Opinion: Make the most of your virtual shop window

Gord Ray, product marketing lead at Instagram, discusses how brands can adapt in-store visual merchandising principles for social media.

It’s no secret that social media has changed the way we shop, as well as how businesses market their products to customers. Getting this right in everything from shop window displays to store layouts is critical. But, with more than half of store purchases now influenced by digital channels, what does great visual merchandising look like on social media?

Social media is no longer just about the discovery of new products or brands. When we launched Shopping on Instagram back in March, our aim was to give brands the opportunity to do business on the platform and continue to showcase their products in new and inventive ways.

More than 200 million people now visit one of the 25 million business profiles on Instagram everyday, so what can we learn from the brands doing visual merchandising well on Instagram?

When used in the right way, social media provides an opportunity to inspire customers and drive sales.

Tell a story

Effective in-store displays show how a product might look or work using mannequins, signage or graphics.

Social media’s capacity for visual storytelling makes it perfect to bring this principle to life online with an increasing number of formats allowing for brands to make the most of a range of content. For example, with more than 300 million people using Instagram Stories every day to explore and share their passions, this fresh format is quickly changing the way that businesses can connect with customers to drive sales. In fact, a third of the most viewed stories on Instagram come from businesses. While branded content in Feed is often professionally styled, the best Stories content should be raw and unfiltered, giving a glimpse of a brand’s personality.

In Feed, Instagram Shopping tags and captions can be used to deliver extra product details. You may have seen how fashion brand @Primark uses captions to provide extra information on product availability and pricing in a distinctive brand voice. It then uses Instagram Stories for more light-hearted content, including beauty product testing and behind-the-scenes glimpses of events and fittings.

Colour is King

Using strong colours can help attract consumers to products and can make or break visual displays in store and online. Organising products by colour has proven effective in encouraging customers to look through more stock and notice products which would otherwise be ignored. Colour blocking your online content with creative flat lay images or carousel posts can add visual impact and draw the viewer’s eye to key products.

Stationery brand @kikki.K is a great example of using colour blocking to great effect.

Focus the eye

Examining in-store displays from the customer’s point of view is a critical part of effective store layouts. If products aren’t at eye level, they’re not going to be seen, or bought. Similar rules apply when viewing products on a screen; in the western world, the eye will naturally scan from left to right and top to bottom, so place your hero products in prime position to get them noticed first. @Yoox expertly applies the rule of thirds to create dynamic product visuals. In both product flat lays and lifestyle content it frames images so they can be segmented three ways either horizontally or vertically, a technique that is effective in drawing focus to the right places.

Give your products context

Stores group their products together by lifestyle. Rather than keeping fashion in one place or beauty in another, mixing these elements together creates more engaging spaces and sells an holistic image. Lifestyle imagery is the visual merchandising equivalent on social media. Creating content that shows how different products in your catalogue will work together is a great way to inspire followers.

@Made.com creates beautiful, authentic lifestyle content by curating its Instagram Feed with images of products submitted by its customers, as well as working with influencers to take a glimpse into their stylish homes.

Deliver the unexpected

Retailers are taught to put an unexpected prop in their window or in-store displays to catch the eye and create intrigue. On social media, unexpected props can also play a role in stopping a scroll in its tracks, whether that’s a post in your feed or delivered through an advert in Stories.

Beauty expert @illamasqua has become well-known for producing unexpected ‘scroll stopping’ images for its social media channels, challenging traditional make up tutorials with daring looks to make its mark.

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