Using the Rule of 3 for Visual Merchandising Success

visual merchandising the rule of 3

Visual merchandising is the planning and arrangement of floor plans and 3D displays of products and services in such a way to increase a retail store’s sales. It’s a common practice in the retail industry. Go into your favorite store, and you’ll quickly observe examples of visual merchandising in anything from floor displays to mannequins wearing the latest fashions.

Study visual merchandising long enough, and you’ll also come across a recurring pattern or theme called the Rule of 3. This refers to the belief that promoting products in groups of three will offer the best results.

The Rule of 3 explained

Call it the magic number of the retail industry: Displaying your products in sets of three will most effectively catch your customers’ attention and ingrain the product in their minds. That’s because three is a nice, small number that won’t overload people’s cognitive functioning.

It’s based on the economics principle that, in any given market in any industry, just three major players are always in operation. The rest of the products are simply in smaller niche markets.

So if you’re showcasing products on shelves, displays or in showrooms, choose just the three biggest players in their respective industries. For example, if you’re showcasing video-game consoles in an electronics display, feature the PlayStation 4, the XBox One, and the Nintendo Switch. Customers can’t handle more when it comes to comparisons, and it would be impossible to simultaneously show all the different products for any industry in a display.

How to apply the Rule of 3

Putting this rule in action is straightforward because it’s based on arranging products in, you guessed it, sets of three. Don’t simply bunch products together for the sake of the rule, though – sort them with a purpose in mind.

According to research asymmetrical balance is more visually interesting than symmetrical balance. When arranging your products according to the Rule of 3, ensure that you feature this asymmetry prominently. For example, products arranged by height should vary between small, medium, and tall. The ensuing asymmetry is what will cause your shoppers to inspect your display and linger there longer, increasing chances of a purchase.

Another way of applying this rule is how you group your threes together. You should group items that are similar or share a close relationship, but aren’t completely identical. Don’t group three dress shoes by the same brand together; group three dress shoes by different brands in the same display.

The benefits of the Rule of 3

The Rule of 3 provides retailers with benefits that complement each other.

Think about cross-selling (selling related or complementary products) and upselling (selling a similar, but higher-end product instead of the original one). When you group products like this, you can position cross-sells and upsells beside the original product, either leading to a more profitable, singular sale or more net sales if shoppers buy more than one product.

For example, a display could consist of a standard, men’s razor, a shaving gel (the cross-sell), and a higher-end, battery-operated razor (the upsell).

Another benefit is you enable your shoppers to make quick and easy comparisons between similar products. Ideally, displays function to give shoppers a taste of the variety available at your store. When you group products according to this rule, you give customers a preview of much more that your store has to offer (since you can’t display every single item you have in stock).

What makes the Rule of 3 so useful is experimentation. Part of the fun is applying the various techniques of this rule to your store displays in different arrangements and placements.

Only using mannequins in scattered arrangements in your store? Line them up side-by-side for a change! Only stacking your cans of soup in rows? Arrange them in a triangular pyramid position for once. Trying new things may well give you a sales boost.

What are your thoughts on the Rule of 3? Have you ever used this visual-merchandising technique? Tell us in the comments below!

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