Window shopping

Customers’ first point of contact with a store is its frontage. A shop window which is interesting, informative and which ties in with a brand’s advertising can make a huge difference to sales, says Ian Whiteling

According to a Chinese proverb, opening a shop is easy; the hard part is keeping it open. But before shop owners can enjoy watching the queues form at their tills, they have to encourage customers to step through their front doors in the first place. “Shop windows are vital in turning passers-by into customers,” says Lee Farrant, director of RPM, a brand consultancy specialising in retail. “They are the retail equivalent of a chat-up line – the first chance to spark up a relationship with a consumer.”

Success in “pulling” passers-by depends on the appeal of the shop window or what is visible through it, together with other signals emitted to the outside world.

Farrant says: “Shopping is now a leisure activity. Stores fight for our loyalty, but people are less inclined to go to a particular store for a particular product, since many different retailers offer near-identical merchandise. The experience that the individual is offered by the store is now the most important factor in attracting new and repeat custom.”

This makes PoP techniques that communicate externally with the customer crucial, and explains why it is often possible, in close proximity, to find similar shops, offering similar products but with vastly different numbers of customers.

With competition on the high street intense, simply displaying products or services in the window will not guarantee success. Effective PoP requires creativity and innovation, says Farrant: “Imaginative displays cut through the bombardment of messages. After all, the shop window and the in-store environment are the first places consumers see new products ‘in the flesh’. Why not use these stages to create a genuine retail experience that gives people an incentive to go into a store, interact with a product and ultimately purchase it?”

But by being imaginative, retailers also risk getting it wrong, which costs money not only directly in terms of the PoP materials, but also in loss of potential sales.

“PoP is a double-edged sword,” warns Simon Sholl, planning and development director

of retail branding specialist SiebertHead. “It must be used with extreme care, sometimes to announce a temporary offer, but more often to project the ambience inside the store onto the pavement. This is an approach that big department stores – Harvey Nichols for one – have used for many years.”

We know what they sell

Supermarkets, banks and other stores offering “essential” items don’t need to fill their windows with goods or with messages about their services. More important is the ambience projected outside the store. Because customers want to see a clean, uncluttered environment, windows should be clear of promotions – save the odd key one – and doors left invitingly open. Historically, a common mistake of many grocers has been to plaster the windows with offers. In reality, one good offer consistently rolled out can draw in customers, who are also attracted by the view through the window of the goods inside. Marks & Spencer’s new Simply Food stores are an excellent example of how to get it right. Many have a serve-yourself coffee display just inside the door, spilling its enticing aroma onto the street.

By contrast, fashion outlets, bookshops, mobile phone shops and other “non-essential” stores need to put their products in the window, supported by enticing PoP displays near the door. Farrant says: “When it comes to powerful visual experiences, French Connection, Ted Baker and Gap are among the best. With no regulatory body for window displays, French Connection can get away with slogans such as ‘FCUK Santa’ and ‘FCUK Christmas’. Ted Baker excels with entertaining windows which amuse and attract. Gap understands the art of clean, simple product displays alongside pictures of aspirational people to whom customers can relate.”

Another key factor for stores selling non-essential goods is variety. “A shop window should be continually changing,” says Louise Southcott of Link Consumer Strategies.

Southcott says change gives regular passers-by a reason to look again, as well as making them reassess the store’s product range. “Bhs is a perfect example,” she adds. “No one would have considered going there for ski clothing before it displayed the range in the window. Now it is a popular outlet for low-cost ski wear.”

Sholl is particularly impressed by bookshop chain Borders, which has formulated its own method of attracting customers. He says: “Its wide open doors, tempting displays inside the door and coffee-shop tie-in with Starbucks fairly drag people inside.” Through this symbiosis with a complementary brand, Borders gives customers an extra reason to visit, while Starbucks gains access to a new niche market. Many booksellers have incorporated cafés into their stores, but by using Starbucks, Borders can draw people in by promoting one of the best-known coffee brands.

Sholl is also interested in mobile phone stores, which rely heavily on projecting an inviting ambience to potential customers as the products it offers are often secondary to the service. He observes: “Orange shops, by providing backlit displays and high-quality fittings, prompt consumers to approach the store in the same way as they would a department store – in ‘browsing mode’, without any feeling of pressure. Once inside the store, purchasing becomes more likely. Similarly, O2 provides curved browsing areas at store entrances, which draw the consumer inside and towards the parts of the shop where serious purchase consideration takes place. Vodafone stores, by contrast, come across rather like an electrical retailer. Bright, aggressive fascia colours project a harder sell, while the brightness of the displays is confusing and disorienting rather than clarifying. In addition, in some stores, the sales desk is placed opposite the entrance. The first thing a customer sees is a hungry salesperson, apparently ready to pounce.”

Staying on message

This illustrates the need for brand consistency and an integrated retail marketing approach. Vodafone’s highly effective “How are you?” media advertising campaign projects a caring, vibrant image, yet the retail outlets do not seem to carry this through, sending out mixed messages. Orange and O2, on the other hand, present a consistent brand experience from advertising to shop. This consistency can only be achieved through an integrated marketing campaign, taking all promotional forms into account.

Anthony Wallis, creative director of creative communications agency Explosive, says: “PoP promotions work well when they are part of bigger campaigns. If the PoP relates to the ad campaign, both manufacturers and retailers benefit from consumer recognition.”

Charles Endacott, director of creative agency EndacottRJB, agrees: “PoP should not be looked at in isolation. Gap’s single-minded approach is particularly effective. If the store is pushing cords or stripes, as it was recently, TV and poster advertisements are followed by prominent window and in-store displays.” Shoppers make connections with the advertising and the whole campaign draws them into Gap stores, where they could also be tempted by other items.

Supermarket chain Asda has used a similar approach to great effect. Southcott says: “Asda’s ‘Roll back’ above-the-line campaign, suggesting that the supermarket was rolling back the years by cutting prices, was well advertised in its stores. Pushing a single message avoids ‘snow-blinding’ customers, which can happen when they are bombarded with messages.”

Play and plug

Stores can always look to technology to gain a competitive edge for their PoP campaigns. At the forefront of PoP technology is the plasma screen. Although expensive, the screens are rapidly coming down in price. “The price of a 42-inch screen has plummeted from about &£12,000 in 1999 to &£3,000 today. Clothes shops can use them for window fashion shows and supermarkets to demonstrate products to customers. Restaurants could even beam their internal ambience onto the street.” says Ric Belfield, managing director of EMP, which specialises in digital media and creative content for the retail industry.

Whether or not a retailer invests in the latest PoP technology, the principles of creativity, innovation, brand consistency and integration remain the same. The key is not to treat PoP material as an afterthought, as many retailers still do. “After all,” says Wallis, “PoP is the closest you can get to the consumer who is about to make a purchase.”

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