What is ecommerce merchandising? Key components and best practices

A potential customer is about to land on the home page of your ecommerce platform, curious to see what cool products you’ve got to offer, or they’re on a mission to find something specific by comparing similar items from several retail stores.

Is your ecommerce business merchandising ready to lead her on a user-friendly, revenue-generating shopping journey attuned to her customer preferences? One that results in her enthusiastically filling her virtual shopping cart, checking out, and leaving with a bag of goodies she can’t wait to receive on her doorstep?

Chances are you’re well aware of the ecommerce merchandising best practices for providing a winning user experience. You have years of online merchandising strategy experience. You’ve mastered fine-tuning how your site works, and you excel at keeping your merchandising team on its toes. 

So you’re ready to welcome this shopper with open virtual arms.

But in the world of ecommerce merchandising, things can move fast. The latest techniques are not always enduring, and with AI becoming ever more pervasive in ecommerce, the current hot strategies are continually being tweaked — if not swept out of the way, in some cases — to make room for ever more cutting-edge techniques.

For instance: are you still using manual digital merchandising? Much of the work your merchandisers are doing as part of their job descriptions probably comes down to crunching numbers. Aided by artificial intelligence (AI), you can do it much more efficiently, plus when you automate certain tasks, you can free up your merchandisers to focus on higher-level concerns that could substantively help improve your metrics. 

With that in mind, here’s a mini refresher course on the very latest results-producing tactics and technological functionality for online merchandising success.

AI merchandising banner

What is ecommerce merchandising?

You probably know the importance of strong merchandising on site in a brick-and-mortar store and how it can lead shoppers to convert. You know the differences between effective in-store merchandising and the more-complex online version. You’re aware of how increasing your conversion rates can be a tricky undertaking, and you understand that the customer experience must be pretty close to perfect. Shoppers in your online store, whether they’re couch surfing or just browsing, expect to be showered with retail “affection” perks: personalized suggestions, engaging navigation, convenient buying options, and overall enjoyment.

You know ecommerce merchandising is geared around optimizing how products are displayed online. You know success is driven by creating a strong and consistent brand identity, attractively designing your site and including enticing product shots, grouping products in the right ways, making intelligent recommendations; in short, providing an engaging user experience from start to the making of purchasing decisions to finally purchasing.

Strategic online merchandising starts with consistent, high-quality, site design that bolsters your branding with a professional look. However, it continues far beyond to touch all aspects of the shopping experience. It is highlighting, in various ways, the items you want shoppers to consider. It’s offering a consistent path for shoppers regardless of where they start or end on the site (or in another buying channel). Effective online merchandising makes sure your prospects are presented with the most relevant products for them, in the most satisfying way, so that they’ll have no trouble pressing the Buy button.

What an ecommerce merchandiser does

Ecommerce merchandising envelops a huge amount of considerations. It could easily be considered an art form. Which is why some companies turn over their merchandising to a professional ecommerce merchandising specialist — or a dedicated ecommerce team — that can examine their customer data and make sure everything from banner content to search results is aligning with shoppers’ needs. An ecommerce site merchandiser can manage the inventory and ensure that all product listings and marketing campaigns are optimized for the best results. With all the tasks needed in modern ecommerce, the skills required for ecommerce merchandising specialist jobs are comprehensive.

That said, you don’t necessarily need a specialist, especially if you or your marketing team has years of experience with ecommerce. With a little review of your processes, you can take any needed steps to ensure that your online merchandising is fully top-notch.

Three focus points

Let’s start with the basics: you have three places to impress your site visitors with thoughtful ecommerce merchandising: your home page, your category pages, and your product listing pages.

  • The home page is akin to a physical-store window display, letting people know what types of products you offer, maybe highlighting your latest promotions and trending products, with easy navigation and a prominently placed search box.
  • Category pages are like the entrances to the departments in a department store. They’re the place to promote your product lines, point out the best-selling items in a category, and along with the best sellers, include a menu of filters for attributes such as price, color, and size.
  • Product-detail pages are the virtual staging grounds for your individual items, including helpful user-generated content such as product reviews. Product pages may also be used as landing pages, for instance, if you’ve optimized their site content for search engine optimization (SEO) and someone has found them by searching Google or Bing and clicking straight in. 

The latest online merchandising best practices

Be a social-media pro

Effective merchandising can start long before a shopper decides to visit your site. If you haven’t already, consider the prospective impact of building a social-media presence on a site like Facebook or Instagram and linking posts and promotional content to your website. This gives people who otherwise might not know about you a starting point. Plus, when people start exploring what you’re about, they may comment positively on your products in their feeds, supplying legitimizing “social proof” that can go a long way in engendering trust. 

Step up your visual merchandising

In the real world, it’s always been the case that seeing is believing. Effective ecommerce merchandising tools, too, incorporate captivating visual elements that grab online shoppers’ attention as they’re clicking around or discovering the fruits of product launches on your website.

