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Do You Know the Difference Between Merchandising and Display?

Lyn M. Falk explains how they differ and ways to reach customers through their proper use.




Wet Nose in Geneva, IL, understood the display and merchandising assignment. Wet Nose in Geneva, IL, understood the display and merchandising assignment.

This article originally appeared at our sister publication, PETS+.

MERCHANDISING AND DISPLAY — pretty much the same thing, right? Wrong. They are two distinct ways to present your merchandise, and when both are done well, they can make a big difference in sales.


In simple terms, merchandising is “good housekeeping.” It’s presenting your products on fixtures in an organized fashion so customers can quickly see and interpret the merchandise. Consider these elements of good merchandising:

Placement. Customers “read” fixtures from left to right and top to bottom, like they read a book. By grouping merchandise on a floor standing or wall fixture according to size, style, color and type, you create an easy-to-“read” visual presentation. Items that are alike (repeating shape, size, color) draw the eyes. Place smaller products at the top of the fixture, and graduate down in size so the largest (and heaviest) items are at the bottom.

Critical mass. “Full” fixtures attract attention and say a lot about your inventory and merchandising capabilities. Empty shelves leave the impression that you either underbought or are going to drop that line of products. Overall, it reflects poorly on your store.

Rotation. Periodically rotate your merchandise. Placing products in different locations can revive old merchandise. Bringing a line from the back of the store to the front, or from a side shelf to an endcap, can mean new life and sales.

Like quality. The quality of the fixture should reflect the quality and price of the product line. More expensive items deserve a higher-quality fixture. And keep all fixtures in the store, or within a department, similar in material and style. Don’t mix and match glass with metal with wood with plastic with wire. This creates visual chaos and distracts from the merchandise. Fixtures should coordinate, support/showcase the product lines, and ultimately reflect your brand.

Lighting. Bathe fixtures in ambient light (all sides). If there are endcaps, highlight with track lighting, making them stand out.

Signage. If needed, a printed sign that hangs above the fixture or attaches to the top will help quickly convey what is being presented. For large fixtures in the back of the store, this signals to customers what they will find if they head that way.


Displays are well-coordinated focal points with their own basic elements. They are:

Strategically placed. Generally, the first one is placed about 15 feet in from the entrance, and often features seasonal or the newest merchandise. Nesting tables make good first focal points. With the merchandise may be a dog mannequin sitting on the top table or other prop. Then every 20 feet or so, place another display, each one a bit higher than the one before so customers keep moving into the store. The back wall becomes the final focal point. NOTE: Stores with less square footage can adjust these spacing guidelines accordingly.

Display Planning Checklist

  • Determine the number of desired focal points in your store and how often you will change them.
  • Create a calendar for the next year.
  • Decide on themes, whether seasonal, for a new line, supporting a promotion or just something fun.
  • Set a budget that covers props and signage for each focal point update.
  • Before signing off on a new display, ask if it tells the story simply and quickly — and did you illuminate it well!

Engaging. Fun, informative and/or humorous displays help create that emotional connection you want to make with customers. If you can get them to feel, squeak or even smell the items, you can increase sales up to 50% for those products.

Properly lighted. Focal point displays should be illuminated three times brighter than surrounding ambient light to attract attention and provide a visual pop. This helps the eye to quickly pick them out from a distance. Bulbs in track heads mounted 9 to 10 feet off the floor should provide about 1,500 lumens, and those mounted 12 to 15 feet off the floor should provide about 2,000 lumens to really get the punch you need.

Changed frequently. If you have a lot of repeat customers, change up the products on these displays every couple of weeks. You’ll be amazed how they’ll effortlessly get customers to engage with the products and purchase more.

Many variables factor into creating a well-branded, functional and attractive store interior. Good design doesn’t stop with the initial choice of finishes, fixtures, signage and lighting. If you want to increase your product sales, pay attention to how you merchandise and display your products!

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