Visual Merchandising: Will It Integrate Seamlessly to Cross Channel Retailing?

mannequin04_ciNEW YORK, Jan 17, 2008 / FW/ — Traditionally, visual merchandising has always been associated with store windows and sales floor display, including the placement of fixtures and more often than not, optimization of the retail space.

Visual merchandising is a very important aspect of retail space design that there are companies and/or architectural firms that hire specialists to efficiently layout1 a sales floor space. Of course, these specialists go by other titles than visual merchandiser.

With the internet becoming more influential in general, and e-commerce as an important profit center in particular, retailers are grappling with the best ways to integrate multiple channels to maximize the customer experience and be more efficient, according to research released yesterday by Shop.org, the digital division of the National Retail Federation.

According to the report, “Organizing for Cross-channel Retailing,” it is common for retailers to have completely separate online operations with their own marketing, merchandising and fulfillment capabilities. Many retailers with this independent structure have seen tremendous growth and profitable returns. However, the study noted that, over time, a lack of integration results in inefficiencies and customer confusion.

As it stands today, many companies still consider brick & mortar and e-commerce as separate entities. Yet, with the entrance of Web 3.0, i.e. the internet via mobile devices such as cell phones and PDAs, including m-commerce, internet sales just became bigger. Pretty soon, companies will have to face integration of all these three aspects of retailing.

“Integrating the operations of stores and websites will undoubtedly lead to greater customer satisfaction, but it is not an easy road,” said Jim Okamura, Senior Partner at J.C. Williams Group, which conducted the study for Shop.org.

“The first retailers to accomplish this structural change successfully will achieve a competitive advantage and will quickly be followed by other companies looking to duplicate that accomplishment,” Okamura added.

When this time arrives, where does visual merchandising stand? Today, with almost everything, including the design of store windows being decided on the corporate level, visual merchandising at the store level has very little creativity left. Except for very few places like Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, where store windows displays are still a big part of attracting to customers, most store windows in malls and shopping centers are just ‘after thoughts’.

In short, how will visual merchandising be integrated into cross channel retailing? Will visual merchandising teams continue to shrink until there is almost none, or worst, will the job just be eliminated in the end?

Will visual merchandising even exist in stores? Or will, the ‘visual merchandiser’ be a specialist who just comes in every week or every few weeks to change the window display? Will the visual merchandiser evolve to become a highly paid architect who specialized in store design?

In terms of online sales, whether e-commerce or m-commerce, will visual merchandising evolve in the digital world to become a website designer and/or usability expert?

And the hardest question of all, will visual merchandising, as we have known it for the past hundred years be changed forever? The saddest end result, too painful even to imagine – will visual merchandising disappear when retailers implement cross channel selling?

[MARGUERITE SEBASTIEN]

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