Visual Merchandising and the Creation of Discernible Retail Brands

Visual merchandising and the creation of discernible retail brands The Authors Shona Kerfoot, Shona Kerfoot is based at Matalan Retail Ltd, Skelmersdale, UK. Barry Davies, Barry Davies is Assistant Dean (Research) at the University of Gloucestershire Business School, Cheltenham, UK. Philippa Ward, Philippa Ward is Principal Lecturer, at the University of Gloucestershire Business School, Cheltenham, UK. Abstract This research presents the results of an initial investigation on “visual merchandising” and its effects on purchase behaviour and brand recognition.The context is concessionary branded female fashion offerings within a department store.

The research utilises semi-structured interviews with a small sample of female undergraduate students. The interviews incorporated the use of stimulus material – photographs taken of concessions in a department store some 150 miles away from the research location. The results suggest that the themes that linked most strongly to purchase intention were: merchandise colours, presentation style, awareness of fixtures, path finding, sensory qualities of materials and lighting.Initial findings suggest that liking of display does not totally determine purchase, but does make it four times more likely.

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Article Type: Research paper Keyword(s): Merchandising; Vision; Branding; Retailing; Fashion. Journal: International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management Volume: 31 Number: 3 Year: 2003 pp: 143-152 Copyright © MCB UP Ltd ISSN: 0959-0552 Introduction Visual stimulation and communication have long been considered important aspects of retailing by practitioners and academics alike (McGoldrick, 1990, 2002).This interest in the visual has – at one level within the retail context – coalesced to form the practice of “visual merchandising”.

This is defined as the “… activity which coordinates effective merchandise selection with effective merchandise display” (Walters and White, 1987, p. 238). Visual merchandising is therefore concerned with both how the product and/or brand is visually communicated to the customer and also whether this message is decoded “appropriately” – in this context affecting a positive psychological or behavioural outcome, ultimately leading to purchase.

The importance of attaining such an outcome has meant that within the retail environment, numerous methods have been used to display merchandise and communicate product and retailer brand. This diversity in visual merchandising methods has perhaps also stemmed from the vast array of goods and services that are sold by retailers. The development of merchandising techniques, and the dissemination of these approaches amongst retailers, has a well-established history. For example, L.Frank Baum acknowledged the importance of window display as early as 1897. He also acted as the founding editor of The Show Window – a trade publication in which he offered guidelines to retailers on the creation of effective window displays – where he provided an early mechanism for the dissemination of visual merchandising “best practice”. This early publication evolved to examine display across the store and continued to offer advice for some considerable time.

This interest in the importance and potential of display to affect customers has continued within the retail sector and dedicated trade publications are still apparent, for instance Visual Merchandise and Store Display(VM&SD), started in 1922. However, the importance of visual merchandising has not received as much attention in the academic literature (Lea-Greenwood, 1998). One notable exception has been within the US fashion-based literature, where a number of texts have been devoted to the subject.

These though are primarily practitioner-based, highlighting again a eficiency of attention from retail academics. This study represents a small step towards addressing this lack. It investigates the influence of visual merchandising stimuli within the retail store environment on customer perceptions and responses. In doing this, the research is focused on the potential psychological and behaviour outcomes that result from customer interaction with visual merchandising, rather than directly trying to establish what constitutes best practice per se or manipulating visual merchandising techniques themselves.

The context chosen for investigation is female fashion in the UK. This particular retail sector was chosen as it has recently elevated visual merchandising to an issue of board level concern (Lea-Greenwood, 1998). Given this situation the sector affords an ideal context in which to investigate the impact of such cues on customers, as the degree of retailer sophistication in this area is likely to be higher than that displayed by organisations in other sectors.

