Shelf talk


Emma Hobson explains how to get your retail products off the shelf and into clients handbags.

Last week I popped into Ikea with the intention to buy the solitary item on my list, but this proved to be so much harder than I thought; it’s virtually impossible to leave without buying half the store!

You’ve got to hand it to Ikea; they are the masters of merchandising, appealing to us ‘visual beings’, with 83 per cent of our brains’ communication coming to us through sight. They tantalise us with colour and stories of how our life could be improved if we just bought that bedroom setting or the oh-so-quaint set of baskets!

With my merchandising instincts fired up, I thought it an ideal time to share a few scientifically proven principles on effective merchandising techniques. For some of you, this subject may excite your creativity; for others it may create shudders of dread down your spine (quite commonly in small retail businesses). However, bear with me; it’s not as difficult or scary as you think.

Let’s first measure the importance of this subject. Your retail space should be generating at least 40 per cent – and ideally 60 per cent – of your businesses revenue.  But is it?  We should think of this space as the most lucrative and productive area of our business.

Visual merchandising should drive incremental store traffic and increase your sales conversion rate and, to be effective, it needs to stimulate the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

The importance of storytelling

Rows of product sitting on a shelf won’t sell themselves to your clients: how you showcase them will. What clients should clearly see is the story you are telling by showing them how the products will benefit them and demonstrating how they can easily fit into their lifestyle.

Your goal is to create an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment between your products and your client.

Displays, hot spots and shelf merchandising are there to help the client better understand the product, and enable an easy buying decision by telling a story, be that with a visual and/or a few chosen words.

The story should easily explain:

  • Why they need it
  • The product advantages and unique selling points
  • How it will make their life better

For example, it’s now almost summer and many of your clients will be heading off on their travels.  Merchandise a segment of your shelves for summer products and travel essentials, displaying your travel sizes, the perfect travel companions. Use visual signage of people vacationing in the sun, or jetting off on a plane; have a display perhaps with a passport, hat and sunglasses next to a spritz toner and sunscreen, or travel-sized products in a travel bag and an eye shade. Use a few key power words in your display sheet and next to your products on shelf to explain how and why the products will be perfect for them on their holiday, ‘I fit easily into a travel case’, ‘you’ll need me on a hot day’; the story is yours to tell.

Stick to the 80/20 rule of display design, 80 per cent product and 20 per cent props; keep it uncluttered and simple.

Suggested story ideas:


  • Gifts for under $50
  • Pollution protection and prevention
  • Spring essentials
  • Detox your skin to health
  • Age prevention activation station
  • Stressed skin stops here



In creating displays, try using ‘the rule of three’; when the eye is looking at something asymmetrical, odd numbers are also more appealing. Based on how you’re arranging your products, you’ll want to have them in sets of three, side by side. If you were arranging things by height, you’d have products that were short, medium, and tall.  This also applies to the ‘pyramid principle’ where you have one item at the top and all other items one step down. This forces the eye to focus on the top point and then work its way down.

Look at your display from the customer’s view-point; have you communicated a clear message?  Have you hit the ‘ah-ha’ as to why they should be enticed to purchase the product?  The hero of any display should always be the product, not the other visual elements you’ve used to tell the story – eg, if you put a hat and sunglasses next to a sunscreen, ensure the sunscreen is the focal point and not the hat!

Always ensure you have a ‘hotspot’ located close your point of sale (POS) as this can be your highest sales generating area. Hotspots can increase sales by around 229 per cent.  Repetition is also important; ideally a client should see the same message repeated three times, so you’ll need to place displays, hotspots and messaging in your treatment rooms, bathroom and hallways, etc.

Your displays also make the perfect ‘product lay’ for creating posts on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Use these to invite customers to purchase products from you online and/or come in store and experience them for themselves, with a complementary skin lesson on how to use them.

Key elements of effective merchandising

Your prime money-generating retail space is normally to the right of your entrance as most people have a natural tendency to look and walk to the right when they enter a shop. This is where you’ll need to merchandise your top selling products as well as have a strong visual display.

Ensure you install proper signage that will attract client attention within 10 seconds of entering and allow for easy navigation as well as drawing them to that area. This might be ‘Editors’ Favourites’, ‘The Team’s Monthly Picks’, or signage by product usage ‒ Face. Body. Travel. You can also highlight your product suppliers’ name.

We’ve all heard that ‘eye area is buy area’, and that remains true – and where your top sellers should sit. You’ll need to have between three and six of them on shelf at any given time with the price clearly marked.

There’s been a recent move away from the use of large tester units by merchandising experts, opting instead for placing the tester on the shelf directly next to the merchandised product. This allows greater customer interaction and increases the opportunity for a sale; after all clients will not buy what they can’t try.

