Win customers with creative window displays
The outside of a business is the first impression most customers get, and this often dictates whether or not they will enter. Therefore, the importance of window display ought to be a key concern of retailers. Business-savvy retailers will want to investigate the growing body of academic research to find out exactly what customers respond positively to and how they can make their own storefronts pull in more traffic.
In this article, we present key findings from academic research in order to thoroughly explain how windows can influence customers, and how to design a storefront that draws people in. We discuss various types of storefront display, important theme and design factors that businesses need to consider as they plan their window merchandising, and we also provide specific guidance on how all retailers can implement an attractive storefront regardless of budget. By the end of this article you will be generating brand new display ideas to bring to your own business.
Researchers found that customers tend to respond to shop windows more like advertisements than merchandising displays, primarily using them for inspiration as well as information.
Often, retail windows motivate consumers to engage in the shopping experience rather than prompt them to buy specific products. F. Lange explained that this is due to the mental state of passing consumers, saying that ‘shoppers outside a store have more abstract goals than shoppers inside a store’ .
This means that they are more open to influence and inspiration from window dressing despite not necessarily having a specific shopping goal in mind. Retailers can use this to their advantage, by merchandising differently indoors and outdoors.
Communicate information with window signs
Storefronts are a source of communication between a brand and a passerby, from which the passerby can observe and infer information. Franklin Velasco Vizcaino explained that these display types ‘provide exterior cues for what a customer may find inside a store’ . A study by Sen et al. into clothing retailers showed that it is this communication of information via cues in the storefront that helps form the decision to enter a store .
Just like in TV advertising, there is a large amount of information that can be quickly conveyed via your windows. This includes factors such as the style of the store, price range, current trends, new lines, shop atmosphere and company values.
These various aspects can be condensed down to two key factors: product-related information, which is specifically about the items sold, and store-related information, such as branding and price point.
This information can be both observed from specific physical things (e.g. observing the design and fit of a product) and also inferred information (which may simply be implied without solid evidence, such as atmosphere and ethos).
Fig. 1 based on Sen, Block and Chandran (2002)
Fig. 1 demonstrates the varying types of information acquired from window dressings. Use this to think about how you can present your displays in order to communicate as many cues as possible to potential customers.
Corporate virtue signalling and emotional appeal
Stores can use their exterior presentation for conveying core values (sometimes referred to as ‘virtue signalling’). This will appeal to customers who share these values, and also to those who would simply like to give the impression they have these values.
Good examples of this can be witnessed in how cosmetics retailers such as Lush and the Body Shop use their storefronts to convey information about their ethos and practices, such as using fair trade ingredients, reducing packaging waste and protecting the environment.
These virtue-signalling windows are usually presented differently to the in-store displays (which rely on stacking up products in a visually appealing way), capitalising on sensory and emotional interaction with the customer.
Experts suggest that ‘conscious retailers’ use their mission statement and values to connect with customers via shared identity, creating ‘deeper emotional connections with customers by leveraging their purposes and values’ . This can be done in paper, online advertising and in- store. Foregrounding these directly in the window, however, is the best way to engage customers before they have even entered the premises.
A case in point is Lush’s use of natural imagery in a collaboration they commissioned to dress the window of their flagship Oxford Street branch . The shop front design features a simple slogan in a freestanding poster holder, with a punchy take-home message focusing on their mission statement. This forms the focal point, surrounded by mechanical flowers made from biodegradable plastics which move to grab attention even more effectively, as well as images of bees and clusters of actual cosmetic products that colour co-ordinate with the flowers.
Lush window presentation by Owen Gildersleeve (2016)
This visually appealing presentation highlights their store ethos with an emphasis on the use of natural ingredients, and conveys a relaxed and luxurious atmosphere. This is a great example as it conveys a large amount of information to the viewer in a matter of seconds and is highly inviting to Lush’s target demographics.
Encourage impulse buys with window displays
If there is one essential point that retailers should take from the research into consumer behaviour, it is that store windows can drive impulse purchases. In their UK-based study, Edwards and Shackley found that this display type will positively increase sales .
As discussed in the last section, it is the communication of various cues and information that provides the customer with enough information to result in approach behaviour (i.e. entering the shop and/or making a purchase). As such, business owners ought to create a concise plan regarding what initial information their customers need to know.
A 2015 study found that window dressing has ‘the greatest positive impact on impulse buying in the specialised clothing and footwear stores’. They also suggest that this effect may differ for grocery stores ‘as food buying behaviour is different from clothing buying’ .
For example, grocery shoppers are often more driven by necessity and time constraints than clothing shoppers who are more likely to be shopping for pleasure and with fewer time constraints. Therefore, retailers in different sectors may wish to dress their windows differently and convey separate information in order to increase their sales.
Use context to influence
Another study explained that ‘the context setting [of a window] is a crucial element that can influence consumers’ mental imagery and arousal response, which in turn can improve their attitude and behaviour’ . In this case, context not only refers to seasonal and trend based context, but also to the context of the store and the brand overall, including the industry type and the standing of that business within its industry. In short, if retailers can enhance relevant contexts, this can influence customers to spend.
