The sudden appearance of screens in the windows of Topshop’s Oxford Circus store has lifted its visual merchandising above big name rivals.

What’s the best-looking shop on Oxford Street? Selfridges? John Lewis? One of the many Zaras? Niketown? The list is long, but at the moment the prize probably goes to Topshop, although that could easily change.

And the reason for this entirely subjective assessment? The windows.

The windows at Topshop Oxford Circus are always pretty good, but for the last few days they have been different and possibly better, for an easily definable reason. In place of the usual semi-military lines of mannequins adopting an endless variety of poses, there are screens.

“Windows and good-looking shops are about surprise”

John Ryan

But hold on a moment. Screens? What’s so special? Doesn’t Hollister just at the bottom of Regent Street do something similar? In fact, isn’t there an entire window devoted to a feed from Huntington Beach California where bronzed types do their surfing thang?

Well, yes there is, but in spite of the undoubted allure of sun-kissed Pacific shores where people disport themselves, you can only look at this sort of thing so often.

Not so at Topshop. The screen that has been installed is like the Hollister one inasmuch as it occupies the whole of the window, but its unexpected and sudden appearance demands attention in a way that Hollister does not.

This is new and that’s the point. Windows and good-looking shops are about surprise, rather than a presentation of the familiar: no matter how slick the execution.

Showing off more than product

At present G-Star Raw, the Dutch jeans brand that has a shop on Oxford Street, also has a screen in its window. It is also new and like Topshop, it shows off fashion and captures the eye.

In the normal run of things these days, a screen is not actually that big a deal. Most retailers have them in some form or another, but when they make an unexpected appearance then heads begin to turn and the objective has been achieved – showing off.

That is the bit that sometimes gets overlooked in the wonderful world of visual merchandising.

The world is unlikely to beat a path to your door because you have a few mannequins in a window highlighting what you happen to think is a good range. There will be others with equally winsome collections. They may even be better.

Making a difference is about showing off more than product and for the whole of last week, Topshop at Oxford Circus demonstrated this trait. And that is why it was top of the West End shops.