When you walk into a store, colorful mannequins and well-decorated displays catch your eyes and entice you to buy a product. Well-folded items and neat shelves provide a professional look that instills trust. The experience of shopping in a store is like no other. But with the increase in online shopping, companies are racing to develop the best ideas to re-create the in-store shopping experience online.
While shopping in person is undoubtedly different than buying products on a computer, there are still clever ways to create a satisfying experience for customers. New ideas and tools help you shape the way people view your products, all thanks to online merchandising.
What Is Online Merchandising?
Merchandising involves positioning products in an attractive way and presenting them so that customers will be enticed to buy them. The same goes for online merchandising, except everything is digital. Instead of creating an in-person presentation, a marketer arranges the products in an attractive way on the website’s online store.
Online merchandising involves selecting beautiful product photos and writing catchy text that describes the product in detail and makes the customer want to buy.
Everything done on an eCommerce website is intentional to guide customers through the journey of buying a product. In addition to selecting photos and writing text, digital merchandisers decide on the arrangement of products on a page, the display tabs, and more. They also use search engine optimization to make the business searchable, as well as content management to entice customers through social media.
Digital merchandising is a major responsibility of a marketer. The most qualified professionals have associate degrees in eCommerce or experience in web design.
Online vs. Offline Merchandising
Perhaps the most critical difference between online and offline merchandising is the number of ways a customer can come into the store to view products. In a brick-and-mortar store, customers have one way to enter: the door. For online stores, there are many ways a customer can find your site:
- Through Social Media
- Internet Search
- Friend Recommendation
- Digital Advertisements
- And Much More
Offline merchandising involves in-store presentations. Often, a company leader or professional team will distribute instructions to their stores on how they want displays, shelves, and marketing to be handled. Retail merchandisers are responsible for creating the look and feel of the in-store presentation. A digital merchandiser has the same responsibilities for the online portion of the store.
Online merchandising also helps customers find specific items more quickly. Using a collection-based strategy, marketers can help customers sift through products using tags and filters. That strategy doesn’t work so well in-person unless you have an extremely knowledgeable customer service representative!
The following table outlines the significant differences between online and offline merchandising:
|Online Merchandising||Offline Merchandising|
|Navigation Through Tabs||Signs to Direct|
|Categories and Filters||Customer Service Representatives|
|Search Function||Customer Service Representatives|
|Photos, Descriptions, Videos||Physical Products|
|Customer Reviews||Customer Service Representatives|
|Size Charts and Customer Reviews||Fitting Rooms|
Types of Online Merchandising
There are four main types of online merchandising that businesses use to shape their brand, attract customers, and increase revenue.
Nearly every customer journey begins at the homepage. The homepage is a blank canvas on which you can paint your business’s story. It’s the starting point where people can learn about your company, find your best products, and discover the best aspects of what you offer to them.
While you can feature your best products on your homepage, you can also tell a story. Start with the three W’s of your brand: who, what, and why. Explain who you are as a company, your goals, your mission, and why you are selling what you sell.
Use eye-catching images and enticing text to explain why people should support your business. Make sure the essential information is at the top and less vital details are at the bottom. Keep the top text short and catchy, and provide more information as visitors scroll through the page.
Include calls to action (CTAs) to browse products or to contact you for more information. These CTAs provide the next step in the customer’s buying journey on your site.
Collection-based merchandising is one of the most popular digital marketing strategies for online clothing retailers. It’s the easiest way to attractively present a large inventory in a categorized, easily digestible fashion.
Customers can sort through products using categorical tags, including size, price, and, of course, product type. Collection-based merchandising makes it easy to target customers looking for specific items and helps them easily navigate their way to that product.
It also gives browsers a reason to stay on your website. They can dive deeper into your offerings and click on different things that interest them. As customers click through pages, they’ll leave cookies. You can track their cookies and use them for targeted advertising at a later date.
The most challenging aspect of collection-based merchandising is keeping everything organized. Each product needs an attractive image paired with short text that entices the reader to click to read more.
Most collection-based merchandising sites use a grid style to organize products. Visitors can scan the page and scroll down to load more products. The style is similar to social media pages, so people are used to scrolling through grids to view photos. That’s why this strategy works so well.
Combined merchandising uses both featured storytelling and collection-based options to create an attractive page. With this strategy, you can highlight your best-selling products while allowing browsers to scroll down to view more.
A hero image featuring a product or story about your company allows you to more easily incorporate your brand than with a scrolling grid, which means you can implement some style and creativity into the page. Customers can also peek at new products and then take a deeper dive farther down the page.
Simple Product-Focused Merchandising
A clean-cut, minimalist look can also be effective for some brands. A simple product focus is an ideal technique if you don’t want a busy website that could confuse customers. It’s especially perfect for new companies that don’t have many products to feature or don’t have the social proof needed to boost a busy page. It’s also a cheaper option if you don’t yet have the budget for high-end web development.
With product-focused merchandising, marketers highlight a couple of images with accompanied copy. One strategy is to use a hero carousel that scrolls to multiple images while showing just one at a time.
Why Does Online Merchandising Matter?
Digital merchandising is vital to create a similar shopping experience for every customer. It helps you build your brand’s image and shape what you want people to see and how you want them to perceive your business. It’s essentially a type of marketing strategy that will increase revenue.
