When apparel brand French Connection UK saw the 4,800sq. ft ground floor space at Select City Walk in South Delhi’s Saket neighbourhood, they knew it would be perfect for their first stand-alone store in India.

There was just one problem. The 27ft-long store window that came with it didn’t seem to do justice to the brand. So, FCUK, as the brand calls itself, did the next best thing. It added 44% more frontage space, by taking over the adjoining store space.

Now, spread over 5,700sq. ft, the FCUK store, which opened to customers earlier this month, boasts of a 39ft-long display window.

Window to the world: Muse’s Christmas display has 10,000 mini lights, a 10-foot Christmas tree, some 100 metres of ribbon and fake birds.

“The store window is such a dynamic communication medium. It is the first thing that a consumer looks at, and your first line of brand communication," says Partho Dasgupta, chief executive officer, Future Media (India) Ltd, a company that specializes in out-of-home-media. “The idea is to use this space effectively."

Future Media approves sites for parent company the Future Group’s retail brands including Pantaloons, Big Bazaar and Central after scanning them for advertising and marketing opportunities. Future Media signs deals based on the visibility and size of the facade as well as window displays.

New store plans are also scanned for opportunities to work with newer technologies such as multi-scrollers—which give the drop-down effect—LED screens and digital displays, most of which could cost up to Rs80 lakh to set up. In some cases, the stores have rented their window space to other brands for a hefty fee.

Such meticulous planning is only expected, say retail experts, pointing to the rapid spread of branded retail and emergence of malls. “Retailers are now diverting up to 20% of their marketing spends (for) their store-windows, as opposed to just 5-6% a few years ago. Facades and store windows are now considered a serious communication tool from the brand’s point of view," says Gibson Vedamani, chief executive of the Retailers Association of India.

FCUK, for instance, has a dedicated employee in each store for visual merchandising, charged with making sure the windows are hip and contemporary while matching the chain’s international themes and guidelines. This will be in addition to the eight-member visual merchandising team that will be in place next month, says Dhiresh Sharma, business head, French Connection UK-India.

According to some industry estimates, a retailer could earn up to Rs3 lakh per day by showcasing other brands in their store window, depending on the visibility, location, and number of visitors it attracts.

A few months ago, the BBC World (India) Pvt. Ltd used a window display at the Pantaloons store at Phoenix Mills, Mumbai to showcase their campaign, “What affects the world, affects you."

The interesting thing was the window had a live fashion model, wearing an outfit that came out of a small loom being operated behind the window by an Indian weaver.

The same space has also been used by other brands such as Dove hair care from Hindustan Unilever Ltd, Tata Salt and radio station Red FM 93.5 of Digital Radio (Delhi) Broadcasting Ltd.

“Many stores haven’t understood the monetization potential (of these properties). But there is a growing interest. Mall managers have approached us with requests to set up these technologies on their properties," Dasgupta says.

Agrees Aniyan Nair, head- operations and marketing, Crossword Bookstores Ltd, who says he recently rejected a site in Bangalore because the store facade failed to meet needs. “While store windows were always used, retailers are now looking at the potential from the brand’s point of view," he said. The bookstore chain says it has increased its visual merchandising budget by at least 50%, to bring in newer technologies, such as better quality vinyl.

Retailers are also spending a lot of money outsourcing their window displays. Muse, a lifestyle store in South Mumbai, hired London-based design company, Agal UK Ltd, to design their window displays. The props, most of which are sourced from the US, UK and China, are then put together by the in-house team.

Muse’s Christmas display has 10,000 mini lights, a 10-foot Christmas tree, some 100 metres of ribbon and fake birds. “We spend more than 35% of our (annual) advertising budget on our store windows," says Tarini Jindal, the owner of Muse.