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The Rule of Three in Visual Merchandising

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Read this lesson to learn why the rule of three works in visual merchandising. You'll see how your shoppers are more visually engaged when they see a group of three versus any other number grouping.

The Rule of Three

Next time you walk through a shopping center or mall, pay attention to the displays. See if there's a pattern to the displays that catches your attention. You might notice that the displays that use the rule of three catch your attention the most. And you might notice that many prominent displays follow this rule. The rule of three says that people are more visually engaged when they see a group of three items. That's why mannequins are often grouped in threes. According to eye movement tracking studies, a group of three encourages the eye to move about and take in more detail. A group of three is also a more memorable grouping.


Three mannequins
rule of three


Look at this mannequin display of three. You might initially notice it looks nice, but the longer you look at it, the more detail your eye will take in. Let's do an experiment. Take two erasers and put them in front of you. Does the display interest you when you look at it? You'll probably look at it and say yeah, that's two erasers, and that's it. Your eye isn't encouraged to look around. But with a group of three, your eye begins to look around.

Visual Merchandising

This act of looking around is important for visual merchandising. The more people look around, the more likely they are to see something they want, which results in more sales. Visual merchandisers organize stores and product displays to increase sales. Since the rule of three works to engage your visitors and to increase interest, it is a good rule to use in your visual merchandising.

One other aspect of the rule of three you can apply when planning your visual merchandising is to make your group of three unbalanced in some way. Look back at the picture of the three mannequins and notice how the mannequin in the middle is standing closer to the right than to the left. Also, the mannequin on the far left has a different pose than the other two mannequins. All these little details makes your subconscious mind pay more attention and look more carefully at the display. Another tip is to make the middle item stand higher than the two on either side. You can also use lighting to highlight a particular area in a group of three. All of these things work to make the display unbalanced in some way to encourage you to look deeper to find out what it is.

Arranging Items

The rule of three also says to show three different sizes together when you have the same item in different sizes. For example, a shirt that's available in size XXS all the way to XXL can be displayed with a group of three mannequins of different sizes. You don't have to display all the available sizes, but just having three different sizes can tell your visitors that there are different sizes and that they'll be able to find theirs. It draws attention.

Another way to incorporate the rule of three when arranging items is to group similar products together. For example, for a home décor store, you might group together a desk, a chair, and perhaps a lamp. You have a group of three, and if all three items look good together, your customers will be more likely to purchase all of them. This method of visual merchandising is proving to be a very successful method of doing business. Just look at the store IKEA, for example. Their whole top floor is a huge showroom where your eye is drawn to various setups. If you see something you like, you'll also see what other items look good with it. This increases the number of customers who come in to buy just one product but end up purchasing a whole set.

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