eCommerce Merchandising: Is It Really Important?

Guides & Advice
17mid read January 12, 2022
Guides & Advice
eCommerce Merchandising: Is It Really Important?
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You made a stellar e-commerce website, published it online, and double-tested everything to make sure it’s connected and working smoothly.

Great. 

But after some time, despite your marketing efforts and seemingly strong social media strategy, your ecommerce analytics shows nothing but poor product performance. Simply because there were no purchases made. 

Poor customer experience might be an issue when it comes to exploring your product/service range, store functionality, or product properties. Insightful store merchandising could solve the problem for brick-and-mortar stores, but what to do about online platforms? How to increase customer engagement in a digital context? 

That’s where e commerce merchandising comes into play, and that’s what we’ll talk about in this article.

Let’s start with, what is merchandising in ecommerce? 

What Is eCommerce Merchandising?

In e-commerce, site merchandising means the combination of strategies for displaying products at online stores in such a way that it boosts engagement, conversion, and purchase rates. It’s not merely listing what you have in stock — it’s showing the relevant products and deals to the target audience and guiding them through their customer journey on your shopping platform. 

But there’s more to that. 

Since shopping online and in-store differs drastically, the end goal of ecommerce merchandising strategy is to show the customers the product they’re looking for lightning-fast and give them as much information about it as possible in the most comprehensive way. 

For example, if your client shops for a dress, it’s not just any dress they’re looking for. They must already have in mind a visual of a long, polka-dotted, red dress, and want a search engine to show the available options instantly. If you have that item in stock, your client may visit your website and see it on the real person in still and action, read about the fabric composition, see the size chart, and even try garments on

Indeed, these actions can’t beat the full in-store experience, but they are a good deal for not having to leave the apartment! And there are plenty of reasons why these and other e commerce merchandiser tools, techniques, and strategies have a place to be.   

Why Ecommerce Merchandising Matters?

From showing availability to upselling — product merchandising in ecommerce matters a lot. But there are more reasons to follow merchandising strategies in your online business: 

  • It connects you with the right shoppers. If you have what the clients are looking for in stock, they will visit your website. They may or may not end up purchasing from you — just yet! — but they will remember that your store has it available. 
  • Site merchandising enhances your brand. Your e-commerce platform may be a self-sufficient thing, but it might also be a digital version of the physical store. Using the same brand visuals, colors, and theme only makes the brand identity stronger.
  • Customers will spend less time seeking an X item. E commerce merchandising is a powerful tool to help your prospects spend less time on making a purchasing decision. While some people may like spending hours window shopping at land-based shopping centers, when it comes to the websites, they want it to be fast. 
  • Ecommerce merchandising creates purchase-driving imagery and feelings. When shopping for clothes, it’s not exactly what people anticipate getting. In reality, they shop for their confidence, sexiness, professionalism — the clothes that highlight their personality. Thanks to online merchandising, customers create this associative image before they even complete a purchase. The items are shown in the situation that your prospect relates to, which drives the buying behavior — to feel the same emotions as displayed. 

Finally, online merchandising for ecommerce is a way to substitute the ‘real’ shopping experience we are all so used to. Even though it’s expected to be alike, it can’t be due to various reasons. And that’s what we’ll cover below.  

Traditional Merchandising vs eCommerce Merchandising

One of the major differences between land-based and online merchandising is that the former activates all sensory activities like tactile, audial, visual, and olfactory perceptions, while the latter will engage only audial and visual senses. But that’s not the whole story, so let’s dive deeper. 

Store Layout

By store layout, we mean the location of the products in the physical or virtual space as well as their organization that allows the customers to find what they need quickly. Here’s how it works in both stores.

Brick-and-mortar store. From the entrance to the cashier, you’ll see the shelves, racks, or rows of products. These elements are usually grouped into categories (‘Cheese’, ‘Jeans’, ‘name of the brand’, etc.) for the clients to navigate across the store easily. 

Online platform. When it comes to e commerce merchandising, the customer’s visual perception is limited to the screen size. It means that the website has to be divided into intuitive categories to help people find the required products. It also means that these customers’ paths have to be clear-cut at all times. That’s why menu buttons are usually static and visible regardless of what page the customers are on. 

Branding

Brand awareness goes a long way towards making businesses stand out in the face of their potential and existing customers. Recognition enhances trustworthiness, which, in turn, increases loyalty and propels recurring purchases. That’s how stores make themselves recognizable on- and offline.

Brick-and-mortar store. If you go to any store, particularly to the chain/network companies, you’ll notice that they use the same product layout type, colors, music, scents, and shopfronts. For instance, if you go to the Diesel stores, you’ll see that they use a lot of spotlights directed at the clothes but merely light up the rest of the space, contrary to H&M stores that are brightly lit all over.

Online platform. The only thing you can do to increase brand awareness in ecommerce is by using particular designs, fonts, logos, colors. You should also stay consistent in your brand design if your company deals with omnichannel commerce. For example, you’ll see the same green color at the land-based Whole Foods stores, their stands, carts, printed and digital ads, and on the website. 

