What is the rule of three in visual merchandising and how can you successfully implement it?

When you window shop, you’ve probably noticed that some stores are better at laying out their displays in a visually appealing way than others, so that you are compelled to enter and browse their stock. But, as a consumer, you’ve probably never really thought about the psychology behind it. Why are some window displays more convincing than others? 

In this article, we are going to run through one of the techniques often employed by visual merchandisers, the rule of three, explaining exactly what it is, why it works, and how to implement it successfully, both online and in store.

What is visual merchandising?

Visual merchandising in fashion is the strategic presentation of clothes and accessories with the aim to attract customers. It can include a range of different visual elements, such as product displays, mannequins, colours, signage, lighting and overall store layout to create an appealing brand experience for customers, and can be implemented both in physical stores and online.

What is the rule of three?

The rule of three is a marketing and communication principle suggesting that items or information presented in threes is more engaging, satisfying, and memorable to the audience. The rule of three is based on the psychology that three items create a pattern that is appealing and easy for the human brain to process.

What is the rule of three in visual merchandising?

In visual merchandising, the role of three refers to the theory of separating products on a display into sets of three in order to catch the attention of shoppers and passersby and encourage customers to purchase these items altogether. Neuroscientific studies have shown that the human brain seeks out patterns and finds the structure of three to be a complete set, making it more likely to act and remember.

Within fashion marketing, visual merchandisers will utilise the rule of three in a number of ways. For example, window displays may showcase three mannequins next to each other, rather than just one or two; three items of the same category may be presented on one display; or three accessories in the same shape or colour are displayed in the same area. Using this tool may help to attract more customers and generate additional sales.

The benefits of the rule of three

There are a number of different benefits of the rule of three. Probably the most obvious benefit is the opportunity to cross sell. By displaying three related products in a single display, customers are more likely to purchase all three, as they can see how well they work together.

Another important benefit is the upselling opportunity. You can use the rule of three to display a similar, but more expensive product, which could lead to a more profitable single sale. For example, you could use the rule of three to display a pair of hair straighteners, a hair brush (cross-selling item) and a more expensive, higher-end pair of straighteners (the upselling item).

Additionally, you enable your customers to make a quick and easy comparison between similar products, giving them a taste of the variety of items that you offer. 

The experimentation that you are able to go through when planning your layout is all part of the fun, and trying new things may also boost your sales, as customers will be inspired by your creativity and exciting new layout. 

How to implement the rule of three in your product displays

Whilst splitting your products up into groups of three may seem simple, it is important not to fall into the trap of bunching products together just for the sake of it. Make sure that they are sorted with a purpose in mind, and be intentional with your organisation. 

For example, rather than randomly bundling items together, group three products that would be worn together into a single display. Not only does this make the shopping experience simpler for your customers, but it also improves the opportunity for cross-selling and upselling.

Another effective strategy to display the rule of three is to combine items that share a close relationship, but are not exactly the same, to expand your customer’s knowledge of the stock you have on offer and improve their customer experience.

When positioning your three mannequins or visual displays, experiment with different designs and positions to see what works and what doesn’t. Play around with different heights and spacing – for example use three different display cases of varying heights or two standing mannequins and one sat – to improve the visual interest and get shoppers to spot something at every eye level.

Photo of three mannequins showcasing similar clothes that would work together well

Also, don’t forget about the other aspects of visual merchandising, just because you’re utilising the rule of three. For example, use lighting to draw attention to three piece displays, and implement colour psychology to evoke the emotions you want your customers to feel.

Make sure you track the progress of your new displays. If you noticed a growth in sales of the three items that you displayed together, consider doing this across your store – not just in one display.

How to use the rule of three in online merchandising

The rule of three isn’t a merchandising technique that is solely applicable to physical stores. In fact, online retailers can easily implement the rule of three on their website to seek the benefits from it. 

There are a number of different ways that online stores can use the rule of three to their advantage. For example, products that come in various different colours or designs may be photographed and displayed in groups of three. This means that within a single image, you can show your product range to potential customers. An easy example of this is with jewellery. If you offer the same product in a range of metals or stones, you can showcase this in one single image. 

Again, think about the spacing of your products. Placing the items asymmetrically, or in a triangle shape draws the eye in closer and allows customers to consider all three pieces, rather than just one.

Another easy way to implement the rule of three on your online store is through product recommendations. Oftentimes, customers will be tempted to purchase related items that are displayed directly underneath the one they were actually looking at. For example, if you are displaying a dress, why not use the product recommendations to display a jacket, bag and pair of shoes that will go with the dress. Not only will this utilise the rule of three to cross sell items that would finish the look, but it encourages the customer to stay on the website without overwhelming them!

How Proportion London can help

At Proportion London, we are passionate about the art of visual merchandising, both in physical retail spaces and online stores. Our extensive collection of mannequins, busts and rails available for purchase or hire, caters to diverse preferences and requirements. 

However, our expertise extends beyond our product offerings. We specialise in crafting engaging displays that follow the various principles of visual merchandising, including the rule of three, ensuring your shop or online storefront inspires customers and drives sales. 

From retail environments to museum exhibits and showcases, we’ve assisted a range of clients across the world in creating beautiful, compelling visual displays. 

Contact us today to discuss your specific requirements and unlock the full potential of your space.

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