In fact, according to the experts we interviewed, the humble plastic clothes model is looking a touch passé.
Pop features, neon lighting, 3D installations, and interactivity are set to be popular in the year ahead, with some retailers embracing more malleable solutions.
To make sure you get the best from your stores, Inside Retail Magazine has these 10 key trends for VM in the year ahead.
1. Constant evolution
Like most things in retail today, VM has its foot on the accelerator, and merchandisers are taking a fast fashion approach to their stores.
Leading retailers and brands are now changing their installations and configurations at least once a month,
with windows changed even more frequently.
“Retailers are realising that to get people in their stores, they have to maintain a fresh look,” says Luke Martin, sales and marketing manager of Shop for Shops.
This means store windows should be changed as often as shop assistants can manage, with this point especially crucial for clothes mannequins.
Semi-permanent installations are also becoming more ‘blink and you’ll miss it’, with the emphasis on making a dazzling, yet fast impression.
For example, retail and VM solutions company, OPG Global, spent several months prototyping, 3D rendering, and creating displays for Lancôme’s face cream, Génifique.
The giant tunnels, which also involved bespoke lighting for A-grade stores, were visually and technically impressive, but spent just two weeks instore.
2. Flexible arrangements
Related to the constant evolution trend is a growing demand for malleable and flexible hardware from retailers, shop fitters, and merchandisers.
“Anything interchangeable is really on trend. We’re starting to get a lot of great materials that weren’t available before,” says Carolyn Taylor, GM of OPG Global.
For example, OPG Global is seeing increased used of a material called MagnoBond, which is essentially a blutack for the VM world.
“It’s basically a magnetic material on a backing board that is easily interchangeable,” she says.
Shop for Shops’ Martin agrees that flexibility is becoming more important, with this making sense from both a design and budgetary point of view.
“Grocery is really showing interest in flexible displays. Timber, wire, and wooden shelves are popular. Smaller grocery chains especially like this,” he says.
3. The DIY store
Connected to the flexible shopfitting trend is a growing demand for easily installed and manoeuvred product displays, stands, and shelving.
“DIY is big. Retailers want things that are easy to assemble and can be a cost effective solution,” says Martin.
“A lot of people don’t want to use shopfitters. They want to make changes to their stores that can be made simply by themselves.”
Taylor from OPG Global, which works with brands like Nike, Levi’s, L’Oreal, and Twinings, says some are feeling hesitant to fork out for regular installation costs.
“If they’re just promoting a sale or changing their store graphics, then they’ll go for options that don’t require a lot of time with installers, as they’re expensive,” she says.
“Something that can just be changed by shop assistants or OPG Global’s installation for Génifique visual merchandisers is looking very attractive.”
4. The new mannequin
While mannequins will always have a place in VM (at least until robots or even clones become a reality), some retailers are experimenting with other options.
“I haven’t been doing a lot with mannequins recently. They almost seem like a thing of the past and everybody does it,” says Taylor.
Playful twists on mannequins and accessory displays are emerging, such as the local window display for Nike’s new Flyknit shoe.
By drawing on the shoe’s main material component, OPG Global created a footwear display for Nike that was both tactile and engaging.
“That was an interesting one. The Flyknit is all about the shoe, but then it became all about the mannequin,” says Taylor.
Retailers still set on traditional mannequins should look for unusually shaped models or anything that’s a bit quirky.
“The days of the traditional store model with a wig are gone.”
5. Fun and quirky
Vintage, found objects, and show pieces are enduring for VM, but this trend is now evolving to encompass anything that’s off-beat or unusual.
For instance, Inside Retail Magazine visited a small Melbourne-based florist, The Flower Boys, that’s using discarded furniture as prominent display items.
The florist uses an old wooden filing cabinet as its service desk, and a stripped wire mattress turned on its side to form a remarkable planter box.
The Flower Boys is also using vintage objects, such as crystal wine glasses and bone china tea cups to hold flowers and succulents in.
On the other side of Melbourne, local chocolate maker, Monsieur Truffe, is also merging product with merchandising at its two stores.
The Brunswick store features a vintage cocoa grinder that churns for customers, and its Collingwood cafe scatters its chocolate display shelves in whole cocoa beans.
Customers are encouraged to try crack open and eat one of the whole beans (a bitter, but interesting experience) for an extra element of interactivity.