Whole Foods online branding
Whole Foods online branding

Product Kits

Sometimes your customers need just jeans and that’s why they go shopping. But here’s the catch: when offered a discount for a single purchase of jeans and a t-shirt, they will end up buying two items instead of the planned one. How can they know that it would be cheaper than buying them separately? They learn it from the consultant, pop-up ads, flyers, stickers, etc. In other words, merchandising strategies aim at getting attention and present the purchase of several items as more appealing with one single goal: to increase the average order value (AOV). 

Brick-and-mortar store. Some stores place related products together (like olive oil, pasta, and tomato sauce) to upsell and increase the need to purchase them together rather than separately. And indeed, buying macaroni to cook pasta and buying macaroni with tomato sauce, grated parmesan, and olive oil creates very different images.  

Online platform. In the online realm, bundling can have various forms, such as upsells, cross-sales, and price bundles. When a person shops for clothes and adds a coat to the basket, the seller can activate the “Recommended” feature to pop up and list hats that could “complete the look”. Alternatively, you can show links or post photos of other items that were used in the photoshoot, so the clients could see how beautifully that coat would look with these particular boots, bags, and a dress.  

Product Descriptions

Your customers want to know what they buy and whether this item will be good for them, especially if we’re talking about products containing allergic substances. Here’s how this problem is addressed at the brick-and-mortar and online stores.

Brick-and-mortar store. Clients get all the information from labels, product packaging, and consultants if they need more information. 

Online platform. When you shop online, the only way to learn about the product is through description content and recommendations. Sometimes, the product page features the photos with the list of ingredients and other characteristics that help the prospects make a fact-based decision. 

Customer Management

If anything goes wrong with the product/service before or after purchase, we expect the business owners or respective assistants to take care of the issue. Apparently, customer management strategies vary for offline and online retail.

Brick-and-mortar store. Customer assistants can be consultants, store workers, managers, or even business owners — depending on the business and the issue that occured. Usually, unsatisfied clients can speak to them in person or refer to their customer care by sending emails or making calls. Plus, you can write a review about your experience or leave comments in their complaint registers. 

Online platform. If you need any assistance online, there are a few typical ways you can get it: from the FAQ page, chatbots, email, support, or customer service if the online store has it. 

Now that we know how land-based and e commerce merchandising differ, let’s see what your businesses can do to boost their online presence and win clients’ attention.

eCommerce Merchandising Strategies and Tips to Boost Sales

Making good photos of the products or shooting videos is step zero to making them attractive to potential buyers. But imagine if the technical side fails the swift and smooth image delivery or your website won’t be able to play the clip on the user’s smartphone? That’s right, you’ll lose your prospects.

To mitigate the potential risks, you should come up with realistic merchandising ecommerce strategies, which will help your clients get as much information and positive experience from your website as possible. Before we dive into a few, we need to say that some will demand knowledge of operating with big data and third-party system integration. As a result, you’ll be able to come up with more sophisticated ways to display your SKUs.  

Engage in Homepage Storytelling

They say you don’t have the second time to make the first impression — and that’s true for the e-commerce websites, too. Whether your prospects are aware of your brand or not, making the homepage as short and sweet as possible is the number one step. Step number two would be to make it extremely functional. At the first entry to your website homepage, our clients expect to find the following info:

  • What’s your brand about?
  • What does your company value?
  • Do other people trust your business?
  • What’s your contact information?
  • Is what I’m looking for available?
  • Does the company source data responsibly?
  • Will I be able to navigate through the site easily?

The homepage storytelling is a great way to immerse the person into your business narrative, which works particularly well for niche products or subscription businesses. Take the Dollar Shave Club, for instance. They have embraced a relationship narrative and made it relatable to the audience. More importantly, they put the prospect into the right mood: the mood of wanting your care products to remain yours only.  

Is someone borrowing your razor campaign of Dollar shave club
An example of storytelling on Dollar Shave Club homepage

Their main page also features links to categories, CTAs, contact forms, payment options, and testimonials. And that’s a smart way to organize the main page as all is visible, clear to understand, and straightforward. 

Optimize Your Site for Mobile

mCommerce already forms a huge part of everyday life, but it’s only starting to skyrocket. By the end of 2025, around 11% of all retail sales in the US will be generated by mobile e-commerce. For businesses, it means that optimizing their websites for mobile devices would be the must-do step if they want to widen their customer geography and increase market share. It also means that they will need to optimize their mobile e commerce merchandising. 

U.S. mobile commerce as a share of total retail sales 2018-2025
U.S. mobile commerce as a share of total retail sales 2018-2025. Source: Statista.

Here are a few product merchandising strategies for mcommerce:

  • Optimize your website for iOS and Android users
  • Create a downloadable app and encourage users to install it on your phone (by offering discounts, free shipping, etc.)
  • Optimize images for mobile: rescale and resize them for quicker browsing
  • Make sure your mobile version is as good as your website
  • Offer one-click no-account checkout 

Personalize Product Recommendations

When you google for some toothbrush without incognito mode on in your browser, you know you’ll see the ads of toothbrushes on every single ad-supportive platform and social media like Facebook, Instagram, Gmail’s Promotions, etc. That’s a part of how businesses put the big data at work and silently convince you to buy this brush. The same big data approach can be used for your e commerce merchandising. 

Think of the ‘Recommended’ section of the site. Knowing what your clients have browsed or viewed gives the algorithm insights on what your clients might like as well, thus leading to upsells. Thanks to the personalization algorithm, your ecommerce platform will know that cycle shorts would go well with the t-shirt and sneakers of the same colors. In Magento, this feature can be implemented with an Amasty Automatic Related Product plugin and can increase your AOV by 20%. 

Use Online Visual Merchandiser

When the list of products with photos and descriptions is made, it’s time to sort out which one would appear in which category, and the conditions that apply when the product is chosen. Luckily, many ecommerce platforms include it as a built-in feature that eases the process. 

For example, Magento visual merchandiser offers a set of tools for you to select the products that will dynamically appear on your client’s screen when they apply filters or see the whole stock. Enabling this feature will save your clients from many disappointments: imagine if they placed an order and it’s out of stock. Here you can find the information on how to set this feature up in the Magento account. 

Unleash Big Data to Analyze Customer Behavior

Thinking that your clients will remain yours forever may cost you your business. Changes to the customer’s behavior are inevitable, and Covid-19 made it very clear. The question is, how to keep on track with it? We see three major strategies: 

  • Collect real-time data responsibly and test which channel drives more sales and why
  • Take advantage of predictive technology based on previous searches or purchase information (i.e., real-time behavioral data)
  • Use dynamic recommendation tools that would change alongside the shoppers’ input and search

Leverage Autocomplete Function in Search

Speaking of predictive technologies, we have some convincing stats for you to apply autocomplete function on your website: 

  • About 73% of consumers expect the brands to already know their needs and complete their search queries automatically.
  • Those who use search buttons tend to buy at a 2.4x greater rate and spend 2.6x more across mobile and desktop retailer sites than visitors who just browse. 

Applying predictive searches, you allow clients to find what they’re looking for faster — and that’s another practice to boost online sales. At Elogic, we have just the right example for you.

Carbon38, a multi-brand activewear retailer, referred to us with a need for a more performant platform. Among other features that we integrated, there was Algolia technology, which enhances e commerce merchandising. With Algolia, we enabled a photo preview in a mega menu and set up the picture preview for the search button. Now, when the clients type in the search query “leggings”, they get the autocomplete options with leggings from various brands with thumbnail photos and prices.

carbon38 search function

List Product Kits and Collection-Based Products

Listing grouped products is a proven e commerce merchandising strategy, and there are a few ways to do it: by showcasing featured products and by presenting collections. Each of them has its perks.

Featured products. A group of items is usually presented to the customers based on their previous searches, season, promotions, availability, etc. For example, you have a lot of Christmas-related items. Naturally, you want to sell them out before the holidays, so you may place them among the ‘Featured’ ones for them to get extra attention. Mind that it’s not the same as upselling when you offer to buy other relevant items at the checkout. 

Collections. Their main point is to set the customers into a particular context that would make the items you sell their integral element. Think of collections at the clothes store. If that’s a smart casual look, you’ll see the photos of office workers wearing items that could fit that office context. And when it’s a cocktail dress collection, you’ll see photos of people wearing the items from the collection during the festivities. 

Here’s what the collection showcasing looks like on the website of an Elogic’s client, Joie.  

Once you click on “Read more + Shop her picks”, a collection of clothes will appear to help you recreate the same look of a “muse” and bring up the same feelings. As the name goes, the muse collection ‘Muse’ is supposed to inspire your personal outfit. And that’s not only the images with the CTA to shop the display items — you can also read a story about the muse. And this is a good take on proper SEO content. 

Enhance Product Pages

A fast-loaded product page that provides the customers with item details is a must-have for every e-commerce platform. The following elements will substitute for the in-store research about the product before buying it:

  • Images. One good image is better than a thousand words, and that’s true in marketing, too. Make sure you have high-quality photos that give the user an understanding of how the product looks in real life.
  • Descriptions. Answer everything the customer wants to know about the product. 
  • Reviews. If your website supports user-generated content (UGC), link it to the product pages. This way, your clients will act as a social proof of their shopping experience with you, and, of course, of the product. 
  • Comparison. That’s a useful feature, particularly for those who wish to contrast a couple of items and make a more informed purchase. 
  • 360-degree videos. Videos are the best tools for e commerce merchandising to give the clients a realistic view of the product.
  • Virtual try-ons. If you want to cut the number of returns because “it’s not what I was expected”, power your website visitors with virtual try-on features, so they have more information on whether this item would be a good fit for them. 

Afterthought

Just like in merchandising in brick-and-mortar stores, e commerce merchandising is important to set the customers in the right shopping mood and present the items you have in the most advantageous way. 

While online merchandising is limited with tools and techniques that can help with it (imagery, storytelling, design, product displaying, real-time data, etc.), following the e-commerce merchandise tricks can not only enhance brand awareness but also drive more sales. One condition: if you have experienced advisors on how to implement these strategies to your particular platform. And that’s where Elogic helps. 

Contact our team, and we’ll provide ecommerce consulting services that would benefit your business! 

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