Within the female fashion sector the department store was selected as the specific venue for investigation.This is because it offers distinctive merchandising possibilities for a number of brands – both retail and clothing-based. Here, the retail brands are derived from those stores that source and display “own-brand” assortments, and the clothing-based brands stem from either a manufacturing or design base. Within the department store these brands are merchandised within their own concessions in a way that holds a number of extraneous variables constant – for example, building type or specific shop location.This makes the use of such a research context advantageous as it minimises the development of customer perceptions and behaviour based on such factors and therefore enables the consideration of various aspects of visual merchandising and display and the “effectiveness” of this communication on customers. However, whilst excluding extraneous factors is beneficial, to investigate visual merchandising adequately it is also necessary to understand what actually constitutes this area of retailer activity. Dimensions of visual merchandising and displayOmar (1999) suggests that there are three types of interior display: merchandise display, point-of-sale display and architectural display.

This study focuses on merchandise display: the choice of a singular store to provide the stimulus photographs minimises the architectural elements (external and building-based); additionally, point-of-sale areas were excluded from the photographs to ensure only merchandise display was considered. The key facets within merchandise display are identified within the literature as: layout, (e. . Levy and Weitz, 1996; Berman and Evans, 1995), fixturing (e. g. Levy and Weitz, 1996; Donnellan, 1996), merchandise (e. g.

Davies and Ward, 2002), presentation techniques (e. g. Buchanan et al. , 1999), colour (e. g. Koelemeijer and Oppewal, 1999) and packaging (e. g. Bruce and Cooper, 1997; Da Costa, 1995).

These areas have received varying degrees of attention as individual elements. However, there is, in fact, little work that brings these facets together as “merchandise display”.There is also a lack of literature that examines the influence that such display engenders in consumers and – in particular – considers the influence of such cues on brand communication and purchase intention. However, some of the elements of merchandise display have been examined from an environmental psychology approach, as well as from a service environment perspective. These two related literatures provide potential starting points as each considers the physicality of the in-store environment and its influence on customers. The physical in-store environmentIt has frequently been suggested that “good” interior design within a store can maintain customer interest, encourage customers to lower their psychological defences and make a purchase (e.

g. Kotler, 1974; Walters and White, 1987; Bitner, 1992; Omar, 1999; Davies and Ward, 2002). In examining this potential, the physical in-store environment has been examined in relation to various elements, for example: orienting factors (Davies and Ward, 2002); signage (Bitner, 1992); spatial factors (Davies and Ward, 2002; Bitner, 1992); and ambient conditions (Bitner, 1992), which Kotler (1974) termed “atmospherics”.These elements are in many ways redolent of the facets of merchandise display identified above. This high degree of congruence between merchandise display facets and the elements identified when concerning the physicality of the in-store environment would appear to add further weight to the use of such “borrowed” approaches in this research. The work regarding the physicality of the in-store environment focuses on the “communication” of elements through cues and stimuli that the customer digests through a number of sensory modalities (visual, aural, lfactory, haptic and taste). Within the research on in-store environments it has been suggested that some people are better at “digesting” environmental stimuli than others (Bitner, 1992) and therefore the onus is on the retailer to make the physical environment as digestible or “legible” as possible (Davies and Ward, 2002).

Given that up to 90 per cent of the cues provided by an environment are digested through sight (Edwards and Shackley, 1992) it follows that many environmental cues in the retail context are visually communicated.The twin threads of visual communication and legibility highlighted in the environmental literature echo the sentiments raised in the definition of visual merchandising above. This then further strengthens the links between the visual merchandising and considerations of the physicality of the in-store environment. Therefore, from either perspective, understanding how to communicate product and brand images to customers through individual visual stimuli is vital.

The term “visual merchandising” also suggests a degree of holistic communication and this totality of consideration is also reflected in the literature on the built environment. Here, in addition to the effect that individual visual stimuli may have on the perception of a particular retail space, also highlighted are the effects that derive from people’s ability to discern “wholes” within their field of perception. For example, Lynch (1960) devised the acronym “PLEND” to describe the ability of individuals to find their way by reference to: paths, landmarks, edges, nodes and districts.Similarly, individuals are able to perceive “routes” (Levy and Weitz, 1996) or to discern the level of “sociability” of a space. However, as Bawa et al. (1989) highlight only certain environmental variables have been the focus of research.

