Merchandising Tour: Holiday merchandising tips that invite consumers to linger during your busiest season

Though online sales are rising, most of us still get in our cars, fight traffic and allocate time to shop on Main Street or at the mall because of the in-store experience during the holidays. SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright shares some tips for the festive season that are good year round too.

Consumers may walk into your store with their minds fixed on solving a problem or fulfilling a need. But once they’ve done their research and checked product specs, the ultimate decision to purchase is emotional.

Though online sales are rising, most of us still get in our cars, fight traffic and allocate time to shop on Main Street or at the mall because of the in-store experience. Wise retailers know how to make us feel warm and fuzzy inside and long to linger; they realize that when we’re comfortable, we buy more.

Countless merchandising elements contribute to a positive in-store experience and encourage gift buying, but I’ve chosen an important few to consider during the holidays — and the rest of the year, too.

Engage the senses

Some of the most neglected elements in creating a comfortable retail experience involve engaging all five senses. The more sensual layers present, the more memorable the outing.

Scent: Anthropologie has this scent thing down pat. Enter any branch and there will be a candle burning somewhere. Sure, you know you’ve entered a store, but your brain feels like it’s in the living room of an old friend. Result? You want to hang out and explore, and that leads to sales.

Consider what we’ll hear in your store and how it might affect us. Despite the inherent joy of holiday season, there is anxiety around finding the right gift, spending and work/play tension. Music or other calming sounds, like a fountain, can soothe spirits. Carefully consider the tunes you play. If holiday music is on the dial, do your best to be sure the same mix isn’t on repeat.

Physical comfort: Add a couch or seating area and reading material to provide rest for tired feet and a spot to chill for a bored partner or child. If a customer is overloaded with bags from other stores, offer to free his or her hands and tuck away their burden while they shop your location.

Do something unexpected

Consider the multiple messages we human beings are bombarded with on an average day, and how adept we have become at tuning out the same old, same old. Keep things fresh by doing something unusual and making us look twice.

Humor: One of most under-utilized marketing and merchandising tools involves humor. Don’t be so darn serious; have some fun! Find ways to bring a smile or deep belly laugh to your customers. A great example is the signage copy at Moosejaw. The coolest thing about their sense of humor is that once you read one funny thing, you’re compelled to go on a mission and see what all the other signs say. It’s a brilliant method that moves the consumer through the store.

Give something away:
Offer up complimentary hot chocolate, cider or cookies, or host a scavenger hunt or competition with a prize at the finish line.


Startle us: Perhaps you add live mannequins to your storefront windows or use your drive aisle as a runway for a spur of the moment flash mob fashion show. We won’t forget that.

Help us make a decision quickly
Studies have shown that the longer it takes the consumer to make a decision, the more likely it is that no purchase decision will be made. Strengthen your visual merchandising with an eye towards quick decision-making. Be sure prices are easily found, store organization is crystal clear and gift ideas are plentiful.

Let us touch: Take products out of the box and make sure we can touch them, feel them, explore them. Invite us to engage with cool gadgets or difficult-to-understand merchandise long before we search for a salesperson to answer our questions.

Feed impulse: Is your cash wrap littered with trash, disorganized or doubling as your office space? Stop that right now. When your customer steps up to the register, you have a captive audience with a moment or two to wait. Place impulse products strategically, neatly and categorically to make the “Oh my, what a perfect stocking stuffer!” bulb light up.


Gift groupings: Help your customers make decisions by grouping items from different departments together, or combine those items geared to a particular activity. Then position tables in your store’s hot spots. Groupings of three items that make for a substantial gift when combined — but also can be bought separately to satisfy varying price points — are incredibly effective. Add a bow or a tree to the grouping rather than a sign, and let the visual cue provide all the messaging that is necessary.

Last but not least, remember that your goal is not to just provide an experience, but to provide a positive and memorable one. May your sales chimes ring this holiday season!

It’s that time again! If you think your booth might have what it takes to make it to the Best of Booth (BOB) podium next show, please send an email alert before the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to merchandising editor, Robin Enright, at [email protected]

SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright
is the founder of Merchandising Matters,
which provides merchandising support to brands, retailers and their agencies.

Reach her via email at
[email protected]
with questions, ideas and suggestions.



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