As the sunshine finally shone in the early autumn, London’s visual merchandisers were faced with the dilemma of whether windows should shift seasons or stock. Mark Faithfull looks at how they managed.

Rain all summer long, sunshine the moment the calendar ticks over to autumn. The UK’s maddeningly unpredictable weather has been little help to fashion retailers trying to manage their merchandising into the autumn/winter season and the window displays in many of the West End’s stores reflect that uncertainty. While Desigual and Uniqlo decided to say it with flowers, even they chose a different seasonal palette of flora and fauna. Desigual encapsulated the dichotomy of twin objectives further with one of its windows dedicated to new fashion and the other to deep discounts on summer stock.

Few retailers had thrown themselves fully into the autumn season, no doubt reflecting the desire to sell down summer stock at optimum prices first and – in the case of some others – to hold on to the last vestiges of a summer of sport that has at least brought a feel-good factor to the country.

The common ground in visual merchandising strategies comes from where the retailers have gone back to communicating their messages in words in their windows, whether that is a call to arms, a brand statement, shouting about deals, or story telling. On-window graphics dominated around the West End and communication has become direct, underlining the need to ensure the customer gets it. Clearly, recession is not a time to be too clever.

Many windows have also become advertisements for the omnichannel nature of the retail offer – a strategy dripping in irony but effectively communicated by most, although few as overtly as Urban Outfitters, which left no channel unturned at its Oxford Street store. As multichannel has migrated to omnichannel, some analysts are speculating that for younger consumers the whole idea of channels is rapidly becoming arcane and that we might all be talking about plain old retailing again before long. Maybe someone should create a window about it.

NikeTown, Oxford/Regent Street

Underlining the current desire to communicate directly and clearly, one window of NikeTown, on the junction of Oxford Street and Regent Street, was entirely dedicated to explaining the virtues of one of its sports shoes. This is an interestingly technical and understated approach from a brand better known for its swooshing Just Do It approach.

Ben Sherman, Carnaby Street

A tongue-in-cheek approach to its visual displays from Ben Sherman stood out among the autumn windows. Well at least the idea did, with a window-mounted control box inviting and apparently enabling shoppers to see one of the six selected clothing items spin slowly around, vending machine-style. It would have been even better if any of the buttons actually worked.

Desigual, Regent Street

Spanish fashion retailer Desigual clearly hedged its bets on Regent Street, bookmarking its rather tasteful floral doorway by displaying huge discounts in one window and its new season collection in the other. The messages may have covered all the bases but it was a confusing mix of new season confidence, summer flowers and end-of-season discounting.

Warehouse, Argyll Street

Warehouse was one of the few retailers to commit fully to the autumn/winter season with a bit of bling, eschewing autumnal colours for some bright and bold visual merchandising props sat amid a selection from its new range. Although this was a different visual approach from most of its peers in the West End, the use of bold lettering again underpinned the common approach of clearly telling the story. Footwear retailer Dune also went for a confident autumn window, flagging its website and using tasteful on-window graphics to announce its new collection.

Urban Outfitters, Oxford Street

One common element in many windows was the promotion of other retail channels, from mentions of the retailer’s own website to its presence on social networking platforms. Urban Outfitters was the loudest, shouting about its other facets through its window displays. In fairness, it would be tough to think of a retail chain better suited to Pinterest et al, so the enthusiasm is understandable. Meanwhile, fashion retailer Reiss used its ‘spirit of the city’ windows to start a story that it called on shoppers to investigate through its social networking channels. It is all very clever, although some will doubtless not bother. Gap also used window graphics to underpin its new collections and brand statements, but like Desigual there was a muddying of the waters, with mixed messages through heavy discounting promotions in some windows.

Mamas & Papas, Regent Street

Baby and toddler equipment and clothing retailer Mamas & Papas took its tone from the clear communications delivered by many retailers, using one window to overtly advertise some of its in-store services and another to promote its latest deals. What is worth noting here is the simplicity and clarity of these messages. This suggests that retailers do not want to risk sales by being too clever with their marketing and failing to communicate their central messages to the customer.

Anthropologie, Regent Street

Anthropologie moved its windows gently into autumn with a subtly leafy display. This was mirrored more overtly by Japanese fast-fashion retailer Uniqlo, which was one of the few retailers to pick up directly on autumn colours for its window displays, beckoning in the new season collections.

Armani Exchange, Regent Street

Britain’s golden summer of sporting prowess was reflected in a number of displays with hints of patriotism around the West End. Olympics backer John Lewis unsurprisingly continued to wear the Union Jack on its sleeve, with updated graphics on some of Team GB’s Olympians adorning its windows. Even T-Mobile had a little dabble at patriotism with corporate-coloured bunting. Massimo Dutti added a tongue-in-cheek twist to its celebration of the Games, while Armani Exchange said it all quite simply but still managed to capture the patriotic spirit.

Crocs pop-up, Spitalfields Market

And for something completely different, here’s the pop-up from Crocs, the plastic footwear brand, in the heart of East London’s Spitalfields Market. Designed by consultancy Triplar, this takes the brightly-coloured merchandise and suspends much of it from strings attached to the ceiling. It then adds a seasonal twist with large 3D letters on the floor spelling out the words rain and shine.