Visual Merchandising: Is It Necessary?

Visual Merchandising: Is It Necessary?

Slideshow: Bauman's Farm and GardenIf you look through a typical on-farm market, you could easily conclude that merchandising isn’t taken that seriously.


Occasional displays are arranged in ways to appeal to shoppers, but once you reach the fruits and vegetables, where the heart of an on-farm market’s sales reside, thoughtful merchandising all but disappears.

To achieve a goal like increasing sales by 10 percent, merchandising your produce carefully is a must.

Three men who work closely with large retailers like grocery stores, which follow their sales at microscopic levels, share their insights on a topic many farm marketers don’t seem to pay enough attention to.

Consumers Are Impulsive Buyers

“Seventy percent of consumers’ in-store purchases are unplanned, which means they came to the store to buy something else,” says Greg Smith, director of communications for the Chicago-based Point Of Purchase Advertising Institute (POPAI). The institute, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary of bringing brands, retailers and in-store displays together, has concentrated heavily on supermarkets and other chains.

Although POPAI’s focus has been on other industries, its research has obvious analogies for the smaller farm markets.

The percentage of unplanned purchases has ranged from 64.8 percent in 1974 to the 70 percent referred to above in 1995.

“Our new study will come out in 2012, and we think the figure will be at least 70 percent, if not higher,” Smith predicts.

Smith also explains that, whereas the remaining 30 percent refers to planned purchases, such as a consumer going into the store to buy a Coke and walking out with a Coke, the 70 percent of unplanned purchases fall into three categories.

1. The first occurs when the consumer just has a general notion that he wants to buy a soda, but is not focused on a particular flavor or brand.

2. In the second, he plans to purchase, say, a Coke, but he buys a Pepsi instead.

3. The third is when he had no intent to buy a soda, maybe wanting some peanuts, but leaves the store with both peanuts and a Pepsi.

“It’s important to realize that no matter how much advertising you do on a particular product or brand, most shoppers can be swayed by the in-store displays,” Smith says.

In-Store Displays Give Retailers A Chance To Connect With Shoppers

Although point-of-purchase and in-store displays have been around a long time, Google searches for in-store displays and merchandising experienced a spike in 2007, says Patrick Fitzmaurice, principal of the Capre Group, Atlanta, Ga.

The reason for the surge, Fitzmaurice speculates, is because retailers struggled to reach customers consistently when the number of channels multiplied. Every traditional route of connecting with customers expanded – hundreds of cable stations, satellite radio, thousands of blogs and news sites online and the advent of Facebook and Twitter.

But one venue remained manageable: the store itself.

“In the food and drug areas, it’s become much more of a science,” Fitzmaurice says. “Studies have shown that just by rearranging an aisle to increase shopability, sales can improve upwards of 7 percent to 10 percent,” Fitzmaurice says.

The rearranging Fitzmaurice refers to above can be as simple as which products are on the shelf and in what order, he says. For example, if a retailer thinks about how the shopper is using the products at home, a retailer can make the shopping experience easier by bundling products in a way that reflects the shopper’s mindset.

So, how does a retailer go about achieving this improvement?

“We encourage retailers to think through their broad strategy first,” Fizmaurice explains. “Of primary importance to us are navigation and information. Is the shopper on an urgent trip or is he looking for inspiration? These require entirely different merchandising approaches.”

Of course, Fitzmaurice says, you’re appealing to both types of shoppers. But you want to do so in a way that appeals to both.

“If the shopper is looking for a particular brand of weed killer, you navigate him so he gets to the weed killers quickly and can easily spot his brand,” Fitzmaurice says. “But, if he’s browsing, how much dwell time do you think he should have? Here you not only navigate, but also inspire him. The way you lay out your flowering plants is important. You want to help him make the choice he will be happy with.”

Along these lines, Fitzmaurice indicates there are two moments of truth. The first when the shopper decides this is what he wants, and the second from the pleasure he gets from the product after he takes it home.

“The trend now among sophisticated merchandisers is on how to connect these two moments of truth.”

Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Visual Appeal

Some garden retailers think of merchandising simply as making products pretty. And to some extent, they are right. But don’t dismiss the impact pretty can have on increasing sales.

“Supermarkets have found piling produce high, with easy visibility and reach, with vibrant color contrasts is very effective,” says Smith. “Such as red apples, yellow bananas and oranges side by side, or green lettuce contrasted with purple cabbage and yellow peppers. In a similar manner, the farm marketer should have visually striking plants, with the colors highlighting those next to it, at the right height to both see the plants clearly and be able to easily reach out and take one.”

Study How Customers Shop

As the previous examples show, a lot of good visual merchandising is just common sense. In fact, Bill Schober, editorial director of Shopper Marketing Magazine, which has published countless studies of shopper habits for its Path To Purchase Institute (the name recently changed from the In-Store Marketing Institute), says the “classic technique that has been used is called retailing anthropology.”

The phrase refers to the practice of professors sending their college students to observe people shopping, then report on their “culture.”

One illustrative example from these types of studies, Schober says, is how people don’t like to be pushed up against one another.

“The merchandising guru Paco Underhill said that if dress racks are too close together, there is the danger of women experiencing what he calls ‘the butt brush.’ This will interrupt their moment with the merchandise to the point where they will put it down and walk away.

“This can be a challenge for retailing in an on-farm market, for there is generally limited space and a lot of bulk clustered together,” he says. “But you have to give people room to browse.”

Moreover, continues Schober, what can work in a supermarket won’t necessarily work in a center.

“’Stack them high and watch them fly,’ as with cases of Pepsi, is not going to work with bags of fertilizer,” says Schober. “Now a farm market is going to have to pile up bags of material, but the solution is to break out into vignettes, which are very important. Have a vignette adjacent to a mass of merchandise but separate them with visual appeal, such as a small stack of fertilizer with a rake and shovel artfully arranged as a special.”

Schober says that these types of visual appeals are necessary.

Also, he says, it may be easy to think that because their customers often work roll up their sleeves to cook, they must be “mess friendly.” That may be true in their home, but not in a store.

“Customers have been conditioned by the supermarkets to expect everything to be super clean. This can be difficult for a farm marketer who has to deal with sod ‘flooring.’ Some smudges on a bag of apples might not be as acceptable as he might assume. The shopper might wonder, as he does in a supermarket, how long has this been on the shelf?,” Schober says. “He might get nervous. You don’t want to instill questions like this.”