This preview encapsulates the core findings of the research study conducted by Tanisha Rakesh Arora – Visual Merchandiser at Restore Solutions – on her Master’s programme in Fashion Entrepreneurship at London College of Fashion (University of Arts, London)
This paper is an interview and survey-based research, aiming to identify the gaps in services offered by the existing VM service providers to mid-market fashion retailers. It further investigates and contextualises the current trends, opportunities and challenges of VM in India. Secondary research and primary research using multiple methods such as interviews; surveys and observations with VM service providers and retailers have been used to support the findings and analysis of this study. Although various researchers in India Metha and Chugan (2012), Bashar and Irshad, (2012), Sujata et al., (2012), Banerjee & Saha (2012) to name a few have conducted research on VM variables and its impact on consumer shopping behaviour, there is dearth of literature on VM service requirements and current services available to them. This study aims to fulfil this gap.
The burgeoning retail sector of India is fast becoming an active playground for intense local and international competition fostered by liberalisation of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policies (Bhalla & S, 2010; Mehta & Chugan, 2012). In the era of self-services, highly saturated markets, similarity in merchandise, e-commerce retailing and sophisticated consumer demands (Mower et al., 2012) it has become crucial for retailers to come up with new and imaginative ideas to gain a competitive advantage in today’s highly competitive market. Visual merchandising (VM) has emerged as a key service requirement by retailers, in order to differentiate their offerings. However, there are opportunities and challenges that are unique to retailing in India and hence, there is a need for VM service providers that will exploit the opportunities and combat the challenges effectively. VM in India is still at its nascent stage and the mixed environment of challenges and opportunities within Indian fashion sector holds huge demand for VM service providers. Interview with fashion retailers highlighted that there are lack of VM service providers and they are forced to work with limited options. The findings indicated that most VM service providers are retail design firms offering VM as one of their disciplines but lack of specialised VM service providers in India. Although opportunities are incredible it is difficult to exploit them due to the challenges faced in the fashion retail industry. The interviews with the VM service providers and fashion retailers highlight the challenges that make it difficult for firms providing specialised VM services to survive. The key challenges emerging from the primary research are:
● Limited budgets allotted for VM by retailers
● Unrealistic timelines provided by retailers to VM service providers
● Limited availability of props and materials
● Lack of VM service providers offering design to implementation services
Out of the several key challenges that have been identified, cost of the services is a major concern for retailers in India. The reason for high costs is subsequently linked with limited timelines provided by retailers and limited material availabilities. Various researchers such as Karolia & Dua (2008), Prabhakaran, (2013) and Khan (2013) strongly highlight limited budgets as a key challenge. However retailers are realising the need to invest in VM to cater to the evolving consumer and are gradually increasing their budgets. However there is a need for VM planning so as to avoid limited timelines that subsequently increase costs and affect quality of implementation. Another concern for the retailers in India is lack of firms providing design to implementation services. Retailers have to outsource the implementation to external unprofessional vendors, who often lack expertise. There is a need to further investigate how the key challenges that have emerged from the primary and secondary research can be tackled effectively by VM service providers. Furthermore, there is need to investigate how unrealistic timelines and limited material availability directly impact the cost of VM services and implementation quality and explore possible solutions.
The second phase of this study investigates the key service requirements of retailers from VM service providers. From a pool of theories defining and categorising VM variables, Turley and Millimans’ atmospheric variables framework was found to be the most comprehensive to assess the VM variable requirements of these retailers. The findings and analysis using the framework helped to develop a comprehensive range of VM services as shown in Fig 1.
Fig 1. Holistic Range of VM services (Image Source: Author’s own designed on Coreldraw X5 Adapted from Turley and Milliman (2000) atmospheric variables framework)
Internal variables such as music, scents and human variables such as uniform design, employee grooming, are low in demand but are gradually growing importance. However, there are lack of VM service providers offering these services. The other variables from the framework such as exterior variables, layout and design variables, POP and decoration variables are identified as key service requirements and predominantly provided by VM service providers. Furthermore there is a high demand for technology variables by Indian retailers but very few service providers offering technology innovations and solutions in VM that simplify and enhance consumer experience.
The findings of this study provide an insight of the service requirement of mid-market fashion retailers which are not being serviced effectively yet. These service gaps provide a breeding ground for new businesses in India that can either provide service for these variables individually or holistically. This study may not provide all answers at this stage, but it is definitely a step in the direction which has not been previously explored and definitely requires more research and investigation.