Sell more this Christmas with these 8 visual merchandising tips

15 min read
Cathy Ngo

With the Christmas season approaching, store owners are getting creative to lure gift-givers through their doors. Visual merchandising entails arranging your store displays, shelves and signage in a way that draws people through your doors and makes it easy for them to buy.

This blog will use the year's busiest holiday to share powerful visual merchandising tips to help attract, engage and motivate your customers to make a purchase.

Editor’s note: Why not sell your goods online this year? GoDaddy's Online Store Builder comes with all you need to start selling (try it free).

8 tips to boost your store’s visual appeal

There’s a lot of planning and organisation behind those enchanting displays. Use the following 8 tips below when designing your Christmas visual merchandising strategy to ensure you meet your sales targets while serving up a stellar shopping experience:

Let’s dive right into our list of merchandising tips.

1. Start with a festive window display

Brick-and-mortar stores have a big advantage over online shops in their ability to create the perfect Winter Wonderland experience — or a hot Christmas down under display, since it’ll be summer here in Australia. It’s almost impossible to replicate this feeling in an online store.

No wonder people crowd around the windows of department stores such as David Jones — because the visual merchandising is just so beautiful and iconic.

It makes news every year, with hundreds of eager shoppers taking happy snaps next to the displays.

A festive window display is like a ‘welcome mat’ for a wondrous shopping experience. It tells a visual story of your brand and what customers can expect once they step inside, so make sure you have an eye-catching window display to entice shoppers to enter your store.

Everyone loves a good story 

Spend some time thinking up a themed display that tells a story. For example, you could set up a: 

  • Santa's Workshop scene with elves, toys and wrapping paper  
  • Winter Wonderland display with snowflakes, faux snow, and cosy winter items 

Appeal to multiple senses by lighting scented candles, playing Christmas music, and even offering yummy treats like cookies or free samples near your displays. 

If you really want to go the extra mile, host live performances or demonstrations related to your products. 

While window displays are a critical starting point, your visual merchandising should also extend to:

  • Shelving layouts
  • Themed displays
  • Interactive and in-store displays

Related: Guerilla marketing: Holiday marketing goes rogue

2. Show them the discounts

Dog wearing red antlers

Make consumers aware of special discounts your business offers during the holiday season. Christmas shopping is a big spending period, so customers are on the hunt for the best deals – especially since the cost of living is increasing.

Your Christmas displays and props should make it easy for people to find out what promotions and specials you have on offer. So, it would be a good idea to have them displayed front and centre in windows, hanging from ceilings, at the register, etc. Other retailers are competing for your customers, so make sure your business stands out.

If you want to do more than just offer percentage or fixed discounts, how about offering some ‘Early Bird Specials’ to reward customers who shop early? 

This encourages them to start their holiday shopping sooner.

Introducing flash sales will keep customers on their toes. And social media makes it easy to boost sales in the very last minute.  

For example, you could host limited-time flash sales with steep discounts on specific products.  

This will create a sense of urgency to prompt quick purchases. It also makes people pay attention to your social media so as not to miss a sale. 

Related: Top tips to entice customers to shop local

3. Bring back the old and nostalgic

Person holding a Christmas wreath

Christmas has a way of bringing people back to their childhood memories through family traditions and heirlooms. Play to this feeling of nostalgia by adding something old-fashioned to your overall theme. Offering consumers something that brings back fond memories can trigger a purchase.

Some ideas are using vintage or retro-style Christmas decorations, ornaments, and props reminiscent of past eras.  

How about some throwback music from decades past to transport shoppers to simpler times and invoke feelings of nostalgia?  

Christmas is also synonymous with food, so offering traditional sweets and treats popular during past holidays creates a sensory experience that triggers happy memories. 

This doesn’t have to cost a tonne — extravagant displays are often borrowed and repurposed.

This is a cost-effective way to spark shoppers' emotions and Christmas memories without the hard sell.

Some ideas are using vintage or retro-style Christmas decorations, ornaments, and props reminiscent of past eras.  

How about some throwback music from decades past to transport shoppers to simpler times and invoke feelings of nostalgia?  

Christmas is also synonymous with food, so offering traditional sweets and treats popular during past holidays creates a sensory experience that triggers happy memories. 

4. Display complementary items together

Visual Merchandising Bathrobe Display
Grouping items that go together makes it easy for shoppers to assemble a gift.

Placing related products near one another can drive impulse buys. This subtle upselling technique leads consumers to see products not as individual items, but as pieces of potential gift sets.

For example, group recipe books with cooking utensils, smoothie kits and blenders. Or nestle slippers and packaged tea near book displays.