Within these elements the totality of visual merchandising, in the wider context of the internal environment, has not, however, been considered – given the relative importance of the visual as a medium for communication this lack in the literature is perhaps surprising. This paper concentrates on the visual aspects of this totality of merchandising within the store.In doing this the research utilises a foundation drawn from the literature on the retail built environment and focuses on issues concerning: colour, lighting, shape and space. However, consideration is also given to issues of layout and fixturing as well as merchandise and presentation.

The treatment of these visual elements is not at the individual level and rather than create potentially meaningless divisions between them, the approach taken centres on consumers’ responses to the various retail environments as depicted in the stimulus material and “reasons” for these responses.This perspective is also consistent with the predominant approach used in the environmental psychology literature. It centres on the development of “approach or avoidance” behaviour as the result of “pleasure, arousal and dominance” being generated by the environmental stimuli (Mehrabian and Russell, 1974; Donovan and Rossiter, 1982; Donovan et al. , 1994). In this research context these are operationalised as the development of “liking” or “disliking” and propensity to browse. The relative effectiveness of the communication potential of the in-store environment visual elements is also considered.This is done through the examination of respondents’ identification of brand and their assessment of merchandise price (the latter measure attempts to consider if respondents are at least able to discern the relative market position of the brand if not identify it outright). Some attention is also paid to haptic sensing.

The use of a single departmental store would enable sound to be kept constant, however the stimulus materials used were purely photographic, and whilst it is possible to discern potential haptic cues from such sources it is obviously impossible to gauge auditory ones.Issues of sound were therefore excluded. The aims of this study are therefore to gather data from customers to identify those factors or themes that they see as important when considering visual merchandising. Beyond this an attempt was also made to establish whether presentation within the individual concession was liked or disliked and what particular features lead to a particular concession seeming attractive or unattractive. Respondents were also asked whether their perception of the price of the clothes was expensive or inexpensive, and whether respondents would be likely to browse or not within the concession.They were also asked to identify the brand in each of the seven cases.

This research therefore adopts a consumer response-centred approach to visual merchandising stimuli in an attempt to consider this area of retail concern in an holistic manner. In doing so it seeks to both explore an area that has received limited attention in the literature and limit the potentially meaningless division of visual stimuli into discrete areas of consideration. Methodology This research takes an exploratory approach and utilises qualitative data collection techniques.This type of approach lends itself to this study as the central topic of visual merchandising has seen limited empirical investigation and the aims of the research focus on developing an understanding of stimuli that cause particular responses. In doing this, it is necessary to explore respondents’ feelings and views in relation to a particular visual merchandising presentation and therefore a more open approach is dictated. Data collection techniques Semi-structured interviews were used as the central mechanism for data collection.The use of this data collection technique aligns well with an exploratory approach as semi-structured interviews enable the “seeking of insights”.

This is achieved through the flexibility of using the technique, which affords the opportunity to explore responses, seek clarification and explanation as well as developing discussion and where appropriate employing probing techniques. This then provides greater understanding and achieves added depth and richness in the data. The semi-structured interviews were based around the use of visual stimulus material.Photographs were taken of seven varying female fashion concessions within Kendal’s, the large House of Fraser department store in the centre of Manchester.

This store was sited some 150 miles from the research location. The use of stimulus material generated in a distant “locational” context was adopted to eliminate the possibility of respondents having had a direct involvement with the concession. Had respondents had direct experience of the concessions they may have been able to identify the brand on the basis of their actual knowledge.The photographs did not show any elements of architectural display or point-of-sale display; care was also taken to exclude any obviously identifiable signage, logos or brand names.

