Surprise me: Safety is the new risk in visual merchandising

All too often today, the surprise in merchandising is that there are no surprises. SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright gives us examples of surprises that elicit double-takes.

All too often today, the surprise in merchandising is that there are no surprises.

Your windows might feature mannequins wearing the latest gear and flashing bright color, but the same is true of the retailer next door or down the street. So while I’d give you an “A” for color use, I’d have to give you a “C” or “D” for innovation in display. Where’s the creative delight that seduces a customer to enter your store or buy your product?

Don’t wring your hands, though, because visual merchandising surprises are so few and far between that everyone has an opportunity to stand out. All it takes is a willingness to let your brand personality shine, be brave enough to blaze your own trail and look beyond your neighbor for inspiration. The real risk in today’s retail climate is playing it safe.

Read on for a few things that surprised me and see if you can get your brain out of the drain for your next display, window or package design:

Marc Jacobs on Newbury Street, Boston

Sure, we’ve seen mannequin parts before, but what makes this window eye-catching is its playfulness and the simplicity of its design. The stage is set so well that it’s hard to walk past without smiling and considering frolicking in the leaves yourself. Have some fun with your windows!

Petzl sign at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013

Edgy, unexpected or surprising copy slows the footsteps of passersby. Use language to pull people to your message and don’t just inform — entertain!

Nordstrom’s, Salt Lake City

The design of these mannequins received a unanimous thumb-down when it was posted on Merchandising Matters’ Facebook page, but kudos need to be given for its ability to create controversy and interest. Nordstrom’s willingness to risk the thumbs-down and go out on a creative limb is to be admired.

Packaging surprises are a draw as well.

I ordered a pair of shoes online from Tieks after seeing a Facebook ad for them. I clicked on the ad, immediately received a coupon for a 20 percent discount, and when I spied a happy pair of orange flats, ordered them. My expectations were high for a well-made pair of shoes, but Tieks’ packaging blew me away first. After opening the shipping box, I found a Tiffany-worthy shoebox wrapped with a silk flower inside.

It was as if I had sent myself a gift. And, like matryoshka nesting dolls, the box continued to deliver surprise after surprise, with my shoes folded neatly inside one another, a folded up tote and little footwear envelopes. Lovely.


Unfortunately, the shoes didn’t fit and I had to return them for another size, paid for by Tieks.

When the new shoes arrived, I was delighted to note that the return didn’t mean my experience was going to be turned down a notch. In fact, the experience continued to surprise me when after opening my new box wrapped in a bow, I found a handwritten note.

Wow. Every step of my experience with Tieks was a surprise, and surprises are often the things we talk about to our friends and share with on social media sites. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve told this story so far.

Don’t play it safe: Exceed expectations and surprise and delight your consumers and pull them to your product and environment. Take a chance — or two — and measure what happens to foot traffic or sales when you do. I’m willing to bet you will find both increase.

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
with questions, ideas and suggestions.



All aboard for Winter Market Merchandising Tours!

It’s hard to believe, but in just a few short weeks the outdoor community once again will gather at the Salt Palace for Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. At OR, innovation is a guarantee in product manufacturing, booth design and visual merchandising. Every show has at least one more