Donna Geary

Article Summary:

Presenting merchandising so customers can buy more easily and retailers can stimulate sales, profits and customer delight.

Merchandising for Sales and Profits: Promoting Impulse Sales

The presentation of your store's merchandise will either serve to reinforce the customer's confidence in the product choice or cause them to second-guess their need to buy. In a split second, a sale is either realized or lost.

Generally, there are three ways to present product. You can:

  • Shelve it on a table, platform, riser, fixture or wall shelf.
  • Hang it on a wall bracket, peg hook, hangar, panel or floor fixture.
  • Combine shelving and hanging in a multiple presentation.

    Given these simple choices, the decision might appear to be a no-brainer. An unexpected reversal in the presentation method, however, can often make the product not only more appealing, but also more saleable.

    Consider these examples:

  • For years, fashion retailers typically presented clothing hanging. In the last decade, however, tables have become the rage not only because they present product better, but because tables invite us to touch and experience the merchandise. The same rationale applies to gift and tableware products - after all, we eat at tables so it makes sense to present it like a `feast' of delicious and irresistible tantalizers.

  • Similarly, products that are typically offered in a folded presentation can often benefit from an alternative approach. A bed and bath department decided to explore new presentation options and realized a 40% sales increase in beach towels simply by hanging the product so that customers could see the vibrant patterns.

    Well-planned and carefully executed presentations promote both shopability and impulse sales. Seekers will find the merchandise they are looking for, segmented according to their motivation to purchase and presented neatly with impact. Browsers will be impulsively drawn to exciting and provocative presentations that are timely, poignant and project a "buy-now" appeal.

    Shopability and impulse factors are:

  • Density
  • Accessibility
  • Cross-merchandising

    Density refers to the amount of merchandise on the selling floor or fixture. It's an on-going challenge to determine just how much stock to present -- not to mention working around the realities of everyday retail life such as late shipments, over-stocks and over- or under-zealous buying decisions.

    Some retailers detail and map the presentation capabilities of their fixtures to assist with buying and sales forecasting. If you know how much merchandise the store will "hold," you can buy to that quotient and plan upcoming seasonal presentations. Sophisticated shelf-management computer software enables many retailers to buy to the store's physical capacity, generate presentation plan-o-grams and track sales and turn-over rates at the department, category or SKU level. Smaller retailers can accomplish similar results by analyzing each fixture's optimum density, compiling a detailed capacity target and communicating those facts to both buyers and store management.

    The reality of retail is that rarely on any given day will you have exactly the right amount of stock for each and every fixture. A productive store is constantly in a state of change as customers buy product which is replaced by new product. Fixture-stocking and shelf maintenance should be everyday routines to ensure stories remain fresh and powerful. Sales staff must be trained and held accountable for maintaining merchandise presentations. To add to the store's buy-appeal it should always appear well-stocked, but not bursting at the seams. Empty or sparsely merchandised fixtures give the impression that you do not have a complete assortment or are in a state of transition. Conversely, over-stocked presentations are overwhelming to the customer and discourage product-handling.

    Tip: How to maintain shopability and buy-appeal when you're peaking with stock:

  • Hold some of the product in the stockroom and "flow it" to the sales floor daily.
  • Expand the assortment onto fixtures in adjacent areas.
  • If you have more than one location, balance the assortment between stores.
  • Feature the product in your windows or displays to create demand.
  • Increase the capacity of your fixtures. For example, widen shelves or use longer pegs.

    Accessibility refers to the customer's ability to view the merchandise's best assets and make a purchase with minimal effort. Time-pressed customers will simply not take the time to strain, reach or squat to remove items from fixtures for closer inspection. By taking into account the customer's vantage, retailers can position the merchandise attributes in the most flattering way.

    Human nature plays a big role in the deciding moment when a customer is standing in front of a merchandise story. Just as customers have an intuitive inclination to turn right as they enter a store, they also visually scan and subconsciously shop fixtures in an equally discerning fashion. North Americans read a page of text from left to right and similarly tend to visually scan fixtures at eye level, as though they are "reading" the story.

    Given these behavioural tendencies, merchandise is best presented:

  • from left to right
  • at eye and hand level
  • face-out
  • vertically

    Small to the Left, Large to the Right
    Stores that sell items of various quantities or price points obviously profit from selling the largest size or the highest price point. Next time you are in a grocery or drug store, notice that the larger volume or size item of a brand is usually stocked to the right of the smaller item. This applies to everything from shampoo, laundry detergent, breakfast cereal to orange juice. It also applies to retailers with inclining price points and value, such as good-better-best programs -- towels, toasters, glassware -- anywhere you can offer inclining value for a little more money.

    The fact is, roughly 80% of customers are right-handed and are inclined to go for the larger size with their right hand, or continue to the right to compare features and value. Tip: Here are some placement tips geared to the right-handed shopper:

  • Place items packaged together to the right of packaged singly.
  • Position higher price points to the right of lower price points.
  • Set informative signs to the right of the product they are describing.
  • Place more profitable house brands to the right of name brands.

    At Eye and Hand Level
    As a rule, customers visually scan at eye level and make a purchase decision at hand level, making the space in between generally the most productive in any store.

    The spot most guaranteed to generate sales is at the optimum buying height of 5 foot, 3 inches. If your customer is taller or shorter than average because of the nature of your specialty, adjust your eye-level merchandise accordingly.

    Here are some eye/hand level tips:

  • Place product displays or unpackaged samples at eye level where the customer will see it, and the product directly below, at hand level, where the customer will reach for it.
  • Vertically merchandise product to expose vast quantities at both eye and hand level for a sense of assortment.
  • Detailed product signing should always be at eye level for easy readability.
  • Save eye and hand level locations for your most profitable merchandise-- it's prime real estate.

