When you think about fitting out your shop you may be considering hiring a person or firm to sort out your product displays. Then you come across industry jargon and some people are calling themselves Visual Merchandisers, others are Interior Designs, still more are some kind of mix or synonym for these. Who is the one you need to help you develop a new store look? How do you know which skills matter? Where do you start?

Interior Design and Visual Merchandising are two different things. They are related, in that they create an environment to serve a purpose, but the difference lies in the purpose.

This statement can best sum up the difference between the two:“Interior design’s goal is for the inhabitants of the space to enjoy it, the goal of visual merchandising is to encourage visitors to spend money.”

1.A VM’s work is never done. 

Interior Design in retail includes many areas a Visual Merchandiser could also take care of, but once they have finished designing your store their job is done. A Visual Merchandiser needs to work constantly at displaying stock.

  1. Interior Designers want you (the manager) to like their work. This is nice for a visual merchandiser, but non-essential.

Their goal is that your shop will fit into your brand promise … and products will sell. If it looks nice as well, that’s great – but if your brand is more about cheap and cheerful than chic and charming, the overall aesthetic harmony of the shop won’t be the top consideration.

  1. An interior designer will get you the best fittings your budget can afford; a visual merchandiser will get fittings that sell your product.

Once again, these may not be the most attractive… but they should suit your products without overwhelming it.

  1. A Visual Merchandiser will talk in formulas; an interior designer will talk in adjectives.

Look up any interior design website and you will see words like beautiful, aesthetic, and exciting. Visual Merchandisers need to develop your shop with words like “profit per square metre” and “seasonal variations”.

  1. Interior design can include visual merchandising, but visual merchandising always includes Interior design.

It’s important if you decide to use an interior designer that you choose one who has experience with retail. Not all interior designers do. All visual merchandisers know at least the basics of interior design.

To conclude, interior design embraces, but is not limited to retail display; whereas visual merchandising is a specialised offshoot of interior design, which focuses on retail display to make money. If one of your goals is a particularly attractive shop (eg, a fashion boutique), an interior designer is a good idea. But remember- if you choose to hire an interior designer, ensure they are well trained in visual merchandising, so your shop will actually successfully sell products. And be prepared to update displays regularly after the interior designer is finished.

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