Practical Ecommerce

3 Tips for Better Online Merchandising

The way that products and buying opportunities are presented on an ecommerce site can have a significant impact on sales. Making good merchandising choices especially around how search results are managed, how complementary products are displayed, and how the site’s hierarchy is arranged will help some merchants sell more and be more profitable.

Online merchandising is focused on presenting product or service information so that shoppers are able to find and buy items easily. It should also introduce shoppers to complementary items. Put another way, online merchandising should in someway entice site visitors to buy.

When online merchandising is done well, it may lead to higher conversion rates, larger orders, and more sales overall. Unfortunately, a poorly merchandised site may frustrate visitors and discourage purchases.

What follows are three tips for improving online or — as it is sometimes called — on-site merchandising.

Tip 1: Merchandise in Search Results

Search results pages present a great opportunity for retailers to display products and offer suggestions. But sometimes sellers overlook these opportunities, imagining that retail site search needs to resemble a Google search results page. This notion could not be further from the truth.

Consider the search results page for the current Target website. The page resembles a product category page complete with layered and faceted navigation and large product images. It looks nothing like a Google search results page, but instead it seeks to merchandise to the customer.

Target treats its search results pages like a product category page.

Target treats its search results pages like a product category page.

Target’s search page also highlights items that are on sale, again using merchandising to shoppers.

Target indicates which items are on sale in its search results.

Target indicates which items are on sale in its search results.

On the Harry & David website, which sells fruit and treat baskets, shoppers searching for Thanksgiving baskets also see a banner ad promoting Halloween gift baskets, a related product.

The Harry & David website cross-sells with ad banners on its search results pages.

The Harry & David website cross-sells with ad banners on its search results pages.

According to a paper from analytics and marketing firm Omniture, about half of a site’s visitors will use search as their primary form of navigation. Be sure that search results pages are enticing shoppers to buy.

Tip 2: Cross-sell, Up-sell, and Down-sell

Cross-selling, up-selling, and down-selling each introduce related or complementary products to shoppers as they navigate through the site.

For cross-selling, complementary, often competitive, products are offered, giving the shopper the choice between similar products at a similar price point. Up-selling generally seeks to move a shopper to a premium product, potentially increasing the merchant’s margin on the sale. Down-selling offers shoppers a similar but less expensive product, and is typically used to help retailers sell overstocked and slow moving items.

These product suggestions, whether cross, up, or down can help a shopper choose the best product for his needs, making for a happy customer.

As an example, Amazon places two sections of cross-sell products on most of its product detail pages, offering shoppers additional products.

Amazon includes two sections of cross sells on most of its product detail pages.

Amazon includes two sections of cross sells on most of its product detail pages.

Overstock offers related items on its product detail pages, too. In this case, it shows items that other shoppers visited after viewing the current product.

Overstock lets visitors associate products, and then cross-sells those products.

Overstock lets visitors associate products, and then cross-sells those products.

Tip 3: Use Categories to Help Shoppers Find Products

Site hierarchy — how products are categorized — is also a form of online merchandising.

The key to using categories as merchandising is to sue a category structure and category labels that resonate with shoppers and makes it easy for shoppers to find the product they want.

As an example, consider the navigation on the Element14 site, which sells electronic components and kits to hobbyists. The site’s main product categories are a combination of technologies and specific product types.

There is a category called “Alternative Energy,” which describes a group of technologies, and there is a category called “Arduino” that describes a specific product and its related items. Both Alternative Energy and Arduino are top level product categories because they help shoppers find the products they want.

The Element14 site uses category labels that help customers find products.

The Element14 site uses category labels that help customers find products.

Summing Up

To improve merchandising and thereby improve sales and profitability, an online retailer can (a) treat a search results page like a selling opportunity, (b) cross-sell, up-sell, and down-sell; and (c) create a category structure based on how customers browse.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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Comments ( 3 )

  1. inSparq October 9, 2012 Reply

    Points 1 and 2 can’t be stressed enough. Having images of merchandise as opposed to just words describing merchandise is important. If an online shopper can see merchandise visually, he or she might be more inclined to purchase. The thought is, "It looks nice."

    Companies do overlook down-selling. So much focus is on up-selling, which makes sense because it brings in more money. However, down-selling is just as appealing to a shopper. Everyone is looking for a good deal, especially in these economic times.

  2. Expert Gift Hampers at Hamper Me September 4, 2013 Reply

    I totally agree on these great online merchandising tips. Visibility, great offers and properly categorising products for your type of audience can definitely boost sales.http://www.hamperme.com.au/

  3. Online Gift Baskets March 25, 2014 Reply

    Totally agree with all three tips. The online shopper should also compare prices on the other websites too for the particular product people are looking for.

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