Working primarily in stores, as a visual merchandiser you will create window and in-store displays in the retail shops and department stores of your company, taking responsibility for 'the look' of the store, with the aim of promoting goods in order to maximise sales.
Retail store displays are regularly updated by the VM, and themes can be dictated by a number of factors, including the seasons of the year, annual events, current fashions and trends, and sales and promotions. The the lowest level of visual merchandising is assistant VM, rising to VM manager and ultimately up to visual merchandising/image controller, employing a staff of fifty plus in an appropriately large organisation.
Although most visual merchandisers work in store, there are other options available, depending on the company. Fashion retailers, for example, employ a visual merchandising team, which will work both in head office and in the retail stores.
Visual merchandising designers who work in head office collaborate closely with other departments to create strategies and promotional events in order to excite and maintain the interest of the customers.
Additionally, some visual merchandisers work on a freelance basis, sometimes even as a consultant to deliver solutions or even training to a company’s employees.
Visual merchandising activities will vary according to the roles within the team, but may include: sourcing materials and display elements, such as lighting, props and accessories, installing and dismantling displays, using available space to the best advantage and dressing mannequins and making use of creative lighting for window displays. The visual merchandiser will also prepare the retail stores for promotional events and will give feedback to head office as well as liaise with merchandisers and buyers.
A key part of a visual merchandiser’s job will be competitor analysis – carrying out comparative shops in order to assess what other similar shops are doing in terms of their in-store visuals. Find out how to do an impressive SWOT analysis here.
Good knowledge of the retail industry
Understanding of key fashion trends and a strong eye for styling
A real creative flair and eye for style
Experience in a fashion retail environment
Awareness of trends, seasonal looks and the target market for the brand
Starting salaries for a member of the VM team can be from around £12,000 to £18,000 depending on the role and the company. More experienced visual merchandisers can earn around £20,000 to £25,00 a year, and senior visual merchandising managers or designers can earn between £25,000 and £55,000 a year. Visual merchandising directors can earn £60,000 a year and over.
Starting out, you will probably have to have completed a retail design qualification or have done some on-the-job training by moving onto a trainee visual merchandiser from a shopfloor position. Creative qualifications will always get you a good leg-up but once you’re in the industry, you’ll develop a lot of skills on the job. Many larger retailers, for example, will have in-house training programmes for their display staff.