The 7 Steps to Creating a Captivating Retail Display

Ralph lauren window display with mannequin and giant lollipop display props.

Main Article

The importance of a truly head-turning, compelling retail display cannot be overstated. A retail display campaign is often the first step in the relationship between you and your customers. It’s an important strategy if you’re to win hearts and minds, and turn the passive window shopper into a very active paying customer. They are the difference between whether the customer walks on by or steps inside your shop.

Before we go any further, it’s worth stopping to consider the two broad categories of shop window display.

Product-focussed displays

Retail display of jewellery standing on custom props.

These tend to be the retail displays that you would expect for a bakery or cake shop, a florist, a jewellery store, or maybe an electric or home-ware store. They very simply display the products on offer and entice the potential customer with a clear but comprehensive sample of the products that will be on offer when they step into the store. 

Brand-focussed/aspirational displays

Ralph lauren shop with drum and letter props and lots of clothing.

These tend to be the displays that are more commonly found in clothes shops, department stores and furniture/larger home retail shops. These are the displays that will be more opulent, more complex and will probably aim to tell more of a story about what your products are, and who you are trying to sell them to. They will try to capture the style and brand of your product, whilst also giving the customer an insight into what they will find when they step inside your shop.

The seven steps below are not exhaustive, and they may apply to some kinds of retail displays more than others.

But whether you’re creating a large-scale experiential retail display or a small shop window display, it’s worth thinking of these core principles:

1. What story do you want to tell?

Before you plan your campaign, you will need to think about what story you want to tell, and what theme lies at the centre of your story. To cite a famous example of a shop window display that tells a story, consider the famous Fenwick’s annual Christmas display. A recent contemporary instance was the 2015 Christmas display, which saw the retail giant create a whole set-piece around the story of Santa crashing into Newcastle. The use of a comedic set-piece is a good example of how to create a truly family orientated retail display that appeals to all age groups.

2. Ensure there is a key focal point

Ralph lauren christmas window display props.

The key to creating a focal point for your shop window display is making sure you know that where your customers’ eye line is going to be and how your display can take the maximum advantage of it. There’s no point creating a visual story if your intended audience can’t see it, then your display has failed before it started. A few useful tips for getting your focal point right include:

  • Make sure you are taking accurate measurements, and that you have a clear idea of what your display will look like from the street.
  • Ensuring you are structuring your shop window display correctly, making sure your smaller merchandise is in the foreground, and your larger items in the background are essential to establishing eye-lines.
  • Think about the shapes and lines of your display – do you want your window display to make use of curves or straight lines? Again, think about eye level and how your shop window display is using sightlines and shapes to get your customer looking where you want them to.

It’s also worth noting that the most expensive/luxury items should have as much space as possible, creating a few focal points within the display. 

3. Choose a clear and consistent theme

Large bright macaroon props in window display.

Getting your theme right is crucial for your shop window display. As we discussed above, your theme is the key to ensuring your display is telling your story properly. Choosing a theme can be something as light touch as decorating your display in a particular colour, or deciding on a particular seasonal style. 

4. Be Bold

Ralph lauren giant pencil props in bright colours.

Retail displays need arguably need to capture our imaginations more than ever in a digital era, where social media and online advertising are taking up more and more of our headspace. Let’s imagine that the average person who now walks past a shop window display will have their headphones in, maybe texting or even doing some online browsing while they’re walking.

This means that any retail display needs to be as bold and bright as possible. Again, to cite the example of Fenwick’s Christmas shop window display, the use of a humorous, slapstick narrative helped to draw shoppers in, using the display’s colours and themes to great effect.

Alternatively, let’s take an example from Spur Creative’s own back catalogue when we were commissioned to re-create bronze horse sculptures (emulating the Polo Ralph Lauren logo) for retail display purposes. Whilst this was not a shop window display, it did form the centrepiece of an in-store display, putting a three-dimensional representation of the Ralph Lauren brand at the heart of their stores.

5. Light The Way

Plug seat props and products being lit up in custom stand.

A good lighting design is essential for a memorable retail display. Window light doesn’t have to be an afterthought, and its purpose shouldn’t solely be to provide illumination. Again, the purpose of lighting should be to help you with the tone and structure of your shop window display.

The correct angle of light is essential to making sure your display is getting as much attention as possible. Where possible, you want lighting effects to bring out the 3-D effect of the retail display and making sure you are showing potential customers your focal point. Spotlights should be focusing on key areas.

6. Keep It Simple and Balanced

Ralph lauren retail display with seagull props.

It’s probably a given at this point, that your retail display needs to be as uncluttered as possible. While you want to make sure that the display has lots of things going on and is inviting your prospective to stop and look closer, your display needs simplicity, symmetry and balance in order to get customers’ attention. For example, whilst brighter and smaller items might be better at the front or centre of your display, heavier and darker items might be better suited to the bottom of the display.

As we have already established, clarity of shape and colour in any retail display is vital, as it is more likely to invoke positive feelings and draw attention to your products.

7. Keep your displays up to date

Ralph lauren retail display with summer beach hut props.

A vital component of any successful retail display is that it remains fresh and up to date; this, in turn, makes your brand look fresh and forward-looking. At the very least, a shop window display needs updating every quarter. Remember that your retail display is the symbol of your brand, and your brand needs to stay as relevant and forward-looking as possible. The same goes for your shop window display…