How to Become a Visual Merchandiser

How to Become a Visual Merchandiser: Career Path Guide

To become a visual merchandiser, you either need to have a background in design, or work your way up through the retail industry. You can also get into this career by pursuing a college diploma or university degree in visual merchandising or a closely related field.


Before you decide to pursue a career as a visual merchandiser however, you should consider if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as a fashion merchandiser:


• You are passionate about design and enjoy making things look good

• You have an interest in working at the head office of a retail organization

• You have an interest in a career that allows you to combine an eye for design and style with basic retail smarts and strategy

• You are able to handle professional criticism

• You could see yourself enjoying the challenge of creating layouts and designs that will maximize sales

• You are able to apply listening and logic skills to gain an understanding of your client’s needs and customer’s needs


Below we've provided detailed information on what you'll need to begin a career as a visual merchandiser. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, educational requirements, a list of possible employer types, and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Visual Merchandiser

Becoming a visual merchandiser requires expertise in design as well as retail business savvy. For this reason, it is recommended that you pursue a diploma or an undergraduate degree in visual merchandising if you want to work in this field, as it will provide you with skills, knowledge and competencies in both of these areas.


In these programs, students may learn to create and properly light a window display, design the layout of a retail store, apply colour principles to retail problems, conduct market research and analyze the cost of creating a merchandise display.


Employers may hire you without such an education, or with an education in a related field, however a program in visual merchandising is the most directly applicable for becoming a visual merchandiser.


There are many schools, colleges and universities that offer diplomas, associate's and bachelor's degree programs in visual merchandising. These post-secondary visual merchandising programs typically offer the following design and business courses:


• Colour theory

• Design fundamentals

• Drawing

• Display graphics

• Marketing

• Branding

• Contemporary fashion

• Product history (in chosen area)

• Product buying

• Statistics

• Economics

• Accounting

• Strategic planning


Success Tip: Try to find a diploma or degree program that offers internship or work placement opportunities. These programs are excellent for visual merchandising students, as it allows them to gain real-world working experience, as well as develop invaluable industry contacts.




Visual Merchandiser Job Description

Visual merchandisers, also known as merchandise display coordinators, are responsible for capturing the attention of consumers through the strategic placement of merchandise in retail stores. Their main goal is to attract customers and encourage them to buy products.


In order to accomplish this goal, visual merchandisers must be able to combine a sense of style with basic retail knowledge. This helps them create eye-catching product displays (including window and in-store displays) and overall store layouts.


Visual merchandisers may work with virtually any type of retail product, such as fashion, sporting goods, groceries, toys, housewares and other types of products. They may also apply their merchandise display abilities for other purposes, such as museum exhibits, fashion shows and trade shows.



Visual Merchandiser Job Duties

The day-to-day duties of a visual merchandiser may vary depending on the size and type of their employer, their level of responsibility, and the nature of the project they are undertaking. In general however, visual merchandisers are responsible for performing the following duties:


• Sell a display idea by putting together and presenting storyboards 

• Liaise with retail managers to ensure merchandise is being displayed properly

• Arrange showcases, clothing racks, counters and display fixtures

• Draw designs and plans manually or using computer-aided design (CAD) programs

• Make best use of a store's space and layout

• Create branded visual merchandising packs to send to each branch of a store

• Give feedback to head office and buying teams

• Set up displays and dress dummies

• Design the lighting and colour range of merchandise displays

• Instruct sales staff how to properly colour coordinate clothes racks and counter displays

• Liaise with marketing teams and promotional staff

• Attend corporate planning meetings

• Liaise with construction contractors for major floor plan changes

• Track the sales of items on display in each retail location



Who Hires Visual Merchandisers?

Visual merchandisers have a variety of career options available to them; they may be self-employed, work as consultants, or be permanent employees of an organization. Typically, they work in one or more of the following capacities:


• Merchandise manager

• Merchandise display coordinator

• Freelance or consulting visual merchandiser

• Employee of an event design company


The type of career path they choose may depend on their career goals, or it may depend on the opportunities they have available to them. For example, some visual merchandisers begin working as employees in order to gain experience before striking out on their own, while others may choose to begin their careers as freelancers in order to develop their portfolio before trying to land a job they covet.


Whether as a self-employed contractor or the permanent employee of an organization, visual merchandisers may be hired by the following types of organizations:


• National and international retail companies*

• Locally owned retail stores

• Airports

• Museums

• Event planning and design companies


*The term “retail companies” includes stores that sell virtually any type of product to the general public, such as fashion, sports, recreation, housewares, and many others.


