Brick-and-mortar stores have long used visual merchandising to great effect.
Consider the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, when Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly gazes at the window display of the aforementioned luxury retailer.
In ecommerce, your website and your digital content are your shop windows. With a thoughtful ecommerce merchandising strategy in place, online stores can grab the attention of shoppers and leave a lasting impression—just as if that person had walked by a beautifully curated window display.
What is ecommerce merchandising?
Ecommerce merchandising is the way in which products are organized and displayed in an online store.
The above, from athleisure brand Outdoor Voices, is a good example of ecommerce merchandising in action. The photos for each specific product are clear—showing how the cloth falls and fits on the body—and each product has a name, a brief description, and the different colorways. The design of the page is clean, with plenty of white space, making the products stand out and the site’s navigation and search bar prominent and easy to find. Each of these elements is a part of the brand’s overall ecommerce merchandising strategy.
4 Components of an ecommerce merchandising strategy
An effective merchandising strategy makes it easy for customers to find the specific products they’re looking for. To do so, ecommerce sites should incorporate four key elements: brand identity, layout, product grouping, and recommendations.
A good merchandising strategy will consider your ecommerce site’s brand identity—that is, the visual representation of your brand.
Brand identity includes elements like your logo, your style, and your color palette. Ideally, these elements come together to create a unique experience—one that your customers can easily associate with your brand—without distracting from the products you offer. This brand identity should remain consistent so that your ecommerce site is recognizable and familiar to repeat customers—they know what they’re getting when they come to your site, both in terms of experience and in terms of product.
User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) describe two different facets of your ecommerce site’s design. UX design is the overall experience of a person visiting your online store. UI design, meanwhile, is the aesthetic, look, and feel of your online store. Together, these two elements make up the visual organization and identity of your homepages, landing pages, and product pages, and should be executed in an intuitive, user-friendly way.
Considering UX/UI design in the context of ecommerce merchandising includes factors such as:
- Attention-grabbing imagery: To make sure customers stay on your ecommerce site, include images and other media that encourage them to explore your products and offers.
- An effective and easy-to-use search bar: A big part of ecommerce merchandising is helping customers find what they want. That means including a search bar that is easy to find and offers predictive search results.
- Intuitive navigation: Some online shoppers aren’t sure what they want when they come to your online store. For these customers, your goal is to help them browse and find something that appeals to them. In practice, this means making your site’s navigation as intuitive as possible and putting product and category pages where your customers expect to find them.
Online merchandising also includes curation, the practice of grouping specific products with common attributes.
You can curate products on your online store by grouping products with similar attributes—i.e., material, collection, or function—so that customers feel inspired when they browse and empowered to make a decision that aligns with their needs.
As an example, think about a category page for an ecommerce site that sells home furniture. There will likely be a category page for furniture, and a subcategory page for living room furniture, where couches, chairs, and more are grouped. Curation would take this a step further, for example, by grouping all midcentury modern furniture together, in order to offer your customer a bit of a creative spark.
Curation can also mean linking together trending products and offers. Use a prominent space on your landing page to recommend your highest-rated products plus any current discounts, sales, or promos (like free shipping).
Lastly, a good merchandising strategy will utilize personalizedproduct recommendations, personalizing the products that are recommended to specific customers based on their unique search and purchase history.
Personalized product recommendations are generated by an algorithm, using one or many of an online shopper’s data points: browsing or purchase history, location, or even information they’ve included in their personal profile.
In practice, online shoppers could see these product recommendations on a product page where they are currently browsing; in a pop-up as they navigate to checkout; or even in an email reminding them to return to your site after they’ve abandoned their cart.
How is ecommerce merchandising different from traditional visual merchandising?
Both ecommerce merchandising and traditional visual merchandising are all about how products are displayed to customers to influence their purchasing decisions. But given that one happens online and one happens in real life, they rely on different strategies.
In person, shoppers rely on sensory information—what they can see, touch, hear, and even smell. (Remember that distinct fragrance wafting out of Abercrombie & Fitch stores?)
Brick-and-mortar merchandisers bring their brand to life inside a store’s four walls. Customers can be inspired by beautiful visual displays and have a tactile experience with the products. Most importantly, shoppers can rely on the experience of store employees: According to Deloitte, 48% of shoppers say that a knowledgeable store associate increases their likelihood of making a purchase. Personalization is based on an individual, like a store associate, rather than user data.
Visual merchandising uses some of the same elements as online merchandising to tailor the way products are presented. Establishing a brand identity helps traditional retailers become more recognizable to shoppers. And product groupings help shoppers navigate brick-and-mortar stores, whether they’ve been there before or not. But key elements like personalization via data-based product recommendations just aren’t possible with physical stores.
Ecommerce merchandising, by contrast, hinges on personalization: Accenture found that 91% of consumers say they are more likely to shop with brands that recognize them, remember them, and provide personalized offers and recommendations.
Thanks to the amount of user data available to online sellers, stores can track customer movements around their website and leverage those insights to create a shopping experience that is customized to individual shoppers.
3 strategies for effective ecommerce merchandising
Building an effective ecommerce merchandising strategy isn’t as simple as replicating what shoppers experience in-store. Instead, ecommerce sites need to make the most of their medium with the following tools:
1. Mobile optimization
One-third of internet users in the US buy something online with their mobile phones every week. So having a mobile-optimized online store—or better yet, a dedicated ecommerce app—is crucial.
Make good use of your category pages to ensure that your site is well organized and easy to navigate. Keep an eye on your site speed, too: According to Google, even a one-second site speed improvement can increase mobile conversions 27%.
2. Optimize search results with autocomplete
Autocomplete search—sometimes called predictive search—automatically suggests a relevant recommendation to online shoppers as they’re typing in the search box. Meaning if you started to type in “toner” at a site like Sephora, the search results would autocomplete the word, suggest additional terms like “toners” and “toner spray,” and even list some of the most popular toners in stock.
With the right predictive search tool in place, ecommerce sites can guide online shoppers, offer product recommendations, and even correct misspellings and omitted characters. This translates into boosted conversion rates and higher customer satisfaction.
3. Make it personal
As noted above, personalization plays a significant role in ecommerce merchandising. Use product recommendations to help guide online shoppers on their customer journey. Utilize an algorithm that groups similar products. That way, if they’re interested in a specific piece of clothing, you can automatically suggest one or more complementary items. Or utilize retargeting, a paid ad strategy that lets you show ads on different platforms and sites to people who have visited your website.
At its core, ecommerce merchandising makes shopping online easy for customers. And by making good use of shoppers’ data with personalized product recommendations, it can encourage online shoppers to keep coming back, too.
A well-defined merchandising strategy enables online stores to guide shoppers through their customer journey, boost sales, and establish a loyal customer base. All in all, ecommerce merchandising is an essential consideration for any ecommerce site.