Visual merchandising of products is not just for physical stores. Merchandising is just as important in an online e-commerce store, perhaps even more so as there are no sales assistants to help the customer find what they need. Great merchandising helps a customer to find what they are looking for and hopefully discover things they weren’t.
What is the official definition of merchandising?
[the activity of promoting the sale of goods, especially by their presentation in retail outlets.]
Well that sounds dull. What does Merchandising mean to us in reality?
Visual merchandising is the way (and the order) in which you display the goods in your store to entice customers to purchase. In physical retail it can involve a centre table, a window display and the way in which you order items on the shelves. In the world of online retail however, merchandising falls more into how you categorise your store and the quality of your product images and descriptions (ie the display).
Let’s look at my top 3 areas to consider when starting or improving your e-commerce store:-
The great thing about an online store, is the clear definition of having categories listed. Customers can filter through and find what they are looking for using the dropdown menus, unlike in a physical store where this isn’t usually so obvious. However, this isn’t always done successfully in an online store and when the categories don’t make sense or the products within them aren’t logical, then a customer can very easily get confused and lose interest. Always remember that your customers do not know your inventory like you do.
Spend time working out the best category tree for your store. Try to think how your target customer would like to shop rather than how you have categorised things in your inventory system. Research this in detail on other websites in your category and look for examples that seem the most logical when you tried to shop. It’s always advisable to offer a few ways that a customer can shop. For example, by brand and by item type or by function and by price.
Another benefit to an online store versus a physical is the ability to be creative with limited inventory. Particularly for independent boutiques, it isn’t always possible to have a huge array of SKU’s in your portfolio, so now is the time to get creative, but first let’s get real. If you have an inventory line of 40 products, don’t try to create an overly complicated category tree. Why? Because there is nothing more frustrating than seeing the same products in so many different categories. Try to limit the number of repetitions you have with products appearing across each category, so your customer feels the logical layout, gets inspired and sees something new within the different sections.
Think about a physical store for a moment. Once the overall layout logic is done, a good merchandiser or store owner will find extra creative ways to display some items and tempt the customer. This can be done in a window display or on a prominent display table for example and can be seasonal or colour themed or a cross-section of a category. The same concept works well online. Perhaps through a homepage banner or a ‘customer favourites’ image, you can create additional more temporary ‘mini categories’ to tempt customers into. People love categories like ‘most popular’ and ‘new-in’. Use standout high quality images for these and try to add new ones regularly.
Your secret online superpower!
A powerful search function. Like the google search for your website. Particularly necessary if you sell products across many brands and functions. A great search tool bar will seriously help your customers to find what they need quickly. Most website templates will have a standard one but talk to your developer about upgrading to a more intuitive version that gives multiple suggestions from what the customer types, not just an exact match.
In summary, the nicest products and the sharpest marketing won’t matter if a customer can’t find what they are looking for in your store. You spend a lot of time and dollars to get every person to land on your e-commerce store. Don’t waste it by confusing them when they land there or worse still, bore them! Excite them, put the magic into your merchandising and help those products get sold!