Window to the retail soul: key steps to creating inspirational shop displays

The architect Philip Johnson once observed, “All architecture is shelter; all great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.”

Perhaps we could equally say, “All great shop windows are the design of a space that inspires, evokes desire, stimulates and educates a potential customer to engage with you.”


Hugo Boss, Berlin, uses its signature colours and bold strong lines to appeal to their target customer

Consider the window as being the stage to your theatre. What are the stories that you will be communicating to your customer, how do the acts come together and how will the senses be aroused?

Let’s face it, many retail windows fail to achieve this lofty ambition and are often uninspiring or showcase limp assortments of clutter.

How we build “fit” window displays and motivate people to our retail theatre is vitally important, so here are a few of our fitness tips.

The first consideration to be aware of is that on average a customer will have three seconds to be impacted upon by your window display.

In this time they will need to:

  • Be ‘captured’ and motivated by your window display
  • ‘Get’ what it is that you sell
  • Be stimulated to enquire
  • Decide that the message you are sending is one they want to hear
  • Have their ‘buying radar’ operating

When we count off three seconds it is not hard to see how fleeting the opportunity really is, and in many situations, such as a tenancy situated at the entrance to a major department store, the reality becomes even less.

How does a retailer build a series of “power window displays” that rises above the clutter to capture the customer imagination, buying preference and the heart of today’s battle-weary consumer in such a short opportunity?

We see many examples of window displays that don’t quite achieve the desired effect for a variety of reasons, with the most common reasons being:

Trying to tell too many stories in a limited space, this creates a busy and confusing impact. The key here is to remember that ‘less is more’ and that the strong, powerful statement will always win over the ‘I am trying to sell you everything’ approach.

‘Apples with apples’ is another first principle of successful visual merchandising. Resist the opportunity to split displays and dilute the window message.

It is very important to be ‘in the business’ of your key product and telling the customer that this is the product or service expert and this is the central reason as to why they should come into the shop.

Avoid complicating the display or confusing the eye by utilising the basic shapes of the pyramid, zig zag, fan or step as the base building frameworks within the window.

A lack of visual cues in store that link to the central theme or product being displayed in the windows. Consider the number of window displays that have no cue or link to the inside of the shop. It is as if the product or promotion stops and ends at the window and there is no congruence or journey within the store.

Make sure that you always have back-up stock to support the window promotion. It is unprofitable and disenchanting for the customer to be ‘captured and then rejected’ because of a stock shortage. Check stock levels of window promoted product, be on top of the order cycle for this product and deliver the ‘promise’ of the window

The same window display week after week which speaks to the customer of a bored, uninspiring business that is really not that interested or bereft of ideas. Perhaps a metaphor is to imagine your favourite TV show showing the same episode in the same time slot week after week.

Keeping it new, fresh, different, relevant to your market and interesting is the challenge that many retail windows don’t rise to on a consistent basis. Many of our fashion retailers lead the way with as many as 40-45 window changes a year.

Lighting is often the forgotten ‘prop’ and understated, misdirected or even broken lighting contributes to turn down the power of the presentation. Always ensure that your lighting is strong enough and points on the promotional piece, product or the statement that you want to convey.


Louis Vuitton make it absolutely clear what the focus product is

I welcome you to follow us on Pinterest where we share best practice examples of window displays and visual merchandising excellence locally and from around the world.

Happy ‘fit’ retailing.

Brian Walker is the managing director of Australasia’s leading retail consultancy, Retail Doctor Group.


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