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Retail, buying and merchandising
Visual merchandising

Visual merchandising: area of work

A graduate job in visual merchandising is a chance to combine your creativity and commercial awareness to design eye-catching displays that tempt customers into stores and drive sales. Being bang on trend and having confidence in your ideas are key to succeeding in this area of retail.
It is a visual merchandiser's job to create striking store displays that draw customers in and maximise sales.

What is visual merchandising?

Visual merchandising is the area of retail concerning how products are displayed. The way merchandise is presented has a huge effect on the overall success of a store and it is a visual merchandiser’s job to create striking store displays that draw customers in and maximise sales. As well as thinking about the particular product(s) on display, visual merchandisers must consider factors such as space, lighting and store guidelines to produce effective window and floor displays. They also need to bear in mind the overall image of the retailer’s brand.

What do visual merchandisers do?

Being a visual merchandiser could involve travelling between stores, working from head office or taking responsibility for one particular store, depending on your level of responsibility and which retailer you work for.

Some visual merchandisers (usually the more senior ones) create the designs themselves either by hand or using computer software, whereas others (usually those in store) are responsible for physically implementing the designs, although there may be some overlap at times. Implementing designs usually entails manual work such as lifting heavy equipment, dressing mannequins or revamping store layouts.

What degree background and work experience do I need for a graduate job in visual merchandising?

There aren’t as many graduate schemes available for visual merchandising as there are for other areas of retail. While you can work your way up through other roles or gain NVQ qualifications, if you are applying to a graduate-level vacancy or graduate scheme you will need a relevant degree, such as in a design, art or textiles related subject. An industrial placement in visual merchandising, design, merchandising, retail management or buying would also give you an advantage, although any experience of working on the shop floor would give you valuable insights into the role.

Visual merchandising: key skills

  • A love and understanding of the brand
  • Creative flair combined with sharp analytical skills
  • Commercial awareness and an eye for trends
  • Excellent computer literacy
  • Confidence in your own decisions and their ability to drive sales
  • Strong communication and leadership skills
  • Flexibility

Visual merchandising: graduate and entry-level jobs

There are two main ways into a career in visual merchandising: graduate schemes and entry-level jobs. Those starting out in visual merchandising will usually begin their careers as assistant visual merchandisers and then work their way up, for example to the role of display team leader.

A typical day in an entry-level role will involve tasks such as checking displays on the shop floor and training staff to maintain them. You will support the visual merchandising team and report to a senior member, such as the visual merchandising manager or regional manager. In some cases you may also be required to research competitors and feed back to higher management and buying teams.

After a few years’ experience, either through a graduate scheme or an entry-level role (including work on the shop floor), you may advance to the level of visual merchandising manager. In which case, you would be responsible for helping to create strategies to best present your products, and for implementing those strategies in your store. If you were to become a regional visual merchandising manager, you would do the same but for all of the stores in a particular region, overseeing their presentation and creating plans for others to follow. In both cases you would need to manage those around you and communicate effectively with them. How much responsibility you get and when will depend both on the individual retailer as well as your own ability.

You don’t necessarily have to work for just one retailer. If you want more variety it is also possible to become a freelance visual merchandiser. If so, you would work on building relationships with a range of retail companies who will commission you to design displays externally.

Why choose a career in visual merchandising?

Displays have to be updated several times a year, in line with sales promotions and seasonal changes. So, as with the vast majority of retail jobs, during busier periods you may well be expected to work long, possibly unsociable hours. On the plus side, however, it is a job that will allow you to make the most of your creativity and to see your designs on full display. What’s more, if you work for a company with branches abroad you may have the chance to travel internationally, although it is unlikely you will do this in the early stages of your career.

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