“There’s a big trend for anything The Mixxit@Home Cocktail Display unusual that matches product. It’s about quirky, eye catching things,” says Taylor.
“Clients right now are asking me to source things like a gold chandelier from eBay or an antique mirror.”
6. The third dimension
As technology like 3D printing and prototyping becomes a cheaper and more tangible reality, retailers are experimenting with their dimensions.
Nike’s Flyknit mannequins are a good example of this, as is a beauty department display for Marc Jacobs that uses 3D printing to recreate a flower garden.
Local fashion retailer, Sportsgirl, installed a fun 3D window this year, drawing on its eight new lipstick colours for autumn.
The ‘Make Up Your Mind’ window featured huge lipsticks pointing towards the footpath in an example of fun and disruptive VM.
Another trendsetting example from Sportsgirl is a giant colourful cardboard window installation that looks like a children’s pop up picture book.
Lynne ter Heerdt, co-owner of Belle Fleur, a small chocolate chain in Sydney known for its 3D seasonal windows, says the most important thing for merchandisers is to have fun.
“[Our windows] are generally made for fun and being made of chocolate there is always a wow factor,” she says.
“For Christmas, we are planning a chocolate sleigh pulled along by a reindeer with Rudolph in the sleigh.”
7. Tactile and moving
Attached to the 3D trend is a movement towards anything that’s tactile and good enough to touch.
“Instead of having the flat poster hanging from a rail in a window, merchandisers want things to look like they have depth,” says OPG Global’s Taylor.
Taylor says materials like acrylic, hessian, and “foam that doesn’t look like foam” are becoming more accessible and easily incorporated.
For instance, OPG Global has been working with Just Group on tactile clouds for “a comfortable looking window”.
Outside of clouds, anything with movement is an ongoing trend, such as a spinning wheel created for Nike.
“This is about drawing the shopper’s attention through movement. It makes them wonder ‘how does that work?’,” says Taylor.
“I would describe that as stopping the shopper at the window. We saw people stopping and taking photos.”
8. Interacting with customers
The last two years has seen Sportsgirl, Woolworths, and The Co-Op lead the way locally with interactive windows, mostly via QR codes and virtual walls.
True interactivity is yet to become the norm, but brands are playing with ideas like near field communications (NFC) and face recognition.
“A lot of people are talking about digital, but at this stage I haven’t seen a lot of it in Australia. We believe
multi-media and interactive displays are the future,” says Taylor.
Forward thinking retailers should imagine a world where somebody walks past a shop window and, through smartphone NFC, it flashes up something they’re interested in.
“[Interactivity] is essentially creating the retail version of virtual reality,” says Taylor.
9. Play with me signage
Following on from VM’s slow growing interactive trend is the well and truly arrived behemoth of digital signage and tablets.
Inbuilt monitors, LED screens, and almost frenetic levels of digital content are becoming VM staples, especially in tech heavy markets like Asia and the US.
One newer trend in Australia is the marriage of interactivity with digital signage, with the liquor market especially excelling at this trend.
For example, Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA) has been installing tablet displays instore that engage shoppers with cocktail recipes at the swipe of a finger.
Created by The Zoo Republic and id8 Studio, The Mixxit@Home Cocktail Display has increased sales by up to 40 per cent for participating CCA liquor brands.
“Interactivity has many different applications in the retail space,” says Karen Spear, director of shopper marketing at The Zoo Republic.
“It can offer us the opportunity to increase engagement with the shopper by adding value to their shopping experience through entertainment or education.
“It can disrupt a shopper on their purchase journey or it can be used to assist them by easing their decision making process and demystifying more complex categories.”
10. Brand trumps category
While visual merchandising is still mostly led by the retailer, this is changing as FMCG brands and companies increasingly fight back on the shop floor.
One overarching trend in hardware, liquor, grocery, and beauty is the disruption of category displays in favour of ‘hero’ brand merchandising.
This means customers are becoming more used to store in stores, as well as pop up walls that feature just one or a minimal amount of brands.
Philips has been installing its ‘Avent Wall’ in Babies R Us stores nationally, which display only its product in an intuitive way for expectant mums.
“We wanted something that was visually very appealing,” says Jason Ratiff, senior manager of shopper marketing, Philips Consumer Lifestyle Australia.
“We purposefully used bright colours to segment product in terms of age or the development stage of the baby.”
This article first appeared in Inside Retail Magazine’s October/November 2013 issue. To subscribe, click here.