I look at a lot of online stores in the context of my profession. I shop online and am involved with many companies as they plan a new or upgraded stores. In far too many cases, the focus is on branding, color schemes, and snappy, trendy layouts for the home page.
The reality is that shoppers visit your store to research and buy products. Branding is important; being trendy not so much. Merchandising is the key to conversions. It determines which items are purchased, and whether a shopper has a good experience that will lead to a long-term relationship.
To be sure, a shopper can have a good experience and not buy a thing. But good online merchandising delivers revenue. A good customer experience may simply provide shoppers with enough information to choose a product, then go buy it elsewhere for a cheaper price.
Art and Science of Online Merchandising
In a nutshell, online merchandising is about how you present your products, both individually and collectively. It’s also about how you promote products and other offers. Some aspects of merchandising are about the products themselves. Much of merchandising is about how products are presented. In many cases, specific online tools and tactics are used to enhance presentation.
Here are a 20 tools and tactics to improve online merchandising.
- Individual product content. This includes primary and alternative images, descriptions, specifications, pricing details, availability, country of manufacture, manufacturer, and so forth. This is very basic information, but incredibility important for shoppers as well as search engine optimization.
- Product categories. Most stores sell categories of similar products. How do you present them? Are they grouped together side by side in a grid view or presented down the page in a list view? How many products make up a category? Are there subcategories? Do you present an ensemble of related items for context?
- Store pages. These are the shopping aisles of your online store. Key pages in your online store are the home page, product category pages, product list pages, search results pages, product detail pages, landing pages, shopping cart, registration, checkout, informational pages, and comparison pages. Each needs to be the best possible at what it does. If you have a terrific search results page and terrible product detail pages, you’ll lose shoppers and sales. This applies to all other pages.
- Related items. Do you present related items on a product detail page only, or add them to a category page or even the shopping cart? These are usually cross sells, but can also be complementary items.
- Alternative items. Unlike related items, these are usually upsells.
- Comparison features. Do you include features that allow shoppers to select products for comparison?
- Ratings and reviews. This has become a staple of online merchandising. If you don’t have this feature and a shopper relies on other peoples’ opinions about a product, he is likely to shop elsewhere
- Ask a question. A new feature that’s popping up more is a feature to capture question-and-answer sessions between shoppers and store experts. It’s another good place to research products. It’s essentially a forum for each product.
- Zoom and rotate. For certain products, a zoom and rotate feature is helpful for shoppers to get a closer look at materials and context
- Configurators. Product configurators are becoming increasingly popular. They present a product with different style attributes. Many even allow shoppers to design their own product by choosing different components and watching the product be built on the screen
- Promotional offers. As shopping becomes more personalized, stores are delivering pop-up offers that are generally related to the items you are shopping for. This may be a free shipping offer, a discount, a buy-one-get-one free or other types of incentives.
- Page density. This is an ongoing debate in design circles. How much white space should you have in your product list or product detail pages. The answer is: It depends on your branding, products, customers, and the quality and types of content you have about your products.
- Pricing. Another ever debated topic. Do you go bold or subtle with your pricing. Do you present a “list price” and “our price” to show value? Do you highlight the savings? Again, it depends on your target market, your value proposition and your branding.
- Search results. Do you present your default search based on “best sellers,” “price,” “most relevant,” or “brand”? Do you allow shoppers to choose their own preferences?
- Promotional categories. These are used for seasonal sales, clearances, or simply related items. They are usually attached to promotions – such as email, social media, and advertising. They can be basic product list pages, or something much more focused on the products being featured.
- Promotional banners. Most sites leverage a wide variety of promotional banners that appear based on behaviors or specific site locations. They may be promoting the weekly special, free shipping, loyalty programs, and so forth.
- Mini carts. The trend in shopping is to not have a shopping cart page appear each time an item is added to the cart. Instead, there’s often a mini-cart popup when the shopping cart link is clicked. But other merchants find more success with a full, traditional shopping cart where you can up sell and cross sell items. It’s worth testing to find your best method.
- Free shipping. Yes, free shipping is a merchandising tool. You can remind shoppers about it in product detail pages, in the shopping cart, in the header, with popups, and so forth.
- Promotions. This might be free shipping, a percentage off, buy one get one free, loyalty points, volume discounts, and preferred customer perks. Be crisp and clear on your promotions.
- Social media. Leverage your likes, comments, and tweets on specific product categories or items. Millennials in particular are a group that likes to hear what their friends and peers think about products.
This is a partial list of merchandising ideas. Even with this list, skills and expertise in online merchandising are a key to success. Experiment with these different options. Solicit customer feedback. Use A/B testing. No one knows what approach will work the best until it’s tested.
Hence, try different options. Use analytics to measure success. If something is working, expand it. If it fails, try something different. Realize that customer preferences change over time, so always measuring your success.