What’s the secret of online merchandise management? Giving store merchandisers the right tools

As a successful in-store boutique manager in 1994, you might have had your merchandisers adorn your street-facing storefront with product displays guided by the season: an assortment of bold-print sundresses accented by bright-colored floppy hats, for instance.

Today, your retail business work environment is radically different. There are still plenty of product lines but no stockroom and no sales representatives. Just you, the company’s online merchandiser. You’re armed with data and sophisticated merchandise management tools, and you curate content for online shoppers who expect only the very best customer experience.

Yes, the domain of merchandise planning has been transformed from “intuitively” creating displays for physical retail-store locations — such as arranging items on store shelves — to engaging in various forms of sophisticated online digital merchandising.

For starters, let’s define ecommerce merchandising. It’s basically the science and art of electronically displaying products to facilitate sales. Merchandiser jobs today combine multiple skills, including data analytics, insight on customer behavior, and aesthetics. The merchandiser must present products in ways that entice online shoppers to look more closely, put them in a virtual shopping cart, and push the Buy button. The role also encompasses timely positioning of the right products in the right digital places. 

From online catalogs to multidimensional experiences

The switch from physical merchandising in retail locations to (often multiple) digital sales channels has undoubtedly been a sea change, but digital merchandising as a genre, in and of itself, has also undergone numerous changes in the past few decades. Online retail operations started with simply displaying clunky catalogs, but they’ve evolved into dynamic personalized shopping experiences that utilize AI and augmented reality to artfully respond to consumer demand.

Along with retail sales migrating to digital shopping platforms, the role of the store merchandiser has been reinvented. Successful digital merchandising is as much about knowing the technological landscape as it is about understanding consumer needs and engaging in the right merchandise decision-making. New tools have enabled merchandisers to test, tweak, and transform their merchandising strategies almost in real time, ensuring that their digital storefronts, along with other modern sales channels, remain fresh, relevant, and aligned with evolving customer expectations.

The store merchandiser role today 

What are the elements of the modern store merchandiser’s duties in this age of omnichannel shopping, and how can they use market-savvy solutions to sell more products?

Whether they’re working full-time or part-time, a store merchandiser job description revolves around ensuring that products are displayed in a manner that entices customers and maximizes sales. Their role is akin to that of a curator for a museum, selecting and arranging their “artifacts” in winning ways that keep customers coming back.

Today’s merchandisers must also interpret complex data to ascertain trends, seasonal shifts, and customer preferences. Store-merchandiser job expertise ensures that despite all the digital noise, their brand presentation remains consistent, engaging, and profitable. The digital merchandiser must bridge raw data and effective online presentation, using their savvy communication skills to craft compelling retail “stories” about both new products and enduring ones.  

Traditional vs. digital merchandising  

The goal of traditional merchandising has always been to entice and influence shoppers. In addition to creating captivating window displays, such merchandising in brick-and-mortar stores involves:

  • Understanding shopper foot-traffic patterns
  • Setting up promotional displays on the sales floor
  • Ensuring that priority items are placed at eye level
  • Subtly encouraging shoppers to make impulsive buying decisions 
  • Enhancing the shopping experience 

As the retail industry has expanded into the digital realm, the role of the store merchandiser has adapted as well. While the basics of retail merchandising remain — like placing best-selling items in prominent places where the shopper can find them — the strategies and tools employed have had to make a paradigm shift.

Obviously store windows, physical aisles, well-dressed mannequins, and other components aren’t a help when selling online. Instead, a store merchandiser must thoroughly understand digital-consumer behavior as it relates to what they’re selling. They must be able to harness data analytics to discern which products are trending, and figure out how best to showcase these items on the website or in the app. So the job of merchandising now comes down to effectively managing banner ads, search results, and product listings. 

For the digital equivalent, those with a job title of merchandiser guide shoppers’ online journeys, ensuring that the products they’re most likely to buy are front and center, plus accompanied by relevant recommendations

A digital store merchandiser’s typical duties include:

  • Selecting products based on market and cultural trends 
  • Making placement decisions for digital spotlights 
  • Decoding shopper behavior, understanding not just what people are buying but how they’re shopping for it. For example, an online shopper may begin by entering a broad search term for a product, then refine their phrasing, zero in on an item, read reviews, check out related items for comparison, fill their cart with a bunch of stuff, delete some of it and add more, and click off of the site and later return to make a purchase. By understanding these types of patterns, a merchandiser can glean valuable insights and tailor accordingly. 
  • Using inventory management systems and aligning stock levels with customer demand forecasts 
  • Adjusting strategies based on near-real-time sales data

More than virtual storefronts 

It’s safe to say that online stores aren’t merely digital reflections of their brick-and-mortar ancestors. 

Ecommerce has revolutionized the ways consumers shop and consider products (and this applies even when they’re just shopping in physical stores). And the transition from traditional retail environments to the digital domain has presented a new set of requirements for merchandisers.

Digital storefronts definitely require a unique approach. Unlike in a physical store — where a shopper may be influenced by the layout, ambience, and behavior of store associates and store managers — online customer experiences are shaped by different parameters. The user interface takes over for the store’s architecture, product category pages and product listing pages act as aisles and shelves, and online checkout is the (not as good) equivalent of standing at the counter, chatting with the salesperson as they ring up your purchases. 