Window merchandising for different store types
When designing a new store exterior, business owners and merchandisers must consider budget and window type, (as an open window needs to be visible 360 degrees and may incur more expense). Larger stores ought to consider hiring a creative designer and window dresser as they will have invaluable expertise. Of course, this option isn’t always possible for smaller stores; however there are multiple solutions that can be employed instead to ensure that your windows are reaching their potential. These include: examining competitor strategies, building mood boards, surveying staff and customer opinions, and assessing the point of sale products that are available to suit your displays. Take a look at our extensive product range and see how to merchandise the right way.
Types of window display
Storefronts tend to fit into two types of window presentation: artistic or merchandise-focused displays. The merchandise displays are more likely to inform whereas artistic ones inspire. Merchandise-focused displays tend to contain mainly the products, whereas artistic displays are likely to contain unusual props and abstract concepts.
These display types may appeal differently to different customers and industry types. Supermarket shoppers, for example, are often in more of a rush and target-driven, and may react more positively to a merchandise focused display, conveying useful product-specific information such as pricing and size. Conversely, clothing or cosmetics shoppers tend to be less time-limited and more open to an artistic display which may inspire them to explore the store and products.
Environmental preference theory
Environmental Preference Theory suggests that people either want to understand or explore an environment . Oh and Petrie expand on this explanation, suggesting that display designers ought to combine visual elements that help consumers understand or inspire exploration, in order to see an increase in approach behaviour (and a return on investment) .
The level of creativity in a shopfront can enhance a customer’s store perceptions and likelihood of store entry (F. Lange et al., p. 1018). Businesses should use different display styles for different types and locations of store, in order to cater to shopper motives. For example; luxury merchandise will be presented differently to bargain goods, and are often more spaced out like an art exhibit, employing creative product displays in order to grab attention and inspire customers.
Creative window display ideas
Business owners and window dressers must consider price point in relation to their display choices, as customers rely on these visual cues to build their expectations of the brand and merchandise and may be disappointed if their expectations do not match reality.
Generally speaking, customers know that displays cost money, and will expect a spaced-out display to be more expensive and artistic, compared with a product-heavy display which will be interpreted as more affordable and informative.
Some advertisers will go to any length to grab attention. One study investigated the impact of ‘shocking’ shop front displays on customer behaviour . They found that a small amount of shock value may be beneficial in that it can enhance recall and could potentially create enough curiosity to prompt exploration.
This effect is not confirmed however, and the study showed that offensive or shocking displays did not have any significantly positive effect on patronage or sales and is therefore best avoided.
Questions for retailers to ask themselves when planning storefront displays:
- What message(s) do you want to convey?
- Do you want to inform or inspire?
- Who is your audience and what do they want?
- Where are you located and how can you stand out against competitors?
- Do you have a new product range to promote or an existing range needing a sales boost?
- Are you utilising opportunities for seasonal promotions?
1. Lange et. al, ‘Store-window creativity’s impact on shopper behaviour’, Journal of Business Research, Vol 69 (2016), pp. 1015-1018.
2. Vizcaíno, Franklin Velasco ‘Beyond window signs: Understanding the affect‐based effects of window signs on store patronage intentions’, Psychology and Marketing, Vol 35 (2018), pp. 542-552.
3. Sen et al., ‘Window displays and consumer shopping decisions’, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Vol. 19 (2012), pp. 27-35.
4. Grewal et al., ‘The Future of Retailing’, Journal of Retailing, Vol. 93 (2017), pp. 1-6.
5. Gildersleeve, Forsyth and Green, Lush Cosmetics Shopfront Display (2016), accessed 30 Sept 2019.
6. Edwards and Shackley, ‘Measuring the Effectiveness of Retail Window Display as an Element of the Marketing Mix’, International Journal of Advertising, Vol. 11 (1992), pp. 193-202.
7. Gudonavičienė and Alijošienė, ‘Visual Merchandising Impact on Impulse Buying Behaviour’, Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences Vol. 213 (2015), pp. 635-640.
8. Ti, Chihmin, ‘The Effects of Window Display Setting and Background Music on Consumers’ Mental Imagery, Arousal Response, Attitude, and Approach-Avoidance Behaviors’, (unpublished master’s thesis, Oregon State University, 2009), p.98.
9. Kaplan and Kaplan, Humanscape: Environments for People (Belmont, CA: Duxbury, 1978).
10. Oh and Petrie, ‘How do storefront window displays influence entering decisions of clothing stores?’, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Vol 19 (2012), pp. 27-35.
11. Pegler, Martin, ‘Visual Merchandising and Display’, (New York: Fairchild Publications, Fourth Edition, 1998) p. 186.
12. Ortega-S, A, ‘Effectively offending to sell: Consumer response to shocking visual merchandising presentations’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, Colorado State University, 2011), p.40.