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Challenges and Opportunities in a Changing Future
Inside a textile factory in India
- Eye on Design
Although it once seemed like the future of visual merchandising would face limitations due changes in the retail world, now, recent events in the sector indicate that those limitations won’t exist in the future.
The irruption of the online channel initially shocked many retailers, leading them to eliminate in-person retail projects, believing that digital commerce would engulf the traditional channel like a black hole. Today, we know that it is precisely the online channel that will transform in-person retail, with certain conditioning factors. The need to bring products to the consumer will support the implementation of online businesses on streets, like showrooms. They will need to be visible, but not excessively expensive, since they will have to be continually renewed. That will drive the need for professionals who have a command of design, communication, branding and, above all, temporariness. There is just one profession that combines all that: the visual merchandiser.
From my point of view, there are three conditions sine qua non for this transformation to be possible. Two of them affect professionals; one has to do with businesses. Let’s start with the latter.
Back in 1955, the former owner of Bonwit Teller, Walter Hoving, bought Tiffany & Co., located just opposite his old property. Hoving also brought along Gene Moore, Bonwit Teller’s old window dresser. When it came to the work, Hoving told Moore: “Do whatever you want. Don’t show me what you’re going to do, don’t ask for my approval. Just do it and get me results.” What the store windows at Tiffany & Co. have meant to the history of modern visual merchandising goes without saying. Today we are still living off the legacy Gene Moore left to us. This all means – and this is what I wanted to say – that freedom of movement and creativity are tied in with the success of a brand. That is the first premise to ensure that, in the future, the profession can foster the growth of in-person retail and recover the figure of the flâneur in our society. A visual merchandising with close ties to entertainment, creativity and, above all, an absolute knowledge of the brand it is serving.
The second premise is less charming, but it is essential. I’m talking about the digitalization of the profession. In the immediate future, it will be essential for visual merchandising professionals to master the digital tools that will help them manage information in absolutely all aspects of the profession. The world of BIM, for example, information on objects, props, furniture, lighting, etc. The profession will be divided into three different profiles: designers, producers and implementers. Each and every one of those profiles will need to harness digitized information, from the design process to manufacturing, production and the implementation of each project. It is even likely that a fourth profile may appear, who will test the results and pass that information back to the other three so they can tweak the project and adapt it in real time.
Finally, the third premise has to do with businesses themselves. Today, we are witnessing how large shopping centres around the world are closing down, as well as many local stores, frightened by the irruption of the online channel. However, both small retailers and major brands should realize that, although social networks have a specific weight in communication, visual merchandisers will have the leading role in this saga. We will see unprecedented spectacular professional contracts; we will see a new kind of retail that we never could have imagined. The famous shopping experience that retail promised us, which never quite existed, will be eclipsed by in-store and out-store visual actions.
And so, we need business owners to change their perspectives, to invest in visual merchandising, to take a leap of faith like Walter Hoving did in 1955, and to leave behind the apathy that is palpable among most brands and businesses in big cities. Only then will we be able to help customers recover the excitement of shopping – responsible shopping that is conscious of its limitations and of the need to respect human dignity.
From there, anything goes – most especially, creativity.
Main Image: Window Display, Tiffany & Co. Image by David Cohen @ Unsplash