This meant that the photographs focused solely on aspects of visual merchandising and display. The ultimate selection of fashion “brands” included in the research was driven by interviews conducted with fashion-oriented young females (not themselves studying fashion), who were then excluded from further participation in data collection.The brands selected were also ones that featured within department stores around the interview location (Cheltenham). This then excluded those brands that potential respondents would otherwise perhaps not have encountered making it impossible for them to recognise the brand from its associated visual merchandising. The brands used in this study where: Armani Jeans, FCUK, Max Mara, Miss Sixty, Morgan, Nicole Farhi and Polo Jeans.

Research procedure Interviewees were seen individually in their homes and shown photographs of a particular concession.They were asked a number of questions derived from the research aims. The questions concerned the following issues: recognition of clothing brand, liking or disliking of the “display”, identification of what was seen as attractive and unattractive, propensity to browse the concession depicted, rationale behind browsing activity, and possible purchase intention. These topics were explored using open questions; in each context care was taken by the interviewer not to introduce specific aspects of visual merchandising to the discussion.This enabled respondents to express their opinions and select elements of the visual stimulus to explore, thereby ensuring that the respondents and not the interviewer drove the data collected.

By adopting such an approach it is possible to circumvent some of the criticism that has been levelled at empirical studies examining other aspects of the in-store environment and customer perception (Davies and Ward, 2002). One closed-question was used within the interview, this related to respondents’ perception of the cost of the merchandise on display. This question used a six-point scaled response format.The uniform response format was used in this context to ensure that answers could be easily compared. This question was however supported by an open inquiry that sought to determine respondents’ reasoning for their classification of the cost of the clothes depicted. This process was then repeated with the remaining six photographs. Each time the order of the questions remained fixed; however the open nature of the questions used meant that there was scope to explore points as they arose and where necessary respondents could be probed to provide additional information.

The order of the stimulus presentation was however rotated to ensure that order effects did not colour the information gathered and additionally that respondent fatigue was not encountered consistently in relation to a particular photograph. A single interviewer administered this process and each session took between 45 minutes and an hour to complete. Sample The sample used was convenience-based; however it was guided by the characteristics provided by House of Fraser in relation to its female target market. These characteristics cover a broad spectrum of women.

The focus in this research is on the younger female shopper, termed “the fashion-lover” who is between the ages of 18-26 and is of particular interest to the House of Fraser group. This focus enabled the narrowing of the boundaries for respondent selection. The concessions selected, as mentioned above, were based on the choices of females falling within the selected respondent category, and were not pre-selected by House of Fraser or the research team; the concessions did however all form part of the “fashion-lover” department.

Respondents for the interviews were selected on a convenience basis and were all undergraduate students at the University of Gloucestershire studying a variety of programmes. In total 13 interviews were conducted. At this point data redundancy had been reached and no further interviews were conducted. Data analysis The interviews were transcribed and thematic analysis conducted.

These themes then assisted in the development of a model that utilises each separate question response (excluding those related to brand recognition and clothing pricing) to map the impact of visual merchandising on liking, browsing and purchase intention.Findings and discussion A number of themes emerged from the interviews, these centred on the following topics: merchandise colour, manner of presentation, awareness of fixtures, path finding, sensory qualities of materials and the effects of lighting. Some of these elements have close associations within issues raised in the literature, others however appear to highlight new issues that have received little attention to date. Merchandise colour Merchandise colour had an immediate impact on most respondents and generated considerable comment.These tended to centre on the use of colour as a key presentation element and positive observations were made on the use of colour coordination across merchandise assortments – “… blue, white, pinks and denim go together”.

Colour coordination was also associated with the development of multiple purchases in many cases, for example “… I would buy the cream top to go with the jeans”. It was clear that the use of strongly contrasting colours or what was deemed to be an “uncoordinated” colour arrangement was found to be unpleasant.Such conditions were associated with “cramped” or “jumbled” presentation. It was interesting that those respondents who commented on colour did so in relation to the merchandise and did not in fact note the background colour of the concession itself.

