What does the future hold for the VM Industry?

Our MD Tony was a panelist for the Visual Merchandising Conference at the Retail Design Expo 2018.  Led by VMSD Editor in Chief Jennifer Acevedo, he was asked about 'What the future holds for the VM industry'  Here are a few of his thoughts....

JA - Lets begin by talking about the evolving role of the Visual Merchandiser.  How has your role and the role of your teams changed?

TR - Historically, the VM team were the ‘arts and crafts’ who would turn up in store and make everything look beautiful but the reality nowadays for all brands is that VM needs to be part of an integrated approach, which is the reason we at TRC often refer to it as Visual Management. Everyone within an organisation is making a decision somewhere that is going to affect the consumer. So, instead of VM being part of the end process, it should in fact be involved from the start, at the store planning, design stage, digitally and beyond as it has a vital role to play throughout.

In terms of how we express brands at retail, long gone are the days where we take one store format and look to recreate that perfectly around the world as this approach is no longer required and there can be different expressions for different moments in time. The VM team need to be an integral part of that.

POP UP shops should be an important part of a strategy and shouldn’t just be about taking a store and trying to replicate it.

Finally, the importance of adapting to the needs of the local market or community is where the VM teams in store versus head office play an important and much bigger part in the consumer experience and journey and as a result their roles are really evolving and changing.


JA - What will VM's be tasked with in future and how will they need to be more digitally savvy?

TR - I am slightly sad about the VM industry right now, as VM's are so task driven in their role and their ability to be a creative thinker and adapt to new technology is significantly impacted. Compare that to the consumer who is using digital as a quick and more convenient approach to inform their choices and they are often out of sync with each other.

We need to be more engaged as a VM community about what is happening around us, and we also need to be more tech savvy. I often have conversations with clients who say “we need a screen.” However when you carry out consumer research, most consumers say they ‘expect’ to see a screen as its part of the in store entertainment but that it’s often nothing more than moving wallpaper. Therefore as a VM, you have to ask, is it actually doing anything more than that?

Most brands are content rich but they don’t always communicate this to the consumer in a meaningful way, they are often talking to themselves rather than the customer.

Brands need to better understand the use of digital and exactly where and how the customer needs to experience this as part of the consumer journey. The VM community must be skilled enough to bring this into the workplace and use it to be better at their jobs. 


JA - How critical is excellent VM in a large format, high SKU environment like B&Q?

TR - Some of our clients have too many sku’s for a space and for me it’s about educating them on cause and effect. The issue with having too many options in a space is about shopability and brand positioning. The brands that are making an impact at the moment are the ones that are razer sharp about what they want to say to you and where that happens in the customer journey. Our focus has been to explain to clients that where you over option you are potentially de-valuing your brand. For us its about how to clean that up, how is a brand communicating it’s point of view and how people then actually shop in that experience. There’s a silent service aspect to it but importantly in addition a served aspect. In short, don’t overwhelm your customers with choices and dilute or devalue your brand.


JA - How do you see the shopping experience of the future evolving and what will be a VM’s role? Is there a role for VM in online or e-commerce shopping?

TR - This is fresh in my mind as we are delivering a project for a client at the moment where we use design software to put specific products into store to show them how it can be merchandised from a wholesale perspective which then helps the retailer visualise their space and then buy into that product.  This is hugely successful as retailers are buying between 80 and 100% of the recommended assortment. The next level is to progress to a VR version of this.

Physical stores have a massive part to play in the future. VM is a growth opportunity but it needs to be re-classified as when it’s referred to as VM, people don’t understand it’s role as a profit generator for an organisation. I think the first thing to do is a complete re-branding of what VM is, ensuring it’s fully integrated into the business and that everyone at each stage of a project understands that they are making a visual decision that affects the customer.  Ultimately every decision is measurable and tangible.

Involving VM at a strategic level in the future means we can make more informed decisions and strive to always be right place, right time, right consumer.