Let’s not forget that shelves and products can’t be too clean nor too neat!

Each time you change your merchandising or create a new display, track the results. If the sales are up, it’s a good indication you did a good job and something you can repeat in the future.

Colour makes your products pop

Colour is powerful; wherever the eyes go, the feet will follow. Colour strongly influences your clients’ buying choices; it attracts attention and can bring a customer from outside, inside.  Colour can evoke various emotional responses; for example, researchers have found we eat 22 per cent more when eating from plates that match the colour of our food, so try serving up your kids’ vegetables on a green plate next time!

Colour blocking works tremendously well in gaining attention. It’s important to follow the season by placing products from left to right from darkest to lightest during winter, and the reverse during summer. Most people read from left to right, making this placement feel more natural.

Colours like red and orange are good at your entrance or window as they stand out and draw the eye.  People buy more when they see red, and if you want to stop someone in their tracks, use yellow; it’s the first colour perceived by the retina.  Be sparing when using bright accent colours; don’t use more than 20 per cent in your overall colour scheme.

  • Blue and green are considered calming and create a feeling of trust
  • Warm colours create excitement, happiness and action
  • For a window backdrop, use a solid colour such as white
  • Consider using contrasting colour blocks, like black and white, green and white.

Inspire your customers with product grouping.

Product grouping is placing products alongside each other that complement or connect with each other which makes it simple for clients, eg, placing a cleansing oil next to your foundation; eye makeup remover next to your mascara; toner next to your moisturiser, etc. You can change your grouping for a promotion. Group all your moisturisers when you have a GWP moisturiser promotion, or create a group of products for the change of season such as key winter essentials, or categorise your products into usage ‒ Eyes.  Sun. Trending. Hero.  Grouping products will provide additional reasons to buy more.

Design is defined by good lighting and shade

Lighting is a critical component of visual merchandising.  Good lighting will help sell the products, poor lighting will ‘switch’ everyone off!

Accent lighting is a technique used to emphasise a certain display or area to attract the eye. Using spotlights to highlight certain products is a great way to direct attention to your top selling products.  Not every product needs to be accented with its own light, but using a few accent lights here and there can make a big difference in your product displays choices. By the way, Ikea have some great clip-on-shelf post lights.

Outside in

Your window is another key sales generator, so whatever you place in this space must provide a strong, clear message. Your window is a vehicle to attract new customers as well as existing ones, and allows you to highlight newly launched products and services, best-selling hero products, current promotions, etc.

Window printing has taken brand messaging to a very powerful place, allowing the use of strong graphics and wording; it’s often all the window needs. The image and messaging must always be clear and uncluttered. These graphics do need to be updated on a frequent basis or passers-by will soon stop noticing.

If you are placing a display in your window it must tell a story and champion its key selling features while being backed up with bold messaging. It’s important to not overfill a window or be too elaborate.  Because this is such an important aspect of your merchandising and branding, I’d highly recommend employing a professional window designer than the DIY approach.

Don’t be afraid of unique window displays as passers-by are attracted more to the things they’ve never seen before.


It’s a good thing we all have different tastes in music, however it’s not so easy when choosing a playlist that all your clients will enjoy. Background music does influence consumer behaviour; slow tempo music causes shoppers to move more slowly, encouraging them to take more time to browse and buy.

If you have a reception area that is slightly away from your treatment rooms you can have a different, more upbeat (but still reasonably slow tempo) playlist than in your treatment rooms. I am a great advocate for having separate systems in each room so the client can choose what they’d like to listen to. It makes for a fantastic point of customer service delivery and more contented clients.

Now we have apps such as Spotify with playlists for business and Pandora, our choices are endless. Just remember to pay the licencing fee for Public Performance of Copyrighted Content.

 Smell – the sensory gratitude

Smell has a profound effect on us. We turn our noses up at bad, unexpected smells and delight in the pleasure of wonderful aromas. A study by Eric Spangenberg, a consumer psychologist at Washington State University, demonstrated that when “feminine scents” like vanilla were used, sales of women’s clothes doubled in store.

Let’s not underestimate the negative effects that the smell of self-tan, hot wax, rancid oil on towels, and various cooking aromas have on our clients. From the moment they walk through the door, their sensorial journey should be one of delight, not dismay.

Consider having your branded ‘signature’ smell throughout your business, one the client delights in and always thinks of you when they smell it.

It would be madness not to capitalise on and maximise your merchandising opportunities in store; to not do so is potential revenue you’re just throwing away. If you don’t have the time or the inclination to do this yourself, pay someone else to do it for you. You’ll recoup the money on the investment in next to no time and the client benefits for a long time.

Emma Hobson is the education manager at the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica, Asia Pacific. For more information call 1800 659 118.

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