How To Visually Merchandise Your Holiday Store Windows

how to visually merchandise holiday store windowsNew York City brick and mortar retailers like Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue have known the power of visual merchandising Christmas windows. But as a bricks and mortar retailer have you stopped to consider the power of visual merchandising your display windows?

To create magical Christmas display windows for your store:

1) Decide a theme. Check out either this board or this one on my Pinterest site.

2) Get props to elevate product and several decoration types to create a scene.

3) Use mannequins where appropriate to draw attention.

4) Curate your actual products to be fewer but more special.

5) Add festive lights to your display. You can never have too many lights

6) Keep it simple to create a sense of wonder for the child in all of us.

7) Keep track of what worked this year and refer to them next year for your own visual merchandising tips. 

Here’s a case study of a toy retailer in Staunton, Va in the Shenandoah Valley, not far from where my mom was born, created magic…

For it is there that Robbie Lawson helped Pufferbellies Toys & Books do something amazing one holiday season: give back a sense of wonder and pride, as few stores can do using their incredible visual merchandising skills. 

visual merchandising pufferbellies holiday windows


Erin Branton, a co-owner, tells me how it all started. “Robbie is a family friend who works with my dad at Taylor & Boody Organbuilders near Staunton.

He and his family shop at Pufferbellies often, too. I saw some photos of a model he made of a church that they were building an organ for, and asked him if he could make gingerbread houses.

Read More About Retail Merchandising

He and I and my parents (my mom, Susan is my business partner, and my dad helps with everything) sat down and talked about which buildings we’d like to feature, and Robbie went and photographed all of them before starting to build his models.

visual merchandising holiday windows

One of the buildings, the Masonic, houses my brother’s gelato shop, The Split Banana, and our all-time-favorite Mexican restaurant, the Baja Bean Co. so we HAD to feature that one! The church is Trinity Episcopal, which has a ton of history. It also has real Tiffany windows, which Robbie photographed and printed on vellum to recreate the stained-glass effect. 

window retail magic








There were some seriously forward-thinking people that stood up for these buildings and that helped put us ahead of the game in terms of creating a vital downtown today. So anyway, we’re nuts about downtown Staunton and wanted to do something that would honor it.”

One thing about Staunton that makes it stand out among other downtowns is that it has tons of original buildings that survived urban renewal during the last century.

They came up with fake gingerbread houses built using foam board, hot glue, latex caulk and plastic candy to recreate six historic buildings. (You can see a set of 36 on Robbie’s Facebook page.) I’ll bet the visual merchandisers on Madison Avenue are jealous.

While these pics are amazing…

That’s not why I’m writing this post with visual merchandising tips.

It’s because no matter how jaded you might be at cloyingly cute holiday commercials or how sick you might be of hearing White Christmas in retail stores, I’ll bet you were taken with these pictures.

No video. No Twitter feed. No digital effects…

Even with minimal merch from the toy store in the window, you, for those brief moments, became like Ralphy in A Christmas Story.

It works because so much of what we see across the retail landscape are windows that have been filled with merchandising units which take up the lower 10 feet.

Most retail development windows’ only purpose is to allow minimal natural light into the store, while cutting off the view of the outside world.

This has rendered much of modern retail design sterile, imposing and devoid of emotion.

Why does that matter?

Because well done shop windows let us do either of two things:

  • See into your store’s offerings to be enticed to come in and buy or
  • See into ourselves to discover child-like wonder.

And that is the gift Pufferbellies and Robbie Lawson gave to the nearly 24,000 people who live in Staunton this holiday season. It’s also what Pufferbellies did when they restored their storefront with original street-level doors, window frames, moldings and trim.

See also, Great Displays: Stop Your Customers In Their Tracks

In Sum

When you’ve become a student of visual merchandising of Christmas windows, you’ll discover that window displays act as in-store marketing spotlighting a few select products through lighting and creative merchandising ideas to attract customers.

When Main Street retailers talk about what independent stores do for a community, they often talk about how they “give back to the community” through donations to worthy causes.

But the one thing I think many miss is what they can give back with their creativity, love of their town and desire to see the faces of shoppers delighted and surprised.

In a world struggling with an onslaught of technology, these committed owners bring humanity back to its core. Their visual merchandiser skills pulled off an amazing feeling in their retail customers.

That’s what holiday shopping is all about folks.

Not buy one get one free. Not another friends and family promotion or online group buying discount but about making Christmas shopping fun and festive whether you are in a winter wonderland or a sunny beach-side resort.

Visual merchandising Christmas windows is all about surprise and delight.

In your windows.

In your stores.

In your customers faces…

To read more about how to prepare your store for the holidays, check out:

Why Retailers should Display Christmas merchandise before Halloween