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3 Major Merchandising Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

While there are countless ways a retailer can go wrong in trying to reach its customers, attempting to consider and remedy each and every one can be truly overwhelming. Fortunately, most of the mistakes typically made fall under three broad categories: store environment, product assortment, and merchandising strategy. By thinking of potential pitfalls in this simplified way, you can better address them and turn missed sales opportunities into repeat business.

  1. Store environment, aka housekeeping. This one we can all relate to. We’ve all been to stores that left us feeling vaguely put off and uninspired to shop. But what are some of the factors that create this overall impression? It goes without saying that every store should be kept clean, well-lit, and properly appointed in terms of its aesthetic appearance. Old fixtures and burnt-out lights should be replaced as often as needed. Being pennywise in this area is plain pound foolish. Some specific areas to zero in on:
  • An unappealing exterior. This could encompass anything from peeling paint to signage that’s too small or otherwise illegible. Remember, the outside of your store is the face you’re presenting to the public. If your store is shabby-looking or people can’t even find it, they’re less likely to go in in the first place. Best Buy’s philosophy regarding this particular aspect of merchandising is “from highway to endcap,” meaning that the sales process begins not when the customer enters store but at the point they pass by on the highway. Seeing the store from afar, pulling in, parking, entering the doors, navigating the layout of the store then ultimately finding the product they’re looking for—it’s all a journey, and every step should guide the shopper toward making a purchase. Proper signage is essential to moving the shopper along that journey. Kmart in particular increased the size of its signage at underperforming stores and saw an instant increase in sales—testament to just how important signage is.
  • Stale store displays. It’s important that these change often enough. How often is often enough will depend on how often the average customer engages with your brand. If you have a POS system that tracks sales by customer, you’ll be able to determine this with ease, but even smaller retailers can use a simple database or spreadsheet to track individual customer purchases. Make sure that your displays reflect seasonality while showcasing new product offerings­—strive for the optimal blend of what the customer is looking for and what you want to show them. More on that later. Vulcan Industries can help retailers effectively and affordably refresh lackluster displays. We can design new displays that better communicate changing product features to consumers or simply give your store a facelift.
  • Changing displays during store hours. This one is self-explanatory. No one likes feeling like they’re getting in the way or that the store is in a state of disarray. “In progress” displays telegraph a lack of professionalism that can translate into a decline in sales. Ensure that your labor budget allows adequate time for displays to be changed during off hours or, failing that, during exceptionally slow periods. Because the time to perform updating and restocking duties is extremely limited, anything you can do to streamline the process is to your benefit. Vulcan offers shelving solutions that can store back stock on the sales floor, saving sales associates the time of having to retrieve more from the back room. For merchandise that requires added security measures, Vulcan designs locking cabinets with wire grids or clear panels that allow the customer to clearly see the product inside and associates to take inventory. Some displays incorporate wheels or casters, making it easy to pre-stage product in the back room and roll it out to the sales floor when it’s ready to go.
  • Unusual colors over large areas. While all beige is certainly boring, too-trendy colors don’t have a long shelf life, and super-bright colors can skew the senses. Brand-identifying colors and/or pops of color are just fine and even very effective in stimulating shoppers’ senses. What you want to avoid is huge, uninterrupted expanses of color, such as on entire walls. Colored lighting is also inadvisable. This isn’t a nightclub—electric colors can make merchandise appear a different color than it actually is, resulting in disappointment once the item is seen in natural light. It really is a fine line, so factor in the nature of the display and its expected shelf life when deciding on colors. Neutral colors are well-suited to displays for perennial everyday items whereas seasonal, limited-time merchandise allows greater flexibility in use of more dynamic color schemes. Help keep your store looking current and color-appropriate with temporary popup displays as well as permanent displays that accommodate easily changeable graphic elements.
  1. Non-optimal product assortment and/or inventory. Another oft-used retail phrase is “clean, bright, and tight.” Tight here refers to having shelves that always look fully stocked. Solutions to this problem include incorporating spring-loaded pushers, which keep products positioned at the front of the shelf each time one is removed. Gravity-feed designs use angles and slopes to achieve the same effect without as many moving parts. Big-picture things to consider in this category:
  • Too little product. Whether people come into your store looking for something specific or simply to see if anything sparks their interest, not having enough merchandise to make the right impression is one of the worst mistakes you can make. If you don’t have enough room to put all your offerings on the showroom floor, consider an electronic kiosk, which Vulcan can help you design, to help bridge the gap between your entire catalog and what’s available at your store. If too little product means not enough inventory rather than product breadth, once again, Vulcan’s custom shelving solutions can save stores time and labor by keeping merchandise on the sales floor for replenishment as needed.
  • Too much product. Though lots of choices are good, seeing them all at once creates visual clutter and a feeling of being overwhelmed—which isn’t conducive to shopping. Sometimes this happens because a retailer gets a good deal on a particular product and is overstocked. To avoid product glut, retailers should establish and adhere to a planogram—which determines what goes where, in what quantity, and when—as much as possible. However, if you have to choose, having too much product rather than too little is always preferred. Retailers like Best Buy, Office Depot, and DIY stores address the problem by placing excess inventory around the store perimeter, above the shopper’s line of sight, which generally ranges from floor level to 8 feet high. Shoppers are more accustomed to filtering out what’s above them than they are to seeing empty store shelves.
  • Choosing products you like instead of what your customers need. Often, this results from retailers selecting products based on price/profit margin, supplier relationships, or logistics efficiencies as opposed to anticipating customer needs. Putting the cart before the horse this way could and often does drive customers to other stores where they can actually find what they want. And should they find their experience at that other store more satisfying than yours, they may never come back. While it’s fine to designate a limited area of the store to try new merchandise out at your discretion, you must make the items most wanted and needed by your particular customer base easily accessible. If it’s a matter of space constraints, the aforementioned electronic kiosks can offer customers access to your full catalog of available products.
  1. Ineffective merchandising. Effective merchandising requires you to know who your target customer is—not just for your store as a whole but at the product level as well. For example, ADA compliance should be factored in when placing products so that disabled shoppers can access them in some way, even if an associate’s help is required. Similarly, children’s toys need to be placed where they can be seen and played with by kids, since they’re typically the ones driving the purchase decision. What are some of the specific no-nos in this category?
  • Selling to everyone instead of someone.How you sell will depend on what the product is and who your main customer is, though you should also consider your secondary and tertiary buyers. If you can tailor your display to appeal to all three groups, you can capture more sales. The key is to avoid trying to appeal to every single person, which is almost never possible. Even would-be buyers of, say, a particular cell phone can be interested in it for entirely different reasons, be it looks or functionality. Upselling by placing like products side by side is one way you can market to similar but different customers. This could be done using graphics and messaging, a separate display that looks nicer than the generic, or by placing premium items alongside relevant accessories.
  • A marketing strategy that’s out of sync with displays. It should be obvious that the more touch points you have with your customer, the more likely you are to make a sale. Yet many retailers fail to put this multichannel marketing knowledge into practice. Case in point, Swiffer recently executed a very effective series of “mystery box” television commercials in which a variety of consumers were sent Swiffer products and asked to use them and share their opinions. Swiffer also created in-store product displays echoing the message and theming of the commercial spots for retailers to use. However, not all retailers opted to implement these displays, including several grocery stores. Without displays like these in place, consumers may not make the connection between that very intensive advertising campaign and the product they’re seeing in front of them—a missed opportunity. So make your messaging consistent across all channels as much as you’re able to.
  • Failure to create a journey through the retail environment. Whatever your size, you should be doing everything you can to draw your customers in and keep them moving toward making purchases. Find ways to encourage your customers to explore all that you have to offer, whether it’s with interactive displays, engaging sales staff, product demonstrations, in-store promotions, or a fun sensory environment. Bass Pro Shops is a great example of a retailer who goes the extra mile to create an ambience that really speaks to its niche customers. Mounted stuffed animal heads, a shooting range, aquariums, and salespeople who hunt and fish themselves make shoppers feel invested in, and emotionally connected to, their brand. By contrast, Walmart’s story, appealing to pretty much anyone who wants to save money, is “Live more, spend less.” All retailers should be having an implicit conversation with their customers; how elaborately you tell your story will depend on who your customer is and what your story is.
  • Failure to gauge metrics (ROI) and merchandise accordingly. This is another thing that every retailer should be doing. Most information can be obtained directly from the register: what products are selling, in what volume, at what price, and when. This will determine your product assortment and future marketing strategies. Even big chain stores carry regional merchandise, such as snow blowers or winter coats in the northern states going into fall, or college football-related merchandise going into football season. Extremely effective in driving sales, this approach also helps bigger brands feel friendlier to local markets. While merchandising tends to be cyclical—think back to school, Halloween, and summer vacation—it’s important not to fall into the trap of doing the same thing over and over regardless of how well it’s performing. Always track metrics and adjust buying and inventory accordingly.

Let Us Help You Tell Your Retail Story

An expert in the field of creative retail-display solutions since 1948, Vulcan Industries designs and manufactures custom fixtures for retailers and suppliers of consumer products. Whether you’re refreshing old retail displays or looking for a complete store makeover, we’re a full-service provider that does it all, from concept development to execution. We can build and implement digital kiosks and supply you with everything you need. We specialize in providing solutions—including shelving units, freestanding and wall-mounted merchandising displays, POP displays, and specialty fixtures—for a wide range of markets. To benefit from our decades of expertise, save time and labor, and grow your bottom line, contact Vulcan Industries today.