Experience Needed to Become a Visual Merchandiser

It is common for visual merchandisers to begin their careers by working as an intern or an entry-level employee with a retailer or visual design company, as this teaches them hands-on skills. From there, they typically have the opportunity to advance to entry or mid-level visual merchandiser positions with a retailer or design company.


Success Tip: Typically, the more education you have in a field related to visual merchandising, the less hands-on career experience you need (and vice-versa) to be considered for a visual merchandiser job. An ideal candidate however, would typically have plenty of education and experience. 





What Skills Do Visual Merchandisers Need?

In order to become effective in a career as a visual merchandiser, and perform your job duties with competence, you need to posses a certain set of skills, including:


• A natural eye for design

• Good manual sketching and computer-aided design (CAD) skills

• Knowledge of colour theory and the principles of design

• Knowledge in how to brand a product, a store, and a lifestyle

• Knowledge of how visual clues convey a tone and message to a certain clientele

• Able to gain an understanding of your client/employer’s needs

• Able to gain an understanding of your customer’s needs

• Knowledge of basic retail mathematics

• Awareness of current trends in design and the retail in industry as a whole



Characteristics of Successful Visual Merchandisers

In order to enjoy performing the duties of a visual merchandiser, you need to have certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your job duties is very important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which can lead to having a long and successful career.


• You enjoy the idea of a career in retail

• You have a deep interest in the product field in which you choose to work (i.e. sporting goods, fashion or others)

• You enjoy the challenge of creating layouts and designs that will maximize sales

• You enjoy finding inspiration from other visual displays, including print advertisements

• You are passionate about design and making things look good

• You are able to handle professional criticism

• You have an interest in a career that allows you to combine an eye for design and style with basic retail smarts and strategy

• You have a client-centered approach to work activities



Career as a Visual Merchandiser: Work Environment

Working Hours: A career as a visual merchandiser is often one that is full-time, although some working in this profession may work part-time hours. Visual merchandisers often work normal, weekday working hours, although they may also work in the evenings and on the weekends, in order to perform duties such as setting up displays outside of a store’s hours of operation.


Work Setting: Visual merchandisers may spend some of their workdays in an office setting, and others in a retail store setting, or a combination of the two. Their work may involve travel at times, in order to visit multiple retail locations. When in a retail setting, visual merchandisers may have to spend a lot of time on their feet, climb ladders, lift heavy objects, and work in cramped spaces (such as window display areas).


Working Conditions: The job of a visual merchandiser can be quite fun for those who enjoy design and creating visual displays. It can also be quite stressful however, as there is an ever-present pressure to perform. Some visual merchandisers may find it stressful when they come up with what they believe is a good idea, and their client or employer is less than impressed with it.



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Visual Merchandiser Salary

The salary level of visual merchandisers can vary on a multitude of factors, including:


• The size and type of their employer

• Whether or not they are self-employed

• The region in which they work

• Their level of education

• Their level of experience and aptitude


There is no salary information available from reliable sources specifically for the career Visual Merchandiser. We can however, get a good idea of what they earn by looking at the salary level of workers in closely related careers.


Visual Merchandiser Salary Alberta: According to the 2013 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working as part of the Retail Trade Managers occupational group earn an average salary of $59,779 per year, and Albertans working in the Theatre, Fashion, Exhibit and Other Creative Designers group earn an average salary of $24,101 per year.


Visual Merchandiser Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, Canadians working as part of the Retail Trade Managers occupational group earn an annual salary of $39,008 per year, and workers in Theatre, Fashion, Exhibit and Other Creative Designers occupational group earn an average salary of $35,014 per year.


Visual Merchandiser Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, American workers in the First-Line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers occupational group earn a mean annual salary of $41,450, and workers in the Set and Exhibit Designers occupational group earn a mean annual salary of $53,990.



Careers Similar to Visual Merchandiser

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Visual Merchandiser, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Exhibit Designer

Fashion Designer

Fashion Merchandiser

Interior Designer

Retail Manager

Retail Sales Associate



References: Visual Merchandiser Career Information

Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a visual merchandiser.



Occupations in Alberta:Visual Merchandiser.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 15, 2020.

Occupational Employment and Wages:Merchandise Displayers and Window Trimmers.” (March 20, 2018). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 15, 2020.

Explore Careers:Visual Merchandiser.” (n.d.). National Careers Service website. Retrieved January 15, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Visual Merchandiser

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a Visual Merchandiser can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Visual Merchandiser: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a visual merchandiser. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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