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Apparel merchandising: basics, rules and tips
How to series

Apparel merchandising: basics, rules and tips

8 min read
Alexandr Bilousko
Alexandr BilouskoHead of customer success
Apparel merchandising

How can apparel merchandising help bring fashion retail to a high level of sales?

When buying clothes, shoes or accessories, most of us never consider how strongly our shopping experience, emotions, mood and choices are influenced by merchandising rules.

Visual merchandising is an intricate science, invisible to the eye but very effective in helping a retailer achieve their main goals - attract you into the store, induce a purchase, evoke emotions and gain loyalty. 

Every detail inside a clothing store - the look and placement of the mannequins, the music you hear once you are in, the way the hangers with the goods are arranged - all these nuances have a huge influence on you as a customer. Using inconspicuous but effective techniques and tools of visual merchandising, the seller can create impressions, emotions, mood and even influence the buyer's self-esteem.  

So how can you influence a customer, encourage them to make a purchase and return to your store again in the future? Let us talk about the basic rules of visual merchandising and product display in retail clothing stores. 

Retail space planning or the basics of apparel merchandising

Fashion retail is an industry where impressions and emotions shape the purchase. The buyer's experience should be comfortable and pleasant in your store, they should feel confident and relaxed since most of the time people purchase clothes for an uplifting sense of enjoyment. Cases when buying and trying on clothes is a necessity are quite rare.

Even just stepping inside and having a quick glance at the product variety and store interior is enough for the buyer to understand which price segment the store belongs to and what kind of impression it makes. This first impression will have a crucial impact on whether the customer continues to explore the store or leaves immediately, whether they decide to try on a product and make a purchase, or turn around towards the exit.

Start building an impression out of the gate by planning your store layout efficiently - clearly define and separate the entrance zone, checkout area, women's, children's, men's clothing sections and fitting rooms. Analyze your product assortment and divide it by brands and categories. Assortment analysis and category management is a complicated but crucial process, which we have already discussed here.

  ▶ The entrance zone (also decompression zone or “dead zone”) usually takes up about 2 meters or 4 steps of the store space. The entrance zone, unlike the central area, is not supposed to capture the customer's attention or become a focal point. Upon entering a store, a person usually needs a few seconds to adjust before they look either to their right or towards the central display area. Placing goods in the entrance zone is not recommended according to rules of apparel retail merchandising – better reserve that space for decorations, signage or POS displays.

  ▶ The central area (also the main aisle area or focus area) is perfect for mannequins, display tables and fixtures with goods laid out on them. 

The zone to the right of the entrance is called the "Power Wall" since that is where the customer begins to move through the store from right to left. Place premium, featured products and items from the new collection in this hot zone. 

  ▶It's best to locate the checkout area as far from the entrance as possible. This way the buyer will have an additional incentive to stroll through the store on the way to the checkout counter. Place showcases and stands with impulse goods in the checkout area. For clothing stores it can include accessories, jewelry, gloves, perfumes from the brand's collection, sunglasses and gift cards. 

 Apparel store design

A good example of visual apparel merchandising

It is important to ensure that impulse goods at the checkout area correspond with the main collection, complement it in style, color palette and theme. The price of such goods should not exceed the average check size of your store. Primary and impulse goods should be in the same price category. The buyer will find it confusing if, for example, a cheap mass market clothing store places premium expensive accessories, watches and jewelry at the checkout area. Same goes for an expensive luxury fashion boutique that litters its checkout area with heaps of inexpensive junk products. This will ruin the customer's experience and rob him of the feeling and attitude that he expects to receive when making an expensive purchase. 

The "coldest" zones with the lowest selling potential are in the corners around the store perimeter - reserve them for fitting rooms and "on sale" displays. Sometimes retailers place their bestsellers and high-demand goods in the corner areas on purpose, knowing that customers will come for them anyway, which would generate a consumer flow to the cold marginal sections of the outlet.

And remember the core rule of space planning in visual merchandising in apparel - the more premium and expensive your segment is, the more free unoccupied space should there be. Instead of piling up retail equipment in a premium-segment store, use that space to set up a lounge area for your customers with comfortable armchairs, sofas and coffee tables. 

A carefully planned layout design will help you use every foot of the retail space to maximum efficiency.

Interior as a powerful tool of apparel merchandising design

Decor and interior design (lighting, color palette, mannequins, materials used, fittings and details...) are important tools of apparel visual merchandising. 

Interior design creates an atmosphere, helps your brand stand out among competitors, builds a story around your brand, forms the buyer target group and sets an emotional background. Keep in mind that your retail space interior should match your brand theme and correspond to its concept, rather than contradict it.

For example, soft pastel-colored interior, with use of natural materials, marble, leather and wood would be suitable for premium goods, classic clothing and accessories. The target audience of such a store will consist of upper middle-class clients in the 35+ age group.

A minimalistic loft-style space, with predominant straight lines and shapes, metallic and concrete textures, raw rustic walls, will better suit trendy youth lines and “rebellious” brands. The target audience of such stores are young 20 to 30-year-old people living in large cities, a creative class. 

Each buyer group or audience has its own demand, needs, desires and its own budget limits. Be sure to do the research and outline a portrait of your client, analyze the demand in your niche and target group. Only with this data in your possession will you be able to use the techniques of merchandising in your favor. Modern merchandising and inventory management systems can help you get there. Based on advanced cloud computing, these smart systems use powerful analytical modules to analyze and build sales strategies and customer relations.

  ▶ The fitting room area is a separate space with its own rules of visual merchandising. Customers' comfort in the fitting room area plays an important role in the buying process. 

Fitting rooms is where the principles of visual merchandising can affect a person's self-esteem. For example, installing complimentary lighting with a pleasant soft light that visually removes unflattering shadows will help the client like themselves in the mirror. If you tilt the mirror a bit, the client will appear slimmer and will like his reflection in your clothes even more. On the other hand, bright cool luminescent or pulsating light will visually distort the figure while emphasizing skin flaws and pallor.

Retailers often want to use every square foot of the retail space for displaying their products and allocate very little space for fitting rooms. And that's a huge mistake. Even inexpensive mass market segment stores communicate with their customers and show that they care through comfort, illumination and thoughtfully planned fitting areas. No one likes cramped, uncomfortable, narrow booths with poor lighting or dusty mirrors and rugs. Most probability, the buyer will come out of such a fitting room frustrated and will not make a purchase. 

 Fitting room

Modern fitting Room

Design and comfort of the fitting rooms is a smart investment. Do not be afraid to allocate more retail space to the fitting room area for the sake of the buyer's convenience. Install good illumination and mirrors, do not skimp on lighting, make sure that the light color does not distort reflections in the mirrors. Install an air conditioning system. This investment and attention to detail will benefit you in the long run.

Apparel merchandising is a complex but interesting process that requires some knowledge of the basics, tools and rules of merchandising, marketing, psychology and sales. 

Follow our updates to learn more about how you can help your business and customize your display management system so that it stimulates sales and revenues to grow, numbers of loyal customers to increase, and your product and personnel expenses to drop.

Would you like to increase your revenues by rearranging your product display?


Alexandr Bilousko
Alexandr BilouskoHead of customer success

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