Here, you can also have fun with shelving layouts. Some suggestions include: 

  • A layered look. Use shelves of varying heights to create a visually exciting display. Then place larger items in the back and smaller ones in the front, giving the display depth. 
  • Themed shelves. Dedicate each shelf to a different theme, such as Gifts for Him/Her/Fury Friend. This helps customers quickly find what they're looking for. Similarly, arrange complementary products together on the same shelf, such as pairing holiday mugs with a hot cocoa mix or ornaments with tree toppers. 
  • Pyramid arrangement. Arrange products in a pyramid shape, with the widest at the bottom and the narrowest at the top. This draws the eye upward and highlights featured items. This also helps with impulse buying. 
  • Floating shelves. Install floating shelves on a wall to create the illusion of items floating in mid-air. This adds a touch of magic and intrigue to the display. 
  • Mirrored backdrops. Place mirrors at the back of the shelves to reflect the products and make the display appear larger and more intricate.  
  • Tree-shaped display. Arrange products in the shape of a Christmas tree on the shelves. Use the bottom shelves for the widest items and gradually displaying smaller items at the top. 
  • Countdown to Christmas. Create a display with labelled shelves for each day leading up to the big event. Fuel the excitement by featuring a different product or deal each day.  

Again, you want to make it irresistible for customers to buy from you, so make sure your merchandising makes it easy.

5. Have gift cards front and centre

It can be challenging to gift someone something when they have everything. That's when gift cards come in handy. Also, sometimes gift cards are an afterthought, but because it’s Christmas, you’ll need to make an exception.

This means you will need to strategically place gift cards in the front and centre of your store to lead consumers to purchase one in addition to the other items they came in to buy. This will also capture those indecisive or last-minute shoppers.

You can also have a dedicated gift card display that stands out in your store. Use eye-catching signage, festive colours and thematic decorations to make the display inviting. 

How about an interactive Christmas tree made entirely of hanging gift cards?  

Wouldn’t that be fun! Customers can pick a gift card from the tree as a unique way to select their desired amount. 

6. Go green

Mini potted Christmas trees

The trend today is to be sustainable and eco-friendly — at Christmas and throughout the year. In a world where climate change is on top of the agenda, consumers want to feel good about the gifts they’re buying, so highlighting the sustainability of your brand is good business.

You’ll want to draw attention to items that are:

  • Organic or ethically made
  • Made from recycled materials that reduce carbon footprint
  • Locally sourced and produced

Some earth-friendly visual merchandising ideas are: 

  • Add a (literal) splash of green. One way to do this is to incorporate living plants into your displays. Potted Christmas trees and fresh wreaths not only add to the festive atmosphere, but also contribute to cleaner indoor air.  
  • Eco-friendly décor. Opt for decor made from sustainable materials such as recycled paper, reclaimed wood or natural fibres like jute and cotton. Use these materials for signage, displays and ornaments. 
  • Spotlight on green products. Designate a section in your store for eco-friendly and sustainable products. Use signage to educate customers about the benefits of these products and your commitment to sustainability. 
  • Partner with a charity. Collaborate with an environmental organisation or charity and donate a portion of your Christmas sales to support eco-friendly initiatives such as OzHarvest and 1 Million Women. 

These will always be a winner among certain customers who want to maximise their social impact.

Related: 10 sustainable business practices to embrace

7. Walk the floor and shop your shop

At the start of the day, spend about 15 minutes to experience your shop like a customer. Sit out the front of your shop and see what customers see. Enter your shop and walk through it as a customer.

Photograph problem spots in the windows, displays, counter, aisles, fixtures, tables, and walls and make a note of what needs fixing. Communicate these with the team to ensure attention to detail during the festive season.

Often it could be just general tidying up, removing a few items or stock replenishment. The small things can make a difference to the overall customer experience.

Also, make sure your store is accessible, and customers can move through it easily. This means you might need to make room for trolleys, prams and wheelchairs in your store layouts to ensure traffic flows smoothly.

This is especially important when stores still have physical distancing measures to ensure COVID-safe shopping.

Related: How to get (and handle) feedback from customers

8. Put Santa's little helpers to work

If creating displays is not your strong point, ask for help. Do you have staff who are interested in getting festive and creative with setting up displays or windows for you? If so, delegate this to them. If this employee is going to be around for a while, consider investing in some visual merchandising training for them.

If budget permits, you can outsource this to professional visual merchandisers who will strategically turn the store into a magical experience for shoppers. Store owners have enough to worry about and hiring a pro can save a lot of headaches.

