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Students across the country are back in school after a long summer break, but for retail merchandising professionals and brand reps, class is in session all year long. From summer to fall, and shopping season to holiday season, retailers and consumer brands strive to follow the latest merchandising trends to stay one step ahead of the competition and drive in-store revenue opportunities.

With the fall shopping season upon us, brands need to take full advantage of back to school, Halloween, and holiday weekend sales. Grab a pen and paper and get ready to take some notes, because the industry's visual merchandising leaders have some important lessons to share.

Drive impulse purchases through clustering

A visual merchandising display can be much more than an assorted group of products; when done right, it draws connections between seemingly disparate items. The end result is shoppers viewing those products as complementary, encouraging them to only buy multiple items.

The key, as merchandising expert Debra Templar noted, is to cluster products together, creating a vivid scene and telling a story with your visual display.

"Effective displays teach shoppers about using multiple basic and accessory items to enhance and extend the use of their purchases," Templar told Visual Retailing. "With great merchandising it's not uncommon to hear a shopper say 'I want the lot.'"

These strategies drive impulse purchases, as customers decide at the display that they want to make additional purchases.

Color is key

The way merchandisers use color in their displays can make all the difference. A tiny splash of bright hues can draw the eye if it's surrounded by drab colors. The Balance's Matthew Hudson likened the importance of color in visual merchandising to interior decorating. Contrasting colors tend to catch people's attention—even combinations as simple as black and white.

Infusing an otherwise unorganized or cluttered display with a pop of color can attract foot traffic about as well as the most sophisticated one.

Consider the other senses

Making displays look clean and put together is obviously a crucial aspect to visual merchandising, but don't overlook your other senses. Although some factors will be out of your control, try to stimulate senses other than sight whenever possible.

For instance, the ability to touch a product and hold it in one's hands is an important step in the buying journey. According to Nielsen, nearly three-quarters of shoppers "showroom" products before making an online purchase. Allowing customers to touch and feel products is a huge advantage that brick-and-mortar stores have over digital channels—so make the most of it.

Another sense to consider with visual merchandising is smell. This will come easier to some companies than others—coffee brands, for instance, are a natural fit. But even electronics brands like Samsung and Sony have gotten in on what's being dubbed "scent marketing." The idea of scent marketing is that aromas can elicit certain emotional responses, and by including a pleasant scent with your merchandising displays, you can bring shoppers good feelings while they shop your brand.

In summary

Good visual merchandising combines accepted wisdom, like the use of color or the so-called "rule of three," with newer, more modern strategies like scent marketing. Sometimes it pays to take risks and learn what works for your brand. And there's no better time to test out a new approach than right now, before the holiday shopping season begins.

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