    Face-Out Merchandising
    Face out refers to positioning the front of the merchandise facing the customer. A patterned bowl or plate, for example will benefit from an easle or riser presentation to show the design, rather than a stacked presentation. With boxed product, the packaging graphics usually have a good side -- a photo or colourful graphic to indicate what is inside the box -- that makes a great face-forward presentation.

    Face-out presentations have more buy-appeal, since the front of the product or graphic enhancement on the box is usually more interesting and colourful than the "side face" of the merchandise. Customers can also see the front of the product without having to struggle to get the item from the shelf.

    Vertical Merchandising
    Vertical merchandising refers to the placement of merchandise from top to bottom on a fixture, rather than from side to side. By presenting an assortment of merchandise vertically you will expose customers to a greater variety of your assortment at eye level. And, since the customer is naturally inclined to read at eye level from left to right, and buy at hand level, this technique looks good and encourages purchases.


  • Use a single product or colour to create impact and capture interest.
  • Use consistent shelf or fixture heights to maintain uniformity and clarity.
  • Front face product so that customers can see it.

    Today's customer is hurried and harried, and appreciates merchandise presentations that spark their interest and plant a seed. Exciting presentations also add to the overall image and impression of your store. Customers remember stores that present product creatively and make shopping fun.

    Essentially, there are two methods of cross-presenting merchandise in the store. They are:

  • Within a parent or home department
  • Outposted in a high-impulse location of the store

    Cross-Presenting within a Parent Department
    Cross-merchandising suggests an additional item that "goes with" the primary item the customer is considering. Some simple cross-merchandising examples are peppermills and peppercorns, bath towels and bath salts/oils and gift wrap in a gift department. More exciting examples are a strike zone of themed merchandise, such as a "Flower Power" presentation with a complete story of retro-sixties bedding and bath fashions in bright florals and coordinated accessories, such as slippers, shower caps and reading materials.

    To be effective, cross-presented merchandise must relate in a logical way, such as:

  • Coordinating items that would be used together, such as pasta, sauces pasta cookware and pasta cookbooks
  • Items that are colour coordinated
  • A range of products that offer customers choice within a particular category such as cappuccino or espresso coffee-makers and plain or patterned dinnerware that can be mixed and matched
  • Products that offer themed ideas such as baby gifts, stocking stuffers or a fondue story

    Cross-merchandising pays off best when located in prime real estate areas such as:

  • strike zones - along aisles and on endcaps
  • focal points -near service areas such as cash desks or fitting rooms

    Merchandise Outposts
    Outpost, by Webster's definition, is a military expression meaning, "an outlying branch of a main group." Retailers can also deploy "additional forces" by creating outposts at strategic areas. These can be both permanent outposts and temporary outposts.

    Creative retailers are intuitive about what customers may want or need and station these items where the customer would be most likely to consider them. A light bulb assortment in a lamp department, batteries in a gadget department and funky namecard holders in a dinnerware presentation are simple examples to suggest an add-on item. More temporary outposts satisfy immediate or timely needs, such as outposting gift cards, wrap and bows at Christmas or champagne flutes and party favours at New Years.

    Both permanent and temporary outposts are most effective in high-traffic locations, such as near the store entrance or cash desk, in strike zones, or even outside of the store to draw traffic in, provided they do not damage the store's image.

    Seasonal stories and related items offer other natural outpost items to capitalize on calendar or local events. Here are a few examples:

  • A gift store outposts a cross-sectional story of "Gifts for Dad" near the cash desk prior to Fathers' Day.
  • A kitchen store outposts dry and canned goods along with paper bags near the check-out lines as part of a food-bank drive at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • A tableware store outposts a selection of `Teacher' gifts during the holiday season.


  • Ensure you keep a selection of the product within the "parent" department where the customer expects to find it.
  • Strategically locate your outpost in a high-impulse area, near or with related product.
  • Stock the outpost with a sufficient quantity of the product to make an impact.
  • Remove or replace the outpost when it sells down or is no longer relevant.

    Reality Check
    The deciding moment is when is a customer is standing in front of a fixture, preparing to make a purchase decision. In a split second, a sale can be made or lost. Having the right merchandise is paramount, but presenting the merchandise in an artistic manner while at the same time taking into account the customer's motivation and natural shopping inclinations is equally influential in realizing a sale.

    Many stores let the customer down when it comes to presenting the merchandise. Rather than making the shopping experience easy and exciting, customers are tripping over boxes in the aisles, reaching for high-demand items on towering shelves, fumbling through tables and dump bins for the correct size or ripping open boxes, trying to see what a packaged product looks like. Some customers will bear this less-than-desirable experience, but most won't. Minimizing customer effort translates into giving them more time to shop and purchase more merchandise. Presenting for buy-appeal is all about showing your product in delectable presentations that are enticing, easy to shop and encourages both impulse and add-on purchases.

    Donna Geary is the founder and Executive Director of Impact Visual Merchandising. For the past 16 years, Donna has consulted with clients in the retail, tourism, museum, attraction, service, wholesale and banking sectors. Academically, Donna studied Fashion Design and Merchandising, Visual Merchandising, and has an MBA, with a Major in Marketing from Concordia University. She was formerly a senior executive in the Marketing departments of The Hudson's Bay Company and Woodward Department Stores. Donna is the author of Maximizing Store Impact: A Retailer's Guide to Profitable Visual Merchandising. She has instructed courses in Marketing, Visual Merchandising and Business Communications at Ryerson University, The International Academy of Merchandising & Design, CLDC in Brazil and Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario, where she now resides. Donna is a sought-after keynote speaker, workshop leader and has developed customized merchandising training material for dozens of retail chains. For more information, visit:

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