Benefits of ecommerce merchandising  

Ecommerce merchandising offers an array of benefits over traditional merchandising. With online merchandising, you can enjoy:

  • Instantaneous adaptability: In a physical store, to update merchandising, you might have to rearrange the store layout, create new signage, and train staff on new products. In contrast, online store merchandising can be updated fairly instantaneously to respond to trend shifts and stock changes. 
  • Access to rich data: Digital merchandisers have real-time data at their fingertips, allowing them to confidently read the virtual tea leaves and make informed decisions. That’s not something that was ever available in a traditional merchandiser’s bag of tricks.

Challenges of ecommerce merchandising

It’s not all rosy, however. Digital merchandising comes with a few unique challenges as well: 

  • Needing to be on top of trends: What’s popular today in the United States of America might be passé in Europe, or it will be that in the U.S. tomorrow. That means store merchandisers must keep a vigilant eye on current trends and revisit online displays and promotions. 
  • Potential stagnation: At the speed of the Internet, there’s an ever-present risk of content becoming outdated. Regular content updates and refreshes are essential to keep online store merchandise appearing fresh and in tune with customer desires.

Musts of merchandise management online 

Successful ecommerce merchandising is about how you present content to make every shopper glad they came to your site. Critical online merchandising elements include:

  • Good user-interface design: A well-planned, intuitive interface can make the shopping experience feel immensely easy and enjoyable. 
  • Personalized shopping features: Using algorithms and data, online stores can tailor the shopping experience specifically for individual visitors, making them feel valued and showcasing products they’re more likely to be interested in. 
  • Real-time analytics: Accurately discerning user behavior, cart abandonment patterns, and which products are most popular can yield eye-opening realizations and lead to actionable insight. 
  • Visual merchandising appeal: High-quality images, engaging product-oriented videos, and appealing graphics go a long way toward capturing shopper interest. 

From browsing to buying and back for more  

Your ultimate goal as an ecommerce merchant, then, is not just to attract visitors but to handily convert them to happy buyers — and preferably buyers who’ve added upsells to their carts. An efficient merchandise management system ensures a smooth multichannel journey, starting from the moment a potential customer lands on your site and goes through browsing and (with luck) the checkout process. Every touchpoint should feel as though it was designed with customers’ needs in mind. Executed well, good online merchandising practices make the customer want to do it all again.

From a merchandising standpoint, how do you score a win? With the right tools, of course. Modern tools of the trade can streamline your site operations and unlock major opportunities for optimization and growth. They can help your merchandisers be vastly better at their jobs and make their lives easier, plus  increase ROI and profit for your organization.

Limitations of traditional tools  

Ever try to put a round peg in a square hole? It’s a no-brainer that traditional merchandising tools designed for use in brick-and-mortar stores, such as point-of-purchase (POP) displays, manual sales spreadsheets, and physical feedback forms, aren’t ideal, much less relevant for the agile, fast-paced world of ecommerce. When using outdated tools, an inability to quickly process large datasets, lack of real-time adaptability, and a disconnect from the online shopping experience can leave digital merchandisers hamstrung. 

Stand-out digital merch tools  

The shift from sales floors to virtual ones has amplified the importance of the instruments at a merchandiser’s disposal. Traditional methods must be augmented by digital counterparts that can address the complexities and challenges of the online marketplace.

These modern ecommerce merchandising tools are the secret to empowering a store merchandising team to do its level best:

  • AI-driven search and recommendations: By learning from user behavior, preferences, and search patterns, AI-driven tools can let merchandisers delight shoppers with highly personalized product recommendations. 
  • Dynamic pricing: You can respond to market demand and stay competitive with the help of algorithms that automatically adjust pricing based on inventory levels, demand, and competitor pricing. 
  • Integration capabilities: Being able to seamlessly integrate merchandising tools with other platforms, customer relationship management (CRM) tools, enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools, and marketing tools is key. 
  • Intuitive dashboards and visual editors provide an overview of performance metrics and let you make real-time adjustments with drag-and-drop ease. 
  • Mobile optimization: By making your online store look as compelling and function as smoothly on mobile devices as it is and does on desktop computer screens, you can turn the growing number of mobile shoppers to your advantage.

Do your merchandisers need better tools?

Ecommerce business management teams can’t afford to leave their merchandisers grappling with outdated digital tools. Equipping them with the latest tools and automation options (e.g., for automatically implementing markdowns), complemented by a well-thought-out strategy, will amplify their efficacy. As your products are optimally displayed and your target shoppers enjoy a seamless personalized shopping experience, you’ll enjoy enhanced customer loyalty and you could realize a tangible boost in your ROI. 

Ready to elevate your merchandise management to increase sales? As part of our winning search solution for ecommerce businesses, At Algolia, we offers state-of-the-art merchandise management tools that empower the teams in small businesses and large enterprises alike, enabling merchandisers to intelligently craft exceptional online shopping experiences.

Check out our merchandising studio. Like what you see? Contact our sales team members or request a demo. We’re looking forward to showing you just how much we can help!

About the authorCatherine Dee

Catherine Dee

Search and Discovery writer

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