This is perhaps surprising given that the focus of research in relation to colour in the in-store environment has been on “background” colour. Respondents also commented on the meaning that they associated with particular colours. These associations are summarised in Table I, which also extends these associations to the price of the merchandise.There appears to be a degree of consistency in respondents’ perceptions of merchandise colour. These associations are however not consistent with those presented in previous literature. The literature is itself though inconsistent and it would appear that while colour does generate associations in customers, these are varied and perhaps specific to context, item and even possibly time. This could therefore present considerable difficulty in conducting research into the use of colour in retail contexts and additionally perhaps provides some explanation for the variety of associations generated in existing research.It is also evident that whilst this may be a difficult area to research there is a need to understand the importance of colour, particularly as it appears to transmit signals related to merchandise pricing, and by implication quality.

Respondents associated neutral colours with exclusive merchandise. This is consistent with previous research by Israel (1994). However, white could be considered a neutral colour, but respondents suggested that white merchandise would cost less than the average.Here, white is perhaps being associated with “basic” and “simple” both in terms of the product and perhaps in terms of production. Particular colours, as highlighted in the comments related to coordination, are not considered in isolation. The notion of colour mix appeared to influence respondents. The use of black and red in Miss Sixty was termed “high streety” and the mix of colours used by FCUK was thought to be “bright and fun”.

In general, the use of a wide variety of colours was deemed to produce “attractive and appealing” displays and had the potential to positively impact a respondent’s propensity to browse.Given these findings it appears that merchandise colour is an important factor that influences perceptions of price and quality, as well as helping to form image perceptions of the wider retail offer. The examination of this area, perhaps alongside issues of colour in relation to the general background and, potentially, fixturing, would seem valuable. Manner of presentation This issue raised considerable comment in relation to four principal methods of presentation: hanging, folding, rail-based, and the use of mannequins.Hanging was viewed as the most attractive presentation method as it made garments “readily visible”, enabling respondents to “see everything without rummaging” and also helped them to “visualise outfits” and also “mix and match” garments. Folding clothing made “the display look neat”. However, respondents noted that folding clothing made assessing style difficult and in some cases was too neat, creating anxiety. This meant that a surprising number of respondents felt that they would not browse in the concession, as they did not want to “disturb the display”.

The use of rails also raised negative comment; respondents found “seeing only a sleeve” to be “irritating”. These various display techniques – both used individually and in combination – also generated comment on the “orderliness” of the displays. Order was generally seen as a positive attribute by respondents and is often perceived as essential in the literature on display (Diamond and Pintel, 1997). However, the research indicated that there was a fine line between an orderly display and one that is perceived as being “complicated” or indeed “muddled”.It has been suggested that hanging garments displayed on racks present an uncluttered and neat arrangement (Berman and Evans, 1995). However, respondents suggested that such displays were unattractive and disorganised and in fact, as Levy and Weitz (1996) suggest, are confusing and disordered.

Therefore, the extent and nature of the orderliness perceived appears to differ with various methods of presentation. This suggests that the call for order in displays in the literature, whilst appropriate, needs to be developed to accommodate the differences between (and interaction with other) display types.This may then provide a degree of consistency within the advice given in relation to the use of display techniques within various retail contexts. Mannequins generated a positive response in the main.

Respondents expressed approval at being able to “see designs”, “entire outfits” and “see what the clothes will look like on”. Such comments would seem to support the suggestion that mannequins influence multiple purchases (Kotler, 1974; Levy and Weitz, 1996; Morganstein and Strongin, 1992). Mannequins were also termed “very visual” and respondents actually made adverse comments in relation to displays that did not feature their use.Such positive views can perhaps explain why mannequin use has been deemed to stimulate browsing (Lea-Greenwood, 1998). The only mannequins that generated an adverse reaction were those used in the Miss Sixty concession – these were however non-traditional clear torso mannequins. Awareness of fixtures A wide variety of response was generated in relation to fixturing – both in relation to materials used and type. There was a good deal of consistency however regarding the use of glass as a presentation material.

