Imaginative retail displays are a cost-effective way to enhance customers’ purchase behaviour, increase product sales and return on investment, a new global study has found. 

The study, which is set to be published in the Journal of Marketing, involved researchers from Monash University, Queensland University of Technology and Capital University of Economics and Business (China). 

The study examined the effect of imaginative product displays on customers’ purchase behaviour with more than 1,500 participants from Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. 

The research found that imaginative displays work by increasing customer arousal and inferred product benefits, influencing their purchasing behaviour. 

"Our findings not only explain why some retailers use ‘gimmicky’ imaginative displays, but also provide evidence on the processes and boundary conditions of these displays to favourably influence customers’ purchase behaviour and increase sales at relatively low costs," Monash Business School Professor Hean Tat Keh said.

"Besides arousal, our research revealed a cognition-based process whereby themed imaginative displays, with particular shapes mimicking actual objects such as a bear and a battle tank, conveyed embodied meanings, such as strength and energy, that transfer to the products constituting the display, which increase customers’ purchase intention," he said. 


Imaginative displays are constructed using multiple units of the same product in a novel and aesthetically appealing form.

Results from six studies as part of the broader research project showed that, relative to basic and standard product displays, imaginative displays in retail stores can increase customers’ purchase intention, actual purchases, product sales, and return on investment.

Key findings from the research include; a 53% increase in return on investment from the sale of tissue boxes between the imaginative and standard promotional displays in a grocery store; customers who saw the imaginative product display were 48% more likely to purchase chocolates than those who saw a standard display at a confectionary store; and, energy drinks in a display shaped like a tank increased the purchase intention of customers due to the positive effects of arousal and inferred product benefits. 

Professor Keh added that while the results were impressive, in order for the displays to be effective they have to be relevant to the product. 

"These displays cannot just be creative for the sake of being creative.

"They need to be relevant to the product and capture the imagination of shoppers," he said. 

Professors Hean Tat Keh (Monash Business School), Dr Di Wang (Queensland University of Technology) and Dr Li Yan (Capital University of Economics and Business) produced the study titled ‘Gimmicky or Effective? The Effects of Imaginative Displays on Customer Purchase Behaviour’. 

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