result, it is essential to first define, through the practice of Visual Merchandising, the target customers with behavior, desires, opinions, and expectations studies. Knowing your customers allows you to find the right solutions and the “strings” to touch to achieve business objectives.

Once you understand who to target, it’s essential to focus on the market and competitors’ situation. In recent years, competition has increased, and customers have more choices, thanks to the presence of online stores. It seems that the only valid way to survive in this sector is to differentiate yourself and become unique to provide customers with an extraordinary shopping experience that aims to be one of a kind.

Unlike physical stores, where customers choose to enter the store, in online sales, you must find a way to be selected, overcoming barriers of distrust, indecision, and rationality. This is achieved not only through aesthetics but, above all, by guaranteeing efficient and secure service.

For this purpose, it’s useful to use performance and security services, such as Cloudfare, which not only optimize the site in terms of content loading but also ensure that it is always protected from cyberattacks with the Cloudfare ray id, a unique code generated by the server every time users pass through the network.

What are the advantages of Visual Merchandising? The set of Visual Merchandising elements creates a value proposition that goes beyond the commercial value and quality of a specific product. It builds lasting trust and a sense of belonging to a community of people with similar interests. A privileged place to return to relive a pleasant and interesting emotional experience.

Pay attention to design and graphics

Applying Visual Merchandising techniques doesn’t just mean displaying merchandise in the best way but also creating, improving, and building a brand’s identity and its visual communication. In this context, you can start talking about sensory marketing, a branch of marketing that studies how to connect with consumers using external stimuli that influence emotions and behavior. Typically, techniques and strategies that impact the five human senses are used.

Sight is the first of the five senses and allows us to perceive and welcome visual stimuli that lights and colors can transmit. Indeed, it is through the eyes that the most immediate decisions are made. Since the dawn of human history and even today, a glance decides whether a situation can be potentially dangerous, whether to stay or flee, and whether something pleases or disgusts us. The digital world primarily relies on visual stimuli created by images, colors, graphics, and design, and this is what Visual Merchandising primarily feeds on.

The homepage is the true showcase of an online store, the gateway through which the user enters the brand’s world and forms a very first impression. It’s an extremely important business card that must be carefully curated, updated, and studied down to the smallest detail to leave a strong and curious impression on the visitor, encouraging them to explore deeper pages and products until they reach the checkout. It must also reflect a theme consistent with the type of products for sale but be creative and original to make it distinctive and memorable.

visual merchandising retail window

At a glance, users can choose their preferred website or platform, but capturing their attention is not an equally simple task.

As in a physical store, there must be order, and, most importantly, the color shades must reflect the message the brand wants to convey and its values.

The choice of mood depends on what you want to convey to the user’s eyes: bright and vibrant colors, like red, communicate energy and vitality, easily grabbing attention, while softer and more natural shades are perfect for a relaxing effect and a welcoming atmosphere.

In addition to selecting color shades, Visual Merchandising criteria involve a precise study of product placement. Products should flow horizontally and be mixed, while special offers should always occupy a prominent position on the web page and in the shop. Just like on a store shelf, you must meticulously calculate dimensions, product focus, visibility, and the order in which they appear to the user.

You should also avoid overcrowding the items for sale on the page to prevent customer confusion and ensure they make a serene choice. Instead, focus on upselling and bestsellers by suggesting combinations, outfits, or accessories that could complement the product and make it even more useful and interesting.

When making a purchase, people want to be guided and led through a path that brings them as close as possible to the merchandise and facilitates their search for what they are looking for. Instructions, simple and immediate menus, links, and buttons facilitate navigation and can lead the buyer to complete the purchase in just a few clicks, without getting distracted, agitated, or leaving the site never to return.

A storefront with orderly and colorful displays, precise and accurate decorations, and products presented impeccably are just some of the elements capable of capturing the customer. However, in Visual Merchandising, music is an excellent communication tool. Together with the other senses, it completes the sensory marketing strategy, which aims to increase sales and retain customers. If customers are satisfied with the sensations and emotions experienced, they will certainly come back.

