5 Ways to Take Merchandising to the Next Level

By Sarah Etter

July 6, 2012

Getting the right product in front of the right visitor at the right time isn’t easy. If it was, every visitor would convert on their first visit to your website.

A key challenge to online merchandising? Instead of the visual clues in-store sales staff can take from shoppers, ecommerce merchandisers usually only have visitor clicks to base their decisions on, says Kevin Ertell, Chief Marketing Officer of OnlineShoes.com.

Ertell, along with Elizabeth Peaslee, Senior Consulting Director for Creative Good, and Bruce Ernst, Vice President of Product Management for Monetate, discussed the challenge of making products discoverable, considerable, and purchasable during Monetate’s recent “Merchandising Magic” webinar.

Here are five best practices these ecommerce experts shared that will help you merchandise online like a pro:

1. Don’t let merchandising become hiding. There’s a big difference between recommending popular products and making it look like your website only offers those items. Peaslee points to one example: Let’s say a visitor clicks to the section of your website that sells pants. Maybe your Pants page has a strong hero image and three of the most popular products for that category displayed beneath it. If visitors can’t scroll down to see even more pants, or there’s no way to click through to view the rest of your selection, it gives visitors the impression your website only sells three different pants products. So make sure you give visitors the ability to click past your most popular products to see the rest of the items you offer.

2. Recreate the in-store experience. One simple way to improve your merchandising is to look at the best parts of your in-store experience and try to replicate them online. Ertell recalls working at Borders and bringing laptops to work so in-store customers could surf the Borders website and give feedback on the site’s features. During this process, Borders discovered that almost 100% of in-store shoppers loved stopping by the book tables set up at the front of the store, an experience that was lacking at Borders.com. So the retailer built this preference into its website, creating a homepage that looked like a wooden table full of books that visitors could scroll through. Replicating the in-store browsing experience online delighted the website’s visitors.

3. Make sure your search gets the job done. One of the most important things you can do is review trends in your website’s search feature, says Ernst. People can’t buy what they can’t find, and search plays a big part in the product discovery process. Most analytics reports will show the “failure rate” in searches (when a search engine returns zero results on a search). But that’s not the real search failure rate. If a visitor gets search results that don’t match their needs and leaves the website, that’s just as bad as a search that returns zero results. So instead of relying on search failure rate alone, add that statistic to the number of people who get to your search results page and then leave the site. That’s your real search failure rate. And if you discover that your search results failure rate is too high, try implementing features like predictive search and visual search which will enable visitors to see products while searching as well as get suggestions for better refining their search. It should help lower that rate.

4. Let your images sell your products. If you have money for photos, use it. Here’s why: Photography replaces a visitor having the ability to pick an item up in a store, says Peaslee. She adds that visitors have come to expect a full array of product images. So invest in great photography, and favor quality over bells and whistles. Peaslee explains that having six high-quality product shots is better than a lower resolution 360-spin feature. Visitors want to see the quality and texture of the product, so go high-res over low-res every time.

5. Highlight product reviews. Peaslee notes that consumer reviews are second only to photos when it comes to helping visitors make a purchasing decision. If you don’t provide reviews or ratings, visitors will likely leave your website to find them somewhere else. And there’s good news about negative reviews: They actually help visitors make purchasing decisions, and improve their view of your brand. Visitors want to know if that negative review impacts them, or if the reviewer had a personal problem with the product that doesn’t apply to them. So instead of deleting negative reviews, let them work in concert with positive customer feedback to better help your visitors decide whether or not they should buy.

These are just some of the great tips these experts discussed during the webinar. If you want to find out more about best practices for online merchandising, access the full webinar for free.

Sarah Etter is the former the senior editor at Monetate. Before joining Monetate, she was a writer for various online and print publications, and served as the associate editor of The Internet & Marketing Report newsletter. Sarah also loves fiction writing and ice hockey... yes, ice hockey.

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