Brian Walker


At any given time, the shopping centre precinct or high street strip can be a hive of activity with all retailers busily vying for the attention of their target customer. This is particularly true through the Christmas season. With over 90% of retailing done in Australian retail shops this Christmas, it’s never been more important to capture attention quickly in order to maximise physical sales during the grand final of retail.

From the shopper’s perspective, this choice of retailer can often be overwhelming with little or no “call to action” from the retailer rising above the complexity of choice available. Often the window display is the consumer’s first introduction to your business and in many cases this valuable piece of real estate and brand advertising is left undercapitalized with busy, confused and diluted messages.

It is no surprise that those retailers who understand the power of visual merchandising and building consistently powerful windows enjoy the most success as they use their windows to invite, entertain, promote their message and silently sell their product or service.

The first consideration to be aware of is that on average a customer will have 3 seconds to be impacted upon by your window display. In this short time they will need to be captured and motivated by your window display and understand what you do and who you are. They also need to have their buying radar operating and decide that the message you are sending is the one they want to hear.

When we count off 3 seconds it is not hard to see how fleeting the opportunity really is and in many situations, such as a tenancy at the entrance to a major department store, the reality becomes even less.

At the Retail Doctor Group, we see many examples of window displays that don’t quite achieve the desired effect for a variety of reasons with the most common reasons being:

  • Too many stories in too little space.
    The key here is to remember that “Less is more” and that the strong powerful statement will always win over the “I am trying to sell you everything” approach. With such a short period to be captured by your windows, the key message should be visible immediately.
  • Lack of alignment between windows and store
    Visual cues in store should always align to the central theme and product displayed in the windows. Your windows should be the start of the customer journey and the store lay out, shape, customer traffic flow and merchandise displays and adjacencies are all stops on the way to their destination – the checkout.
  • Stock shortages
    Check stock levels of window promoted product, be on top of the order cycle for this product and deliver the “promise” of the window. It is unprofitable and disenchanting for the customer to be captured and then rejected because of a stock shortage.
  • Lack of expertise
    Visual merchandising is a combination of skill, education, artistic creativity, science and invention. Treating it as a secondary staff duty and not having a specialist visual merchandiser on the team can produce very mixed results. Training in this area is essential to achieving compelling and profitable results.
  • Lighting is the forgotten prop
    Always ensure that your lighting is strong enough, in good working order and points on the promotional piece, hero product or the statement that you want to convey.
  • Focus on props over product
    While props are useful, it is important to remember that their purpose is to make the product look its absolute best. Promotional and new arrivals should be located at the front of the stores and in the windows to attract attention. High demand merchandise should be placed at hot spots within the store to ensure visibility and support the window story.
  • Nothing new
    Keep the store looking fresh, inspiring and relevant by regularly changing your window displays with new product and promotions. Think of each of your window displays as chapters in the book that your customer will read over a period of time in visiting your store. Many of our fashion retailers lead the way with as many as 40-45 window changes a year. Some stand outs include the likes of Peter Alexander, Colette Accessories, Sportsgirl, Glassons and Dotti.

How does a retailer build a series of powerful window displays that rise above the clutter to capture the customer imagination, buying preference and the heart of today’s savvy consumer?


Display Elements

Effective blending of the display elements and components are accomplished through the application of several proven principles of display. Understanding the key principles of effective visual merchandising is essential to creating a powerful and effective display. Each of these display elements are an integral part of creating the store theatrics and aesthetics.

These principles are:

  1. Colour
  2. Unity
  3. Variety
  4. Dominance
  5. Rhythm
  6. Balance
  7. Proportion
  8. Focus
  9. Lighting


Colour is the first element we notice when we look at a window display, it is a powerful element in both creating visible and emotional reactions. Colour is an inexpensive, versatile means of visually creating mood and drama in the presentation of merchandise. Warm colours (reds, oranges & yellows) physically attract customers to shop. On the other hand, cool colours (blues, greens & violets) can be used assist deliberation with relation to highlight big-ticket purchases. Colour, used properly, can attract the eye of a potential customer, create the desired mood and stimulate the viewer to make a purchase decision.


