“First of all, I better modify the abbreviation of Visual Merchandising, VMD. This term came from Japan to Korea, so only Japanese and Koreans use VMD for visual merchandising or visual merchandiser. When you search for VMD in English at the World Wide Web or research papers, it won’t tell you what VMD is in the fashion industry. The right abbreviation is VM, which stands for visual merchandising. Currently, most Koreans use VMD rather than VM, but the situation has to be improved step by step.” She started to speak the right way to use the term ‘VM,’ so the Sookmyung Times (SMT) interviewed Lee Seunghee (LEE) about the relationship between VM and fashion marketing.
SMT What is VM and the role of VM in sales? In the market, VM is regarded as one of the important parts of displaying products, how much does VM influence products sales?
LEE To define VM is showing merchandise and concepts at their very best, with the end purpose of making a sale. The role of a VM is amazingly various. The most two important roles are to make the brand image appeal to the target customers and to maximize sales. VM, especially store interior and display, is directly related to sales: placing new arrivals at the best condition, displaying total coordination for the exposure of various items in the store, replenishing the merchandise available in stock, having proper lights to maximize the color and character of merchandise, suggesting wonderful and gorgeous display concepts, placing merchandise in a convenient spots. A VM plays a very important role and is highly related to sales directly and indirectly. Visual attraction doesn’t need to talk much. It’s easy, simple, direct, and strong attraction. In the short term, when customers pass by, the merchandise has to be displayed at its best, which boosters sales. Therefore, a visual merchandising plan has to be set up very wisely and strategically with the best tools, visuals.
SMT What are important ingredients to make VM, for example light, product or decorations?
LEE The one of the most important elements for VM is keeping the brand identity. Brand identity has to be the standard to create images and concepts for VM. If VM follows the trend too much, it could ruin the brand image. One more element I recommend is harmony. The VM concept has to harmonize with merchandise, trends, brand identity, mannequins, lights, and all other factors for VM. You can’t miss any of these elements and at the same time need to make balance. Stores selling the higher priced merchandise tend to lure customers subtly with sophisticated and luxurious images rather than direct promotions of merchandise. Even though the image isn’t related to the merchandise at all, the creativeness and inspiration trigger customer’s shopping desire. But, if stores selling the lower priced merchandise tend to try the same way, it won’t work well as much as it does in a luxurious store. Giving more weight to image or sales depends on the brand identity, image, and target customer. It is highly connected with the character of the brand.
SMT People can easily see VM in department stores and other stores selling clothes. However, VM is used by not only fashion, but also art. What’s the difference between fashion VM and art VM?
LEE VM would be different along with different fashion retail stores. Mostly the stores dealing with more expensive merchandise tend to put more effort to show images for VM rather than to maximize sales. But the stores selling cheaper merchandise tend to show more merchandises to maximize sales for VM rather than keeping brand image. In both ways, the end purpose of VM is making more sales. Meanwhile, VM related with art mostly touches people’s hearts and tries to give a message. In my opinion, communication and sympathy is the end purpose of art VM. Recently, mixing art with VM became a great tool for culture marketing, social marketing, and buzz marketing for the company. Here is a good case I want to introduce. Have you ever heard or seen “the fun theory” by Volkswagen? The company displayed and installed piano at the stairs in the subway. Most people who used to take the escalator changed their behavior when they find the piano stairs and they go up the stairs not using the escalator. It was fun, delivering a message.
SMT What do you think of IKEA’s VM and the concept of IKEA’s displays?
LEE IKEA as a retail company is one of the best case studies for fashion marketing and fashion merchandising which includes the retail industry. In other words, IKEA is strongly and highly related with fashion. Have you ever been to an IKEA store? Or have you ever seen the catalog IKEA publishes? It’s hard to explain IKEA’s display except fashion. IKEA’s VM is about making a house real, delivering “reality” to customers. The fashion industry does this all the time. You can find VM based on reality often and easily. For example, seasonal displays for specific holidays (Entrance ceremony, graduation ceremony, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas), we can always find great windows delivering reality. This makes customers feel comfortable, familiar, and friendly to the merchandise. Under this concept, pieces of merchandise are not fantasies and dreams that the customer feels hard to reach anymore, because it touches reality to be very close with customers. For coordination, stores suggest total coordination for TOP (Time, Occasion, Place) with mannequins and merchandise. Sales assistants always recommend various styles and looks for each customer. Using visuals based on reality is a key point to inspire customers in retail business.
SMT What is one of most wonderful VMs you have seen lately?
LEE One of the most amazing VMs I’ve seen is about the HERMES store in Japan. The window was very quiet and calm. The only thing we can see is one scarf from HERMES and one LED. But the visual merchandiser makes a great harmony using these two core items and proper scene, proper wind, and proper light at the same time. It was very well-planned VM. It doesn’t say anything but shows something subtly to attract people who pass by.