Brick and mortar retailers are not the only ones who can leverage strategic placement of products, services, and more to facilitate the buyer’s journey. E-commerce and online retailers can digitally curate their stores through online merchandising to make sure key products and promotions are sufficiently highlighted.
What is online merchandising?
Online merchandising, or e-commerce merchandising, is the process of structuring, organizing, and curating products offerings on a website to achieve specific business or marketing goals. This process often includes managing promotions, curating search results, and testing improvements to guide users through their customer journeys.
Why does online merchandising matter?
In today’s competitive e-commerce landscape, marketers must provide a unique shopping experience for their customers. Setting up an effective and differentiated user experience can not only increase conversion rates, but also create a lasting brand image that will keep customers coming back to you for the long term.
Online merchandising also helps businesses achieve their strategic business goals. Marketing campaigns can be implemented directly into the site through promotions and specials, and you can feature strategic partnerships to ensure the success of both you and your partners.
The merchandising process helps e-commerce businesses manage large and changing inventories. For instance, seasonal products or clearance items can be strategically placed and promoted to ensure inventory is turned over in a timely manner.
4 online merchandising strategies
Online merchandising is an ongoing and iterative process. Here are four strategic best practices you can follow to boost your efforts:
1. Focus on the homepage
As the entry point into your e-commerce site from search, social media, and more, it is imperative that the homepage provides an engaging and interactive experience to minimize bounce rates and get customers exploring the site. The homepage should:
- Tell a brand story. A brand story will help customers engage by differentiating yourself from the competition and showing them why they should shop with you.
- Show products from collections and featured products. The homepage is a great place to highlight opportunities you want customers to engage with. Well-placed products and promotions cans immediately grab the customer’s attention as they enter the site.
- Make sure the homepage is scannable. This page should provide concise yet useful information that customers can quickly scan over to get a good understanding of what you’re all about and what they can do or find on your site.
- Include CTAs. A call-to-action on the homepage can encourage customers to perform certain actions. It also gives them a clear pathway on how to do so.
- Incorporate “social proof.” Customer generated content (reviews, social media photos, etc) further engage your customers and validate the quality and usefulness of your offerings.
- Make sure search bar is visible. Target the searchers by making sure the search bar is easy to find and use.
2. Write strong product descriptions
The product description is typically the first place customers will go to learn about the products they’re interested in. You can think of this as the online equivalent of a sales representative pitching a product to an interested customer.
Descriptions should contain useful information about the product uses, specifications, materials, production, and benefits. You should also highlight shipping and production times, particularly if you’re offering free shipping. All of this should be done in an informative tone that matches your brand voice so that the customer feels connected.
3. Use online visual merchandising
Online visual merchandising is the process of strategically displaying of visual and design elements on the site. Implementing this effectively can help communicate the brand image, validate the brand legitimacy, and increase customer engagement.
The photos used on the site, as well as the general design, are key to this process. In addition to procuring high quality images of product offerings and thinking through design, it is important to iterate and tweak the visual design site to make sure it is most effective. These changes should be A/B tested to measure the impact on KPIs. Consumers are sensitive to these types of changes and it’s difficult to predict effects on their behavior, so quantitative measures can ensure that changes provide a positive impact.
4. Update your merchandising strategy based on e-commerce customer data
As an online retailer, you can effectively track every move your customers make from search to purchase. This can be extremely valuable information for determining merchandising strategies, experimenting with different layouts and product descriptions, strategizing on future product offerings, and more. Furthermore, e-commerce sites can use social media retargeting pixels to run retargeting/remarketing campaigns and collect demographic information.
How search can boost e-commerce merchandising efforts
Search is increasingly becoming the entry point for the customer buying journey. However, many marketers don’t use search to its fullest extent, and they miss sales opportunities as a result. Search merchandising, or searchandising, allows curation of the search experience to drive business and marketing goals.
Here are a few powerful ways that site search can be used to improve the merchandising process:
- Personalize and customize the user experience. A key to merchandising — both online and offline — is providing personalized and relevant products to customers. Site search allows you to promote specific products to users while they search. If a user has a history with your store, you can use past purchase behavior to provide relevant content that they’re more likely to buy.
- Recommend similar products. When a customer views a product in a site search interface, this enables you to immediately show them other related products. This increases the chance that they find the product that they’re looking for and ultimately purchase something.
- Show banners within search results. Custom banners can be shown when users search certain queries or groups of queries. For instance, category-specific promotions can be pushed to customers when they’re searching for products related to the category.
- Promote specific products. Businesses often like to promote specific products for a variety of reasons — seasonality, holidays, new product lines, and so on. With site search, these types of promotions can be featured for targeted queries or groups of queries. The promotions can also be customized based on user profiles.
- Use filters and facets. Filters and facets allow users to quickly narrow their search scope by category of product, and facets allow users to do so based on multiple different search dimensions. These can be structured in such a way to highlight or promote certain types of products to customers.
- Redirect to a specific URL for popular or notable queries. When a user searches for specific product that your business has designated as important, you can redirect them to a page curated with products and brand-related content to meet their needs. This is especially useful for queries associated with brand or items where the likelihood of cross-selling and upselling is high.
- Use autocomplete and query suggestions. Autocomplete and query suggestions allow you to not only increase click-through rate by speeding up the search process, but also provides an opportunity to nudge users toward specific products. Users are actively looking for products when they are searching so this provides a good opportunity to steer their product exploration path.
- Provide textual and visual suggestions in search. Including visual helpers such as product images or highlighted results attract users’ attention to those products and increase the likelihood that they click on them. This can be useful for getting more traffic on pages of promoted products.
- Collect and display customer reviews. Customer reviews provide social proof. However, they don’t have to be restricted to the product pages. Showing them dynamically when users are searching can prove quick validation to the products they’re searching for.
Leveraging great site search for e-commerce merchandising
Search is an essential component of the online merchandising process. Watch our webinar “Accelerating the path to the shopping cart” to learn how you can use search to engage users and increase sales.