The right combination or ordering of elements and components within a display that promotes an undivided total effect. Displays are more effective when there is a certain level of unification between all display elements (color, line, texture, shape & space) and display components (merchandise, forms, fixtures, props, signs & lighting). Display themes based on times, people, places, causes, events or styles are the most effective means for building unity into the retail display. Repetition of a display element (e.g.; the color red) and/or a display component (e.g.; a certain product) helps strengthen the display’s unity.


To avoid too much unity, the merchandiser can introduce variety by using different elements and/or components in the display. Variety adds interest by creating some contrast. While the principle of unity should prevail throughout the display so that the viewer understands the organisational structure, variety is necessary to attract and hold the viewer’s attention. Displaying one small item with several large items or a single round shape amongst numerous square shapes are examples of creating variety.


Attractive displays have a centre of attention or dominance to which the viewer’s eye is drawn and held. Without a dominant display feature, the shopper’s eye will be attracted elsewhere and the Merchandise message will not communicate effectively. A display element (e.g.; red) or display component (e.g.; merchandise) is made dominant by subordinating all other elements and components. Dominance within a display allows the retailer to emphasis a single hero product, promotional message or purchase incentive.


Rhythm refers to the path that the viewer’s eye follows when viewing a display. Displays that have good rhythm are those that can hold eye contact until the entire display has been inspected. Display rhythm is created through a combination of balance and proportion.


To be an attractive and comfortable experience, a retail display should exhibit a sense of equilibrium or balance between all elements and components of the display. Balance can be achieved in either a formal or informal sense and is created when both sides of a display are exactly alike in terms of type, size, color, shape and placement of merchandise, each part of the display has equal visual weight. Such displays are usually found to be a more “comfortable” visual experience. They also convey more action and so are better able to attract and hold attention.


The relative share of each display element or component with respect to other elements and components adds to the display as a whole. For example, proportion is concerned with how much red is used in a display compared to black or what the display merchandise/display props ratio might be.


Focus is the point at which attention is concentrated. It is the spot to which the eye is drawn and stops, after it gather in the general picture. An example of a shape that has an obvious focus is the triangle; our eyes are drawn to the apex, the focal point, which is why the pyramid is such an effective means of visual display. When you have finished a window display always stand back and observe your created focus points, to ensure it is not detracted from the very product you are trying to “hero”.


The final effect of any window display depends on good lighting, enabling the potential customer to see the merchandise with relative clarity. Lighting provides the highlights and ambiance required for a well merchandised display. Our eyes will tend to focus on the brightest spot in a space; therefore strong, well thought out lighting is essential to the window display.


Grouping of Displays

Most attractive merchandising displays are frequently presented in one of four definite arrangement patterns: the pyramid, the zigzag, the step or the fan arrangement.

The Pyramid

The pyramid is a triangular display of merchandise that begins at a large or broad base and progresses up into an apex at the highest level. When displaying different sized merchandise, larger items should be positioned at the base and smaller items and hero products towards the apex. Pyramid displays do not have to be congruent or perfect in form.

The Zig Zag

The zigzag is a modified pyramid that zigzags it’s way to the apex of the display. No two levels are at the same height. This arrangement is less monotonous than the pyramid; it is perceived to be more fluid and graceful.

The Step Arrangement

The step is constructed as a series of steps. Step arrangements lead the eye in a direct line; they begin at a low point on one side of a display area and progress directly to a higher point on the opposite side. Typically, step displays are constructed so that the base of each step increases in area; the larger base area is used for displaying accessory items, while the steps are used for the feature merchandise.

The Fan Arrangement

The fan is spread up and out from a small base, like an inverted pyramid, thereby directing the viewer’s eyes upward and outward. The fan pattern is appropriate for displaying smaller type merchandise of equal size.


We hope that this article clarifies both importance of building powerful window displays, their importance as a selling tool and provides you with the basic tools to make powerful window displays.

A strong, well thought out, creative and inviting display is critical in both customer relevance and creating the opportunity to convert your passers by into valuable customers – especially as we approach the grand final of retail!