Need ideas? Stop by Pinterest and Instagram

Pinterest and Instagram are social media networks that allow users to share images associated with projects, themes, products and services. Here, you can discover and pull together new ideas by browsing pictures others have posted.

Think of Pinterest as a web-based pinboard.

Visual Merchandising Pinterest Ideas

Being a highly visual format by nature, social media is the perfect source of inspiration for Christmas-themed visual merchandising ideas.

To start, type key terms related to your business into the search box at the top. For example, "Christmas display for fashion boutique" or "Christmas store windows." Organise your pin boards relating to the colour scheme, theming and product type on Pinterest. Browse and pin until you have a couple of solid ideas you can use.

For Instagram, search key terms as hashtags. You can save the posts that inspire you or take a screenshot from your smartphone.

Visual merchandising really works

When it comes to visual merchandising, just remember to be authentic and keep your customers front of mind. Gifting during Christmas is a joyous task, and you are helping with the decision-making process using creativity and storytelling.

Your visual merchandising should always enhance the experience, never take away from it.

Well-executed visual merchandising will help your customers to feel inspired, possibly even curious about your values and what you stand for as a business. So, make sure you provide that extra visual boost to bring them into your retail store for Christmas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below we answer popular questions about the elements of visual merchandising, as well as the skills needed to work successfully in this fascinating field.

First up, what is visual merchandising?

Visual merchandising is the practice of mapping out the overall in-store design, from displays to shelves and signage.

Chances are you’re already doing a lot of merchandising without even realising. But when it comes to the festive season, your visual merchandising needs to reach a whole new level of excitement.

Christmas product displays must be intentional and well thought out in advance. Everyone will be shopping for loved ones, and customers will make most of their buying decisions inside the retail store. So, it’s especially important to spotlight items that catch a customer’s eye for impulsive purchases.

Natural skincare store L'Occitane is a perfect example of how to do Christmas retailing right.

They go all out with their displays and create memorable experiences from the moment you step in. They include:

  • Beautiful window displays
  • Posters
  • Christmas trees adorned with gift packs across varying budgets

They know how to make the purchasing decision easier.

Homeware giant IKEA also knows how to visually merchandise by bringing a room to life. They invite customers to imagine the products in their homes, which means customers will likely walk away with many more things than were on their shopping lists.

What qualifications or skills do you need to work in visual merchandising?

While there are tertiary courses in visual merchandising, such as a Diploma of Visual Merchandising from TAFE NSW or a Bachelor of Design which can help, you don’t need a formal education to create store displays people love.

You could be thinking, ‘well, if I don’t have qualifications, I’m no IKEA or a big retailer who can afford elaborate displays.’ Fear not, because according to the career website, Indeed, there are some transferable skills which include:

  • Creativity: Think about your customers and what brings Christmas cheer to them, then add a little imagination and creativity to your brand. You can improve your creativity skills by doing creative things like making arts and crafts, colouring in, solving puzzles and much more. Make this a habit, and you’ll naturally think more creatively.
  • Commercial know-how: the ultimate goal of visual merchandisers is to attract customers and increase sales. There is usually a dedicated budget to plan and design displays to increase sales as an outcome. Effective visual merchandising involves making intelligent decisions with the budget and aligning that against sales budgets. Ideally, you want to keep costs low, so this also requires creativity.
  • Communication and storytelling skills: Each display should convey a story or theme, which requires thinking about who the display is for and your sales objective. It requires imagining yourself in the customer or buyer's shoes and presenting it in a way to draw people in.

What are the main elements of visual merchandising?

There is a bit of art and science to attract customers to retail stores. Visual merchandising applies four main design elements:

Colour: Bright colours attract more attention than darker ones. Use bright colours to draw attention to specific products. Ensure the colours match the overall theme and complement your branding palette.

Let there be light: using light can make the space complete. Lighting can create an ambience and set the mood of your store. Good lighting design will highlight the products you want your customers to see. Light can also be decorative such as the fairy lights we see around windows and Christmas trees.

Strategic floor planning: To use IKEA as an example again, notice how their floor plans are like a maze? It's no accident and well thought out to ensure you visit every part of the store to maximise sales. Using this as inspiration, you’d want to strategically place products in areas of high foot traffic and at eye level.

Be mindful that floor plans can impact the flow of foot traffic, so you want to strike that balance of products and retail space for people to enjoy.

Promotional signage: Do you have an irresistible deal like buy one and get the next half price? Perhaps there is a special offer like spending more than a certain amount and getting a discount? Chemist Warehouse and JB Hi-fi always have special offers left right and centre with displays, custom price tags, and ‘loud’ signage so you don’t miss it.

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