What is Visual Merchandising and Window Dressing?

Learn about the history of window dressing and how it can be used to make a brand stand out.

Window shopping is a fusion of lots of different disciplines: art direction, crafts, architecture, sculpture, installation, and, of course, design. They are all strategies which are used to draw potential customers into a shop.

It’s how the shop communicates with the consumer. Window shopping is directly linked to visual merchandising – a marketing and design strategy for displaying products and services in a way that is logical and attractive (both inside the shop and in the display windows) to create a great shopping experience and boost sales.

Founders and directors of Kiosco Creativo, Carla and Laura, are experts in window dressing. They have created more than 20 window displays for Hermès, Swarovski, and Disney. Here they answer four key questions that will help you to better understand visual merchandising and window dressing:

What is Visual Merchandising and Window Dressing? 1
Kiosco Creativo for Hermès

What is window dressing?

Window dressing is designing visuals and messages that will impact how the consumer is feeling and create a bond between a potential customer and a product in a shop using signs, stimuli, and visual symbols.

How did window dressing come about?

People have always looked for ways to show off their belongings or products so that they can exchange them for something in return. Before money, there was bartering: an object was exchanged for another, depending on its value. Later, public markets arrived, and goods were exhibited on small stalls in a way to attract the attention of passers-by.

The first shop windows arrived in the 18th century with the Industrial Revolution. Shops needed to have a space which would be visible from the street so that they could show off their products. In the beginning, shops and their owners didn’t care much for how their shop windows looked, they simply filled them with as many products as they could. It was the big department stores like Le Bon Marché in Paris, Harrods in London and Macy’s in the United States that began to take extra special care of the way their shop windows looked.

However, it wasn’t until the 20s that other retailers began using their shop windows as a way to advertise.

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Shop windows of the Atwater Kent radio shop, 1928

Why is window dressing important?

Shop windows are the first visual contact that a brand or shop’s product has with a customer. It needs to communicate the personality and values of the brand, while also trying to boost sales, not only of the product on show, but for the whole shop.

What is the main goal when designing a good shop window?

Grab the attention of the consumer within a few seconds, connect with them, and finally convince them to enter the shop and buy something. To do so, you need to be aware of all the challenges you’re facing. First, there’s lots of visual competition that can distract the consumer. Second, seeing as the customer sees so many exaggerated displays, they become used to them and it makes them harder to impress. Third, shopping online poses a huge threat to the high street. For this reason, now more than ever, shops need to offer customers unforgettable experiences, something sensory and tangible that connects with them and encourages them to come back.

Below you can find two fine examples of window dressing: 1) Nike’s interactive windows 2) and a window that’s a collaboration between Louis Vuitton and artist Yayoi Kusama

Carla and Laura teach the Domestika online course Introduction to Commercial Window Dressing, an excellent introduction to the field, where you’ll learn to create a brief so you can develop a concept. You will learn about storytelling, simplicity, focal points, height, depth, lighting and pre-production management.


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