It was viewed positively by most respondents and when used as “glass cubes” was termed “unusual” and considered to make presentation “neat and tidy”. Respondents suggested that glass tables conveyed a “smart appearance” and merchandise laid out on such surfaces portrayed an “up-market image”. This would seem to parallel Donnellan’s assertion that the use of tables and cubes to display folded garments is aesthetically pleasing.

However, within this research, as well as the display mechanism itself influencing perceptions of what is aesthetically pleasing, there is also a clear link to the material used.For example, when glass was used in combination with chrome, this made displays “look funky and fashionable”. Within the literature, little is made of the associations generated by different materials (Schmitt and Simonson, 1997) and this is perhaps an area that warrants more detailed examination. When fixturing type is considered, the use of shelves and rails was seen as unattractive – engendering the perception that the concession was “bog standard” or made the products seem “out of a warehouse”.

The Nicole Farhi concession, which predominantly uses shelves and rails, was likened to “a Next sale”. The use of red as a fixturing colour also generated negative comments. It was seen as being “tacky”, “garish” and “in your face”. This colour choice also lowered respondents’ perceptions of merchandise quality, leading to the assessment that the clothes were of an average, below average or even cheap price. A holistic view of display Respondents commented on, and were potentially influenced by, a wide range of display-related factors.

These, whilst often receiving individual attention, were not viewed in isolation, and rather respondents’ perceptions often involved various factors in combination. This “holistic” interpretation of display is somewhat at odds with the approaches conveyed in the literature. Whilst considering various aspects individually is clearly logical, it has perhaps meant that the literature fails to consider the effect of, for example, folded garments displayed on chrome and glass cubes and how changing materials or fixtures might in turn change perception.Such interactions begin to suggest that the research conducted on display has not as yet gone beyond the surface and increasing sophistication is needed to provide useful guidelines for retailers. Path finding The provision of a clear route noticeably affected some respondents’ propensity to browse. It was suggested that a clear route provided “a natural way to go around and look at things”. When respondents “feel as though there is no route” it was deemed “difficult to know where to start”.

Where there were obstructions when a route had been delineated the displays where also termed “hard to walk around”. Neat and sparse displays (both in terms of merchandise density and display density) were unsurprisingly associated with more expensive brands, one respondent commenting: “space says designer” and then suggesting “… one pair of trousers laid out on their own shows they can afford the space and people will pay the price because of the label”. Here, the notion of low spatial density of display clearly generated the perception of “quality and not quantity”.However, although the provision of space to browse was found to be pleasing, respondents also suggested that in such contexts “the shop assistants would be looking at you” and that respondents would feel that they “shouldn’t be there”.

Sensory qualities of materials Respondents deemed the use of “wood” for flooring and hangers as giving a “more exclusive” ambience. Wooden fixtures were also thought of as “often show[ing] quality”. They also associated the material unsurprisingly with being natural and as creating “light and airy” displays.

The use of plastic see-through mannequins (in the Miss Sixty concession) was viewed by some respondents as being “cheap and nasty”. However, others suggested that the materials used in this concession were “futuristic”. They suggested that “see-through mannequins, glass and modern-art steel tables, make the display feel funky”. Effects of lighting Respondents viewed lighting in a variety of ways. The most positive statements were generated by the Max Mara concession. Here, respondents suggested that the lighting conveyed a positive feeling, the display “looks inviting” and “gives a feeling of seclusion and I’m special”.Where lighting was merely “satisfactory” it attracted terms that included “nice and light”.

Negative associations were attributed to lighting that was perceived as being “dull” or “basic”. In these situations the lighting was seen to make the displays “feel cold”, in a sterile and uninviting sense. The use of fluorescent strip lighting in a fashion context was viewed particularly negatively.

