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Vertical & horizontal merchandising techniques

Updated April 17, 2017

Composition is a close second to colour for a visual merchandise designer. Merchandise composition is the organisation of retail products with other elements to achieve a unified whole. Retail merchandising uses horizontal and vertical line composition to direct a viewer's attention and to communicate specific messages. Its ultimate aim is to impact a viewer's perception and influence buying behaviour.

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Vertical Line Impressions

Straight vertical lines can communicate height, strength, dignity and majesty. Vertical thin lines can relay an impression of elegance and refinement. Retailers display fur coats, evening gowns, bridal wear and tailored suits on vertical fixtures and mannequins to emphasise stature. Vertical displays presented on elevated platforms further increase verticality by moving the eye upward.

Entry Focal Point

According to Eric Feigenbaum, chairman of the Visual Merchandising department at New York's Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, some 80 per cent of customers will turn to the right upon entering a store. A vertical retail display that is positioned at the end of an entryway aisle redirects this human tendency to move to the right after entering a retail store. When a customer sees an attractive vertical merchandise display, she approaches. The subsequent movement tends toward the next closest vertical merchandise display.

Horizontal Lines

An easy-going, restful quality is communicated when low, spreading lines are used in merchandising. A reclining mannequin conveys a message of relaxation and ease. Therefore horizontal merchandising may be an ideal merchandising technique for a vacation-oriented retail window display. Also, horizontal merchandising restricts visibility and requires the shopper to walk closer to see more. This is an effective viewer response for window displays with horizontal miniature spreads, such as those used during the Christmas holiday that beacon potential customers to stop and experience the presentation closer. Couple this with an eye-catching vertical element that serves as the initial foot-traffic draw.

Horizontal Shelving

Horizontal merchandising is also frequently used for products displayed on one level, such as tables, or on tiered retail fixtures. Gondola store shelving is a major part of food retail merchandising; this industry offers a wealth of information about effective display strategies that maximise sales productivity per square foot. For instance, in food markets you will typically find premium brands or products with the highest profit margin potential at top or eye-level shelving, while value-priced items are generally presented at bottom shelves.

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About the Author

Vanessa Cross has practiced law in Tennessee and lectured as an adjunct professor on law and business topics. She has also contributed as a business writer to news publications, including the "Chicago Tribune," and published in peer-reviewed academic journals. Cross holds a B.A. in journalism, a Juris Doctor and an LL.M. in international business law.

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