For example, if you sell sporting goods or adventure travel, the background music should express energy and a desire to move, while a site that sells infant products might benefit from gentler music, like lullabies. Everything should accompany the visitor, welcome them, and make them part of an exciting experience.

9 online tools to use

Online Visual Merchandisers employ a range of tools to enhance digital shopping experiences. These include graphic design software, image editing tools, analytics platforms, and content management systems. These tools help them curate and optimize product presentations on e-commerce websites: 

  1. Shopify Visual Merchandiser
  2. Magento Page Builder
  3. WooCommerce Blocks
  4. VWO (Visual Website Optimizer)
  5. Optimizely
  6. Shogun
  7. Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence)
  8. Canva
  9. Adobe XD

Oftentimes, the theoretical part is followed by various laboratory activities simulating display spaces and their arrangement in a store. Attending Visual Merchandising training courses and obtaining certified certificates will certainly be an excellent introduction during interviews and will be welcomed by recruiters who will have the impression of dealing with a true industry expert.

As you gain experience, you can grow and receive more interesting job offers, eventually reaching managerial positions. In these roles, you will establish online and offline sales strategies, manage budgets, and all marketing tools to achieve the market objectives set by the company. Once you have enough field experience, a Visual Merchandiser can work as a freelancer, becoming an external figure to the store capable of working for entire retail chains, traveling, and participating in various fashion shows, events, and fairs.

Engage your users

Customers engaged and stimulated through an effective Visual Merchandising strategy will certainly return to make purchases on the online platform. They feel part of a story, recognize its values, and have experienced something that touched them deeply.

For the survival of a store or just to keep up with the competition, it becomes important and fundamental to apply Visual Merchandising techniques to always make your store appealing and captivating to customers. If intrigued and stimulated, they are ready to be captivated and pampered.

Certainly, the combination of emotions, sensory experiences, and psychology plays a primary role, but users need to immerse themselves in a story, share its values, and be personally involved. Therefore, storytelling must speak to the user’s innermost self, make them experience sensations and feelings through storytelling or product descriptions.

Drawing inspiration from literature and cinema, through words, images, videos, and music, users can physically feel the softness of a sweater, the scent of fruit, the taste of a sweet, and even imagine themselves behind the wheel of a sports car. This blend of imagination and fantasy generates memories, making them an integral part of an experience and building customer loyalty.

Creating content that aids the implementation of the Visual Merchandising strategy is not easy, but it ensures long-term success for a company and the expansion of its customer base through word of mouth and the transmission of positive feelings. Through neuromarketing techniques and the use of questions or requests for opinions and reviews, you can activate neural stimuli to delve even deeper into latent customer needs.

In addition to mental and sensory stimuli, people need physicality and tangibility to feel an integral part of an experience. Action, change, and the need to find incentives to act, move, and do are highly effective motivational factors that increase people’s engagement.

Furthermore, the need to build relationships, to engage, and to feel part of a community allow ambitions to grow, the desire to achieve a goal, a sense of belonging, and, consequently, the need to continue following the evolution of a product, becoming true fans.

Online Visual Merchandising Optimization

To successfully merchandise your online store, you must optimize your website making it SEO and user-friendly, use social media and email marketing, run paid advertisements, work with influencers, collect customer reviews by mouth, and provide a referral program.

Focus on providing great customer support, data analytics, A/B testing, and mobile optimization. Be community-minded, collaborate with other businesses, plan on seasonal improvements, and change your strategies based on customer feedback. It is an ongoing process to maintain competitiveness online.

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3 examples of Visual Merchandising

Visual Merchandising is a true art, not only in the arrangement of physical stores but also online, where imagination and creativity can truly shine, finding unique and distinct solutions. Below, you can find some examples of online Visual Merchandising that can certainly inspire you.

FAO Schwarz is one of the world’s largest toy stores. A world of fantasy, emotions, play, and fun that engages people of all ages. Recently, a new store was opened in a historic building not far from the center of Milan, fully replicating the New York store’s setup with the same colors, red, gold, and black, music inspired by Christmas, and the opportunity for children to choose, touch, play, and have experiences.

As it has already happened in the United States, an e-commerce site has also been launched in Italy. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by a short video with strong emotional content, featuring the words “Welcome to the E-commerce of Wonders.” FAO Schwarz’s enchanted world is all there, with products displayed as if on shelves, an invitation to purchase the most exclusive toys, and sweet photos of happy children. The menu is very simple but perfect for inspiring customers and leading them to make a purchase in just a few clicks.

When you enter the Nike website, the emotions of sports are everywhere: from banners showcasing top offers to videos featuring people doing sports, achieving great goals, and succeeding, to photos of champions wearing the latest trendy outfits. The music is rhythmic and encourages movement and physical activity.

White is the predominant color and highlights all the content, providing a sense of simplicity and immediacy. However, nothing has been overlooked; the menus are very user-friendly, leading directly to the products, and the photos are highly captivating, offering a truly satisfying and exclusive shopping experience.

The Lamborghini website exudes elegance, energy, and power. The car models are thrilling with their beauty, a combination of great craftsmanship, cutting-edge technology, and modern design.

In addition to the very large photos, videos, and personalized services offered for each model, users are encouraged to use a QR Code for a true Augmented Reality experience. This allows them to admire the car’s design in minute detail, with 3D visualization of both the interiors and exteriors, experience the engine’s sound in 8D, and appreciate every phase of its creation, starting from the design stage.

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Who works in Visual Merchandising

The Visual Merchandiser is an expert in visual communication who has been making strides in the world of retail and commercial strategies in recent years. Thanks to extensive experience in promotion techniques and marketing applied to stores, they can express their innate creativity in any situation, including online.

Every Visual Merchandising project must, however, be supported by a team of highly qualified professionals who bring it to complete fruition, including web designers, graphic designers, videomakers, experts in market trends and user behavior, and UX designers capable of capturing the smallest nuances and creating a unique customer experience.

What does a Visual Merchandiser do?

As the set designer of the store, this high-level professional is tasked with using internal and external display spaces, paying attention to specific details to capture the customer’s attention through modern visual and persuasive techniques. A good Visual Merchandiser’s objective and mission are to provide a unique experience to the customer and make Visual Merchandising commercial strategies effective in both increasing sales and attracting as many clients as possible to the shop.

It is one of the oldest professions in the commercial sector but is finding new areas and growth prospects thanks to the spread of online commerce. Experience, a passion for creativity, and organizational skills are fundamental characteristics of an excellent visual communication professional. However, they must also possess a solid set of skills that enable them to design and arrange the spaces of a retail store, even online, in the best possible way. What skills should they have?

  • in-depth knowledge of the market and sales sector;
  • understanding of marketing concepts and sales psychology;
  • competitor analysis and control;
  • mastery of sales techniques and strategies;
  • management and achievement of company KPIs.

What to study to become a Visual Merchandiser?

A respectable professional, in addition to the experience accumulated over the years, has a good amount of academic courses and training in their personal background to certify acquired knowledge and skills. These courses generally cover:

visual merchandiser showcase window

  • market trends;
  • visual merchandising techniques;
  • persuasion tools;
  • spaces and colors.

How much does a Visual Merchandiser earn?

Even if you’re just starting out, the salary can still be interesting, averaging around €5,000 per month, while professionals with more years of experience can earn up to €60,000 per month. Furthermore, job opportunities are abundant, and it’s an increasingly sought-after profession, especially in the digital field.

The presence of a Visual Merchandiser in-store or online, supported by a competent team of professionals, is the best way to ensure the success of a commercial venture, attracting valuable and loyal customers, expanding your market base, and increasing profit margins.

Conclusion and free consultation

Having a physical store or an online shop with products to sell is no longer sufficient if you truly want to make a difference in the market and increase your profits.

Sensory stimuli, experiences, and emotions play an essential role, and implementing Visual Merchandising techniques is the best way to ensure the success of your business. However, it’s essential to do it with a solid foundation of skills and plenty of field experience, along with innate creativity, aesthetic taste, and the ability to innovate to follow market trends.

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