Good visual merchandising — presenting items in an aesthetically pleasing way that catches shoppers’ eyes — can boost your average order value (AOV) and keep those enchanted customers coming back. Never underestimate the ability of good design and professional photography, along with carefully crafted, intriguing product descriptions and cross-site “story-telling” content that can draw shoppers in to learn more.

Maybe you’ve got that covered. How comprehensive have you been? Nowadays, you also need to extend the winning visual effect to the whole omnichannel user experience, so that whether people are online, in your physical shop or store, or both, they feel a comforting sense of brand synchronicity. 

As a refresher, a retail website that’s optimized for sound merchandising features these visual elements:

  • A modern user interface with colorful design, uncluttered layout, user-focused copy, and professional product images
  • Easy, well-placed navigation menus and links
  • A prominently placed search bar with autocomplete
  • Information on best sellers and highly rated items
  • Attractively presented promotional content (e.g., discounts)
  • A mobile-device-optimized display for the same quality of user experience when people are on their phones

Collect enough data

You have an accomplished merchandising team and your site is well designed; now what? One thing that hasn’t changed when undertaking the creation of a successful ecommerce merchandising strategy is the importance of amassing plenty of detailed shopper data ahead of time so that the right steps can then be taken to appeal to shoppers’ apparent needs.

One option for getting and organizing this information is to use a tool such as Google Analytics, which collects details like where people are physically located, the length of time they spend browsing on a website, and average order values (AOV). This type of detailed information can be a starting point for establishing overall site merchandising direction, determining the right product promotions for the target audience, and optimally aligning site features with users’ needs. 

Personalize the shopping experience

When it comes to ecommerce merchandising these days, pretty much everything revolves around personalization. That’s because online consumers love it: “nearly all consumers (91 percent) are…more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide them with relevant offers and recommendations,” according to Accenture.

What’s new here? Thanks to evolving AI technology, as is the case with whatever AI touches, there are dramatic improvements. Retailers can now much more expertly figure out people’s buying intentions and inject the right personalization into their shopping experiences in response. 

Make personalized product recommendations

For a while now, online retailers have been able to recommend complementary products based on what people have clicked on or bought, what shoppers with similar demographics have bought, what’s in their cart, what they abandoned earlier.

What’s changed? Now, you can harness the power of AI to go a step further in that process. You can effectively merchandise recommendations to align with your brand and business goals, activating a proven formula for maximizing conversions.

Provide easy navigation

There are two kinds of online shoppers (or, at least, two modes of online shopping): those who know what they want and those who don’t — they just want to wander around and see what might catch their eye. In their customer journey, they’re open to the joy of prospective product discovery as opposed to the focused act of doing a search.

That means it’s important for them to be able to rely on easy, intuitive navigation to aid them in any browsing they may undertake, whether they’re content to survey whole categories from the top level or they prefer to root around in a few product lines. It comes down to your providing not only the right links but the right filtering and facet menus. And again, AI can provide clues to the most accurate ways of doing that.

Merchandise, searchandise

You know a thing or two about ecommerce marketing and merchandising, but how informed are you about searchandising? It sounds cute, but searchandising — the act of curating search results in order to drive up conversions and KPIs for your ecommerce store — is a proven tool for ecommerce merchandising. Think about it: every search query offers an in-depth look at what people want and the nitty-gritty of how they’re going about finding it on your site. Search is a gold mine of merchandising ideas for you and your team, and searchandising is the gold- mining techniques you have at your disposal. 

How does searchandising get results? It leverages ranking, the order in which search results are presented. Being able to control search ranking allows you to offer your shoppers what you want them to see first. That’s key, because people often click the first search result. For example, 35% of Amazon visitors do that. And why wouldn’t they when the algorithm clearly knows what’s best for them?

What’s new, then, in searchandising? AI- and machine-learning-based search engines are arguably more effective than the keyword-based engines of the past. You can leverage AI power to strategically place the right items in shoppers’ search queries, setting up automatic rules based on clickstream details, inventory management, and product attributes. 

Here are a few ways you can strengthen your merchandising:

  • Promote related items. When a customer views a product in a site search interface, you can immediately show them related products or content, increasing the possibility of a cross-selling or upselling purchase.
  • Include promotional banners in search results when people enter certain queries in the search box. For instance, add category-specific promotions when they’re searching  for a certain type of item.
  • Promote seasonal or new products.
  • Customize based on user profiles
  • Offer filters and facets to let people quickly narrow their search scope. 
  • Redirect to a popular query. When someone on a shopping journey searches for an item your business wants to promote, send them to a page curated with related content.
  • Use autocomplete and query suggestions to improve click-through by speeding up the search process, while nudging users toward specific products
  • Provide visual suggestions such as product images and highlighted text, which instantly get people’s attention

Want to positively wow your shoppers with a fulfilling customer experience on your website from arrival to checkout, and in the process, do wonders for your bottom line? Need a reputable ecommerce specialist to help you get better results?

You’re in the right place. Let’s talk about how you can boost your ROI by bringing your ecommerce website searchandising practices up to align with the industry’s latest digital marketing standards.

About the authorCatherine Dee

Catherine Dee

Search and Discovery writer

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