The suggestion was that its use made displays “look like a supermarket” and was even by some respondents deemed “off putting” and “offensive”.A potential link – visual merchandising and consumer behaviour The various themes identified led respondents to develop a perception of their likely behaviour in each concession. This information, stimulated by the seven pictures of the concessions across the 13 respondents provided 91 “paths” of action, enabled the development of a model that details the likely behaviour of respondents. These initial 91 responses were “translated” into arrows depicting the number of responses signalling a particular path in relation to respondents’ emotions and behaviour.

The model developed is depicted in Figure 1. From this representation of respondents’ concession perceptions and intended actions a number of potential links between visual merchandising and consumption intention can be established. Most of the literature fails to directly identify the potential of visual merchandising to influence affective and behavioural response in a detailed manner. This research demonstrates that the development of approach or avoidance behaviour is strongly related to consumers’ like or dislike of visual merchandising.

As illustrated in Figure 1 and Table II a favourable response that leads to liking, in the majority of cases, engenders browsing and once enticed to browse the link to purchase becomes evident. This pattern is supported in previous research studies. However, this research highlights that liking, whilst a good predictor and precursor to browsing, does not always result in this behaviour.

In a perhaps surprising number of instances, liking still leads to avoidance behaviour. This pattern is also echoed by those responses where disliking is evident.Here, 36 per cent of “dislike” responses still lead to browsing and even more strikingly, in 19 per cent of instances, to purchase. Dislike does not therefore necessarily lead to avoidance behaviour. These findings suggest that to fully understand the creation of approach and avoidance behaviour there is a need to go beyond considering the development of a general state of liking or disliking and consider what propels consumers to act in a manner that is at odds with their affective responses. Brand identification through visual merchandisingWhilst it is clear that respondents expressed both affective and behavioural responses to visual merchandising, they were less able to use this cue as a means of recognising a particular fashion brand.

Of the 13 respondents, nine correctly identified Morgan on the basis of the stimulus photograph provided. One respondent stated that “Morgan looks the same everywhere” suggesting that the company’s visual style is both consistent and distinctive. As such this fashion brand is a prime example of the ability of visual merchandising to act as an identifying factor.In addition, four respondents also appropriately recognised FCUK, and three respondents identified Polo – here the red fixtures were said to aid this process. The respondents did not recognise both the Max Mara and Nicole Farhi fashion brands.

However, these two concessions were consistently associated with a more expensive and upmarket offer. The basis for these perceptions corresponds with ideas detailed in the literature: for example, muted colour associations and the use of low spatial merchandise density (Schmitt and Simonson, 1997; Walters and White, 1987).The Armani Jeans concession also went unrecognised; comments such as “could be any jeans make” and “thought it was men’s” demonstrate the lack of any strong visual communication of the brand. In this instance respondents also considered the concession to be downmarket based on its visual merchandising. Here, as Buchanan et al.

(1999) suggest, consumers have expectations regarding display, and if not met the brand may be re-evaluated. The influence of visual merchandising on brand recognition is again an area that would benefit from more detailed exploration.Conclusions Consumer expectations regarding in-store design have increased (Buchanan et al.

, 1999) and there is also a heightened desire for shopping excitement, which can in part be delivered through innovative design of the physical environment (Erlick, 1993; Levy and Weitz, 1996). Such actions, coupled with effective visual merchandising, can also aid in the creation of differentiation and brand identification (Israel, 1994). These goals are reliant on retailers’ ability to communicate effectively with their target audience through the physical environment.This means retailers need a detailed understanding of their audience and also therefore places a heavy emphasis on visual merchandising. This area needs to be acknowledged as a significant issue in both practice and theory.

Within the literature there has been a failure to examine the role of visual merchandising and it would appear that the work that considers interior display is perhaps overly simplistic. Current research does not adequately cover the influence of visual merchandising on affective response or then on subsequent behaviour and equally on the importance of merchandising on brand differentiation and recognition.There is a clear need to consider such issues both more holistically (in terms of “imageability”) and at a more detailed level.

Table IColour perception and merchandise price Table IIVisual merchandising – affective responses and anticipated action Figure 1Behavioural process from display to consumption

Author: Frank Nichols


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