When you walk into a retail store, there are a number of setups that grab your attention and draw you into the various sections. It may be a mannequin’s outfit, a table setup, an aisle’s endcap, or a color-coordinated section of your favorite color.
Ecommerce stores don’t have this luxury, so they have to get a bit more creative. This is where ecommerce merchandising comes in.
Throughout this article, we’re going to do a deeper dive into what ecommerce merchandising is, how it differs from traditional merchandising, as well as eight tactics your ecommerce store can use to drive more sales.
Let’s dig in!
Ecommerce merchandising is a tactic that online stores must use in order to guide customers through their journey, increasing sales and customer satisfaction all in one.
Because there aren’t physical items for a customer to interact with to help drive sales, online businesses must rely on other strategies to ensure that each of their website visitors has a personalized experience that properly guides them through the products they’re most interested in.
Regardless of how potential customers land on your website, you want to ensure a seamless experience for all of them every time. The key to this is ecommerce merchandising.
Now that we’ve introduced the concept of ecommerce merchandising, let’s talk about it a bit in layman’s terms. We’re all so much more familiar with the concept of traditional merchandising and we’ve seen it in action a million-and-one times.
So how do the two differ? And how can online stores try to mimic the same impact when customers land on their website that brick-and-mortar stores create as customers walk through organized aisles and setups?
Let’s walk through a few of the major differences between the two before diving into how we can still make ecommerce merchandising work for online stores.
In a retail store, shop owners are able to set up and organize the interior in a way that makes sense for the shopper. Like items are placed together in a single area and then flows to the next category of items seamlessly. Paths are created to lead customers from one area to another throughout their shopping experience.
Online stores don’t have a store layout to organize. Instead, they’re left creating online navigation and categorization that helps users find what they’re looking for as well as recommends similar products.
When you walk into a Target, you know you’re in a Target. The colors, signage, and other visual elements scattered around the store are familiar to you.
Most other brick-and-mortar stores are similarly able to use branding to their advantage, bringing in paint colors and styles, lighting, music, and even scents to help you recognize their store environment.
Websites must provide a very different experience for you to recognize and appreciate their branding. A well-designed online store is key, but make sure that it fully encompasses your brand colors and fonts every step of the way.
One major thing that in-person shopping has over online shopping is the ability to interact with the product someone is considering buying in real life, rather than relying on and trusting photos.
It’s important for your ecommerce store to do everything it can to provide product interactions, whether it’s including a 3D rendering, product videos, etc. We’ll cover a few ideas later on in this article.
Now that we’ve covered the major challenges that ecommerce businesses face when it comes to merchandising, it’s time for the good news: there are still a lot of ways to create positive experiences with online shopping.
Let’s go through the top eight best practices that your online retail business needs to consider to improve the overall customer experience.
Whether you hire a web designer or create your own online shop through a tool like Wix or Shopify, you and/or your designer need to keep the customer journey in mind. And that journey starts the second a potential customer lands on your retail store’s home page.
Let’s take a look at the home page of Island Creek Oysters.
Make it obvious what you offer and how your customers can start shopping. Share incentives front and center, like Island Creek’s free shipping on Tuesday through Friday orders.
Step one is getting your website visitors to start clicking around to browse through your products. These tactics can help.
The next thing you want to do is provide a search bar.
When customers have trouble finding something inside of a store, they can ask a sales associate. However, an online store doesn’t always have sales associates or live chat capabilities to offer that immediate help.
What you can do instead is give your customers a way to search for exactly what they’re looking for.
Take a look at Cookbook Village’s website. There’s a search bar right at the top left of their site, making it super easy to find and start typing in search queries.
More than just providing a search bar, you want to make sure it works in a way that helps your customers find what they’re looking for more easily.
A few ideas include:
This way, you have a search bar (check!) that actually helps customers find what they’re looking for (check, check!)
Another great way to improve search results for your customers is to allow them to filter their results in order to narrow down exactly what they’re trying to find.
Offer this in your product categories as well, especially if you offer a lot of products on your website like Wayfair does on theirs.
If a customer is looking for shelving options, they may want to start broad, but then narrow down their choices as they decide what they like or would look good in their home.
As we can see in the screenshot above, Wayfair offers a plethora of filtering options, like material, shape, price, finish, and more.
Best yet? It’s obvious that these filtering options change based on what the customer is searching for. So no matter what a buyer is looking for, they have the option to filter their search results down until they find the perfect match.
It’s not uncommon to see product recommendations on a product page. However, these tend to be similar products or products from the same category.
While this seems like a good idea in theory, there are better ways to personalize product recommendations.
The first way is by trying to upsell your customer. Take a look at this example on a couch’s product page from Edloe Finch.
If your customer is buying a couch, they probably don’t need another couch. They might, however, need an armchair, ottoman, or coffee table to go with it.
One of the biggest differences in shopping online versus in person is how up close and personal consumers can get with the product. So offering as much product information upfront as you can is a good way to combat this discrepancy and get customers feeling much more comfortable buying from your online shop.
Here’s a great example from this sweater listing on Taylor Stitch.
Clothing in particular can be difficult to buy online, so they’ve made sure to provide a ton of helpful details about the product to give buyers as much information as they need to make an informed purchasing decision.
Take a look at this screenshot below:
We see a product description, the materials the sweater was made from, a list of specifications, as well as a garment weight gauge to let customers know how heavy the product is without needing to pick it up and hold it.
Furthermore, their website also offers little tools like a size chart and fit finder to (a) help their customers find their exact right size and (b) limit the number of returns and exchanges they see.
55.4% of consumers worldwide use their mobile phones for online shopping, which means your website needs to be mobile responsive and easy for these shoppers to use.
A few key items to keep in mind during optimization are:
Creating an experience that’s seamless on mobile devices isn’t an option anymore, so make sure the customer journey translates to your mobile site or app as well.
89% of consumers want to read reviews before they make a purchase. That’s nearly nine out of ten people who won’t buy your products unless they’re able to look through reviews first.
In addition, supporting customer photos on your site is another great way to earn trust and increase sales, as well as decrease shopping cart abandonment.
While you always want to showcase high-quality, professional photos on your product listings, allowing shoppers to view photos of the product in real life can provide a different view. Different lighting and surroundings can help customers decide if a product is right for them.
Let’s look at another example from Edloe Finch, because they’re doing amazing.
First, they have a section on each of their product pages dedicated to overall customer reviews that also include product photos.
Our last ecommerce merchandising best practice is to offer a number of different product visuals. Help your customers feel well-versed in the product they’re buying before they even lay eyes on it.
Having just one or two product photos isn’t going to cut it. If you want to give your customers the same experience they’d have in a store, you need to get creative.
Here are a few ideas of product visuals to include:
Here’s an example from Biko. As we can see from the thumbnails, they display their product in a number of different ways, from the standard product photo, to it in use, to the packaging that it arrives in.
Ready to start investing in ecommerce merchandising best practices? Not only can they help your customers feel better about online shopping, they can also increase sales and revenue. Learn more about how we can help you design an online store that converts.