Fashion Retail Voices

Visual merchandising, right on mark!7 min read

January 30, 2024   |   5 min read

Visual merchandising, right on mark!7 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Explore a  fascinating journey into the heart of Visual Merchandising! We sat down for a conversation with Darshana Srivastava, the Head of Visual Merchandising at Marks and Spencer.  She started her career in the late ’90s with an indoor jewellery business during her undergrad years. From a sales associate to the head of Visual Merchandising, Darshana’s career was full of growth and learning opportunities. 

This conversation was all about how creativity with technology can marry each other while also weaving compelling narratives that captivate customers and define brand identities. 

Ready to explore the world of crafting memorable experiences? Let’s begin!

1 – When stepping into a retail store, one often encounters well-organized, thoughtfully curated product displays that effectively draw attention to the products. While this practice undoubtedly involves an aesthetic aspect, it involves science- Visual merchandising is a tried and tested strategy with outcomes!  Tell us about the significance of visual merchandising.

Visual merchandising has evolved significantly over the past decade. Initially, it focused on attracting new customers, the visual presentation of the stores, and showcasing new products. Later it transitioned into what I term “commercial visual merchandising.” This goes beyond mere presentation; it involves designing the entire customer journey and brand presentation. It could be opening new stores, changing seasons, or aligning with marketing campaigns.

In my current approach to commercial visual merchandising, the focus is on understanding the customer better through their shopping experience, making it aspirational and relevant to the brand and business. It’s no longer just about putting anything in a window; it involves scientific, technical, mental, and psychological knowledge to strategically place elements that resonate with customers and encourage them to engage with the brand repeatedly.

2 – In the new era of everything photos, the more Instagrammable you make things, the more user-generated content- a low cost of marketing. What’s your take on that?

In today’s world, access to global events like Paris Fashion Week or London Fashion Week is readily available through phones. Information are spreading instantly, despite products potentially taking six to nine months to reach stores. The journey of any brand is acknowledged to begin well before its products appear on shelves. It is recognized that today’s consumers, including Gen Z and millennials, are well-informed about the fashion world, presenting a challenge in maintaining their focus on specific brands due to their constantly evolving choices and the rapid change in fashion and trends.

The importance of focusing on personal branding and styling is emphasized in this fast-paced and ever-changing fashion landscape. It is advised to establish and adhere to one’s personal brand and style, rather than being swayed by fleeting trends, and to build a classic, timeless personality. In the digital age, it is noted that numerous fashion brands and influencers are providing guidance on various aspects, be it finding affordable options, staying fashion-forward, maintaining a classy yet fashionable look, or experimenting with playful colors.

3 – What are some of the common challenges you face in your role, and how do you overcome them? Are there any particularly memorable or difficult situations you’ve encountered?

In my role as a Visual Merchandiser, the most common challenge revolves around the perception of Visual Merchandising. Being analytical, observant, and a creative innovator is found to be essential in navigating effectively through various functions. It is understood that Visual Merchandising involves more than just presentation; it necessitates supporting the buying team’s strategy while aligning with the retail’s approach to selling the products.

The most challenging aspect is identified as balancing the responsibility of being the face of the brand with translating the buying and product journey into retail stores, omnichannel, or online platforms. It is crucial to strike a strategic balance that aligns with seasonal business strategies while meeting consumer expectations. The challenge is seen in creatively translating the buying team’s focus and the product strategy into a retail environment without compromising the brand’s identity or losing touch with consumer demographics. This requires a blend of creativity and analytics, along with effective influencing and convincing skills. In situations where choices are limited, collaboration is deemed inevitable.

4 – How do you measure the success of its Visual Merchandising efforts? Are there specific metrics that you focus on to evaluate the effectiveness of your strategies?

I believe there should be no distinct KPIs for existing businesses. Retail sales teams already have specific KPIs, such as the percentage of conversion in stores and basket size. As a Visual Merchandiser aligned with the business objectives, it’s crucial to adopt these retail KPIs and align them with the overall business goals. I often advocate for the principle of “globally consistent, locally relevant.” It’s important to maintain the brand’s identity while addressing local requirements. This involves adapting to local needs in terms of product, styling, presentation, and understanding consumer preferences. Constantly considering how to cater to these local demands is imperative for success.

5 – How can retailers effectively use data-driven insights and AI-powered technologies to enhance the shopping experience? There are often articles about the integration of AR and VR in in-person shopping experiences. How do you see AI technologies shaping the future of retail? 

The adoption of advancements by brands in recent times is noteworthy. Digital stores have been launched by a lot of brands. There was a period when brands used barcodes during sale windows for customers to access their sale pages but now when customers scan barcodes it directs them to brand or seasonal pages. In the past two years, the embrace of AI, metaverse, and innovative collections by many brands has enhanced their omnichannel experiences. Through the use of AI in stores, digital integration, or omnichannel strategies, initiatives have been taken by every brand to engage and inform customers. Every well-known brand, whether in India or internationally, is experimenting with 3D windows, AI, digital collaborations, or omnichannel experiences to remain relevant to today’s consumers, especially considering the ubiquity of mobile phones. Even in malls, it is observed that Gen Z might not be interacting face-to-face as much, but they are constantly engrossed in their phones, exploring collections and brands.

6 – Finally, what advice do you have for individuals who aspire to pursue a career in visual merchandising, especially those looking to climb the ranks you have?

One piece of advice that I would like to give is to trust one’s creative mind to continuously innovate, not only in presenting the brand but also in ways of working and collaborating with various cross-functional teams. Greater collaboration and understanding of the business and product can lead to more creative and innovative ideas, contributing to the brand and product in achieving the desired customer experience.

It should be recognized that it’s not always about a top-line funnel; as creators and innovators within a business, ownership should be taken to constantly engage in discussions, dialogues, or challenge certain strategies. This approach will assist the business in staying true to its goals and creating the brand experience that is sought after. At the end of the day, it’s understood that it’s never about an individual or a functional agenda; it always has to have a business language, handwriting, and a collaborative agenda to drive it collectively. Once this is understood by any visual merchandiser, navigating through collaboration with cross-functional teams or implementing any creative plan becomes manageable, as the results will eventually be evident to everyone.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR engineers bespoke AI transformation roadmaps for enterprises across industries. Retailers to resellers, auto-extracting data from files to extrapolating fashion styles, 150+ conglomerates in five continents recruit How can we help yours?