Unique store experience drives traffic and margin.

Gifts offer Christian retailers advantages that can make a difference to their bottom line. To sell gifts, retailers need an awareness of the role these items play and strategies to maximize the traffic and retail energy that gifts provide.

Margin is key in gift sales. Gifts allow retailers to sell an item with 50 percent or more markup. Traffic, retail energy, and margin are good reasons to plan gift campaigns.

So if gifts are important drivers to generate traffic and sales in Christian retail, then how should they be implemented into a store’s retailing plan? It starts with a gift campaign, a strategy by category that encompasses purchasing, merchandising, and marketing. All three power the momentum of successful gift retailing.

The Gift Experience

Developing a gift strategy is complex and involves category and inventory management, strategic merchandising, and marketing collections for maximum sales, but let’s first focus on why gift merchandising is so important to brick-and-mortar stores.

If it is well done, gift merchandising gives a store many retailing advantages over online stores, which can only operate visually. It is very difficult to experience a gift without seeing it, touching it, and imagining its use by the intended recipient. Brick-and-mortar retailers have the ability to engage customers’ five senses and give them additional kinds of psychological messages that lead to purchasing decisions. Gift selling brings the customer in because they want a shopping experience, making them a retail-leveraging tool.

A customer experience is both a brand impression and interaction with product stories. The background music, lighting, flow, product mix, and customer interactions give an overall store brand impression. The individual vignettes and displays tell the product stories that engage and invite the customer to keep shopping. Both are important ways to create an overall customer experience in the store.

Another advantage of brick-and-mortar retailing is the ability to rearrange and reinvent the store often through merchandising. Change adds excitement. Excitement creates interest. Interest leads to traffic. Traffic results in sales.

Art and Science

As gifts become increasingly important to Christian retail’s bottom line, the ability to merchandise gifts well also needs to be front-of-mind. Visual merchandising is a both an art and a science. As an art form, visual merchandising uses a variety of techniques to create a shopping experience that is both visually and psychologically satisfying to customers. As a science, visual merchandising employs data to help a store know what to offer and where to place it in the store.

In a CBA-sponsored webinar on May 10, Val Buick and I shared information to help start a focused conversation about merchandising gifts. We shared some basic techniques: Layering, pyramid structure, unexpected props, using risers, focal points, and themes and storytelling. At UNITE 2017, Michelle Amster and I delve into this topic in more depth and with additional techniques to make merchandising approachable and fun, but also purposeful and always with the bottom line in mind.

To listen to the webinar, go to cbaonline.org/effective-gift-merchandising-sells-webinar/.


The goals of the webinar and the UNITE training are to help retailers implement the suggested techniques demonstrated in training. To encourage and support stores who want to apply what they learned, CBA is sponsoring a Facebook contest. Stores can submit pictures of their merchandising for a chance to win free merchandise from vendors who supplied items for the UNITE workshop. Photos will then be posted on CBA and Carpentree’s social media sites with #CBAMerchContest and the winning store will also be announced on CBA’s Facebook page and featured in this column in the January 2018 issue.

Support and suggestions from Michelle Amster (Integra Interactive), Sherry Morris (Carpentree), and Val Buick (Independent Consultant) will encourage and help participating stores in their quest to learn new skills or to improve existing ones. Even more importantly, retailers will be able to learn techniques and skills from each other through the process of doing, sharing, and posting.

See cbaonline.org/CBAMerchContest for contest rules and full instructions.

Visual merchandising is challenging but can also be one of the most enjoyable aspects of retailing because it’s creative and fun. If the idea of visual merchandising seems overwhelming or daunting, then it may be a task to turn over to someone who has the vision and the heart for it. The important thing is to learn some of the techniques that separate good merchandising from just putting out product.  Even if someone else does the job, knowing what makes a good display work sharpens the skills needed to make a store a gift success story.

—Sherry Morris