Here are just a few reasons digital merchandising is essential for your online business:
- Increase Loyalty
- Track Customer Purchase History
- Increase Revenue Through Personalized Experiences
- Convert Browsers into Buyers
eCommerce Data Analytics
Online merchandising not only helps create a unique experience for customers, it also gives you an exponential amount of data about each visitor that is useful for future advertising and customizations. You can learn demographic information and additional insights about how customers behave on your website.
These are the most useful analytics for your business:
- Traffic: How people ended up on your site (i.e., Google, social media, etc.)
- Customer History: Whether someone is visiting for the first time or is a repeat customer
- Site Behavior: Where visitors went on your site and what they did (i.e., added something to their cart, read reviews, looked at sizes, etc.)
- Age, Gender, and Location
- Browsing Device: Whether the visitor is on a computer, mobile device, or tablet
You can compare these visitor details with your site’s purchase data to determine what’s working and what’s not working. These aspects of purchasing data are essential in helping you shape the customer experience on your eCommerce site:
- Products Sold
- Product Options: What colors, sizes, styles, etc., are purchased the most
- Quantity Purchased
- Time and Date of Purchase
- Payment Method: Credit card, PayPal, Venmo, etc.
- Shipping Method
- Abandoned Carts: Products selected but never purchased
You can also study trends and inventory to analyze and determine what products customers will buy at the current moment. Study social movements to determine what is popular right now, and look at what brand trends are attracting them the most. Look at how holidays and seasonality drives purchases and how much of your product is in stock.
How To Become an Online Merchandiser
If you have experience in marketing and excellent computer skills, you’re already on your way to becoming a great online merchandiser. In addition to a degree in marketing or eCommerce, digital merchandisers and marketers have a unique set of skills that get people to buy products online:
- Strong Computer Skills
- Always Available
- Clear Understanding of Strategies
Visual merchandising involves using creativity to design unique advertisements and online displays. You need to be very tech-savvy to develop the content and always available to make a change or add something to the site, even in the off-hours.
Digital merchandisers have a clear understanding of the strategies they use to create online product presentations. This is critically important when managers and executives want to know the thinking behind specific ideas.
Best Practices for Digital Merchandising
Digital merchandising takes a lot of work to make your site look fresh, easy to use, and ideal for your customers. But once you know your customers’ needs and start to implement strategies that attract new visitors and retain repeat shoppers, you’ll have a successful digital merchandising presence.
Use these best practices for online merchandising to enhance your customers’ buying experience:
Imagery is a Must
Images are the most critical part of marketing your products online. Customers can’t feel or touch the item, and imagery is the only way for them to view the product and see details and features.
While professional photos on the product page are a must, user-generated content goes a long way in instilling trust and reliability in your product. When customers add pictures to your site (in the form of reviews, an Instagram feed, etc.), other viewers can get a real look into what others received.
Keep Copy Catchy
Every single word on your website should have a purpose. The text should be unique, engaging, and to the point. Product descriptions need to give every detail a customer needs so that they can easily visualize how they could use it.
Look at examples from other eCommerce sites and how they group information, putting the most important stuff at the top and the least important at the bottom. These are typically the most important aspects of a product description:
A great way to instill trust in your brand is through social proof. Social proof is a theory that people will follow the trends of a mass group of people. When an extensive sampling of people provide good reviews or post a lot about a product, others are likely to follow. Everyone is behaving in the same way, so others perceive it as the right behavior.
For eCommerce purposes, social proof comes in the form of customer testimonials and reviews from their real-life experiences with your brand. It’s the most authentic way to gain trust and show potential customers how much others love your product.
There are numerous ways to integrate social proof into your digital merchandising. The easiest and most common way is through product reviews. Every product on your site should have a section where people can write a review and others can read it.
In addition, you can add photo displays to your main pages and incorporate user-generated content into your social media content plan. Add a social feed that highlights top customer posts about your business.
Ensure Your Site Has Aesthetic Appeal
A beautiful website will attract visitors and keep them browsing through your products. A website’s design influences customers and helps them feel comfortable about buying something off your page. The design should be professional and fit the ideal image you’re trying to put out in the world.
In addition to aesthetic appeal, your website needs to be mobile-friendly. Every product image, description, and review needs to be on the mobile site. Remember that there are multiple types of phones, too. Mobile sites need to be tailored to fit all smartphones.
Tell a Digital Story
Your digital merchandising strategy should involve telling the story of your brand and products. A digital storytelling plan will guide customers through the buying journey and make the experience more enjoyable for them.
Use the storytelling strategy to customize each shopper’s experience. Use pop-ups and filters to ask them what they’re looking for, and the AI will bring up relevant products to increase the likelihood of a purchase.
Optimize Your Search Function
A strong eCommerce site makes it easy for customers to browse and search for specific items. Your collections-based grid should have a filtering mechanism that people can use to refine their search by any of the following:
- Product Type
- Other Features
Remember to keep your products up-to-date with relevant keywords and details that visitors are likely to use in searches.
Track Your Progress
It’s vital that you track every step of your customers’ journeys, as well as every product sold on your site. Monitoring and analyzing everything will help you determine if your online merchandising strategy is working and what could be changed to make it better.
Compare your success to your competitors. Look at social and brand trends that could work for your business. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas to see what works the best.
It’s clear that online merchandising is an essential tool in the eCommerce industry. Start utilizing these strategies today to make your brand’s shopping experience stand out tomorrow.