eCommerce Merchandising Playbook

10 Areas to Optimize Your eCommerce Merchandising Strategy for Your Business

Top 10 eCommerce Merchandising Strategies

Merchandisers are the backbone of any business. Charged with a plethora of roles, the merchandiser is responsible for inventory, catalogs, pricing, promotions, analyzing shopping behavior, and online/in-store visual appeal – all under the umbrella of driving revenue. No small feat. With so many moving parts, it’s key to have the right tools and strategies to effectively accomplish, and surpass, revenue goals and build consumer trust.

A typical day in the life of a merchandiser differs from online to in-store, many merchandisers find themselves in a hybrid model with the challenge of unifying the shopping experience regardless of how customers discover the product and complete the purchase AND keep the customer coming back.

For the purposes of this guide, we’ll present ten areas to optimize your eCommerce merchandising strategy:

  1. eCommerce Personalization
  2. Virtual Storefront
  3. User Generated Content for eCommerce
  4. Cart Checkout
  5. Product Bundling
  6. eCommerce Product Descriptions Best-Practices
  7. Customer-led Approach
  8. Banners
  9. eCommerce Search
  10. Website Load Time

1. eCommerce Personalization

You must know your customers if you’re going to sell to them and most importantly, win their trust. One of the drawbacks of selling products online is the relative anonymity of a customer base. Using an analytics and personalization tools, you’ll get a wealth of insight about online traffic:

  • How are they finding your site? What keywords did they use to find you?
  • How long are they spending on your site? What pages are they visiting?
  • Where are they located?
  • What device are they using?

Not only is this data useful to your site or app developers, it’s also useful to you as a merchandiser to see what products shoppers are looking for, interacting with, and ultimately purchasing.

The concept of personalization uses a shopper’s behavior to inform experiences. Here are two examples of personalization in action:

ecommerce_personalization_mobile_amazon

A personalized app screen at the time of login shows recommendations based on what the shopper has purchased before. This experience even asks the shopper to rate those options to further capture exactly what the shopper is looking for and prefers.

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This experience features a product details page, based on what the shopper viewed or purchased in a previous session. Quite often phrased as “You might like” this provides the shopper with more options without the need for them to continue scrolling or searching for similar products. (Kudos to Charlotte Tilbury for also providing a full range payment options front and center near the cart.)

There are endless ways to tailor a personalized customer experience using data collected from customers. Just as you see relevant news stories pop up on your feed based on your interests, the same is true for shoppers. Let’s say you’re a B2C/B2B retailer of home goods and furnishings, and you’re looking to push out a new item from a popular designer. You can create a personalized homepage only for those visitors who’ve shown interest in or purchased items from that same designer or brand.

Consider how to best use data on customers within a loyalty program tracked in your CRM. Using this data, create a custom promotion, with specific inventory known to be bestsellers from those shoppers, special pricing, as well as a dedicated landing page featuring each item only visible to that group.

Elastic Path’s Catalog Composer allows the flexibility to create numerous catalogs, hierarchies, special pricing, and promotions; no more rigid rules or waiting on IT support. You’ll also have more control over product variations, bundles, and parent/child variations.

2. Virtual Storefront

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Presentation is everything; especially powerful when selling a product sight unseen to a customer. But how does that translate from the physical world to the virtual world?

Product imagery is everything. Just as the customer wants to touch and even try on the sweater in store, that experience must be accessible to the virtual customer. High quality, detailed imagery that shows the product from many angles helps tell the story, along with close ups of the product to show details depending on its function; in the case of clothing and accessories you’ll want to show close-ups of texture and stitching. In the case of electronics, closeups tell the story of how the device operates, where buttons or functions are located, and the device’s finish. You may also consider using a 360-view function activated as the image is hovered over or clicked through to enhance the experience.

Grouping products together by category is just as essential in-store versus online. How you do that online is up to you but can include brand, use, style, color, size, or by features. It’s easier for your customer to find what they’re looking for using the navigation bar or the search function, and once you’ve established category pages, it’s easier to build out promotions and sales events based on these categories and how they perform.

Your homepage is the first impression your customers have just as your physical storefront. Take the opportunity to promote your highest performing products and those that are trending according to your market research and what is selling in your product mix.

Diverse content, such as product demos or tutorials further enhance your product story. Studies show conversion rates can increase by as much as 86% when video is used on landing pages.

Virtual and augmented reality have created dynamic opportunity to improve the shopping experience, especially when making highly personal or big-ticket purchases online. You may have seen applications to virtually try-on eyewear or have the ability to “preview” what a couch or large accent piece would look like in a room prior to purchase. These applications reduce trial and error and the frustrating consequence of having to return an item.

3. User Generated Content for eCommerce

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But let’s take the visual component one step further; essential to a customer’s buying decision is knowing how other people have experienced the product. Imagery is simply not enough to win trust and close the deal. Customers demand to see real products on real people.

Brands invite customers to engage with specific products and use a hashtag on social media as a proof point. The benefits are manifold: you’re moving product, inspiring confidence, and creating a sense of exclusivity and curiosity around the items or brand. You may also develop a relationship with an influencer in your industry who will develop ongoing content surrounding your products.

More and more merchandisers are using this content in crossover capacities; you may see customer photos or video content in-store or in email marketing campaigns.

Customer reviews are invaluable to the buying journey. Reviews are known to increase conversions by as much as 270%, with a majority of shoppers (82%) seeking out negative reviews. Word of mouth matters, and shoppers not only seek it out they clearly trust it. Give your customers an opportunity to review your products in their own words and make it accessible online.

Check Out Our Ultra Flexible Product Variations

Product Variations allow eCommerce teams to create up to 10,000 variations in seconds to account for varying product attributes such as size, color, material, fit and more. Compared to traditional platforms that only allow for 200 variations, this is a 50X increase in the industry standard!

 

Go to Product Variations Blog

4. Cart Checkout

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Always be testing. It pays to kick the tires and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. As a merchandiser, one of your goals is to make the buying process as painless, engaging, and informed as possible. Try secret shopping by placing an order and walking through the checkout process as a shopper. A few points to consider:

  • Is the cart continuously visible throughout the shopping experience? Research shows keeping a clear, uncluttered line of sight to the cart reduces abandonment.
     
  • Do you allow your customers to checkout in any way they choose? Allowing options for account sign-in or guest checkout prove invaluable to the customer. It pays to not force the issue.
     
  • What payments do you accept? Short answer: accept the payments customers prefer. With the advent of mobile payments, i.e. digital wallets, and the trending BNPL (Buy Now, Pay Later) shoppers are looking for more flexibility with their options to complete the purchase on their terms. (Think PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, etc.)
     
  • Do you have email or push notifications after a cart is abandoned? What messaging is included? This is another opportunity to connect with the customer by offering a discount or suggesting another product similar to what they had in the cart. You may also take this time to promote an upcoming sale.

5. Product Bundling

Widely used in online stores, bundles are a great way to increase average order size. You’ll need to ask yourself a few questions to see if bundling is an effective tactic for your business:

  1. Although bundling increases average order size, it does lower individual product margins. Choose products you can afford to bundle.
     
  2. Does your eCommerce platform support it? (Affirmative: Elastic Path platforms do!)
     
  3. Do your customer’s buying habits support it?

If the answer is yes, you’ll want to decide which bundling style works best for your products, here are a few examples:

  • Pure Bundling – items can only be purchased within a bundle, not sold separately. You may see this typically in cable television services where the customer can’t pick and choose the specific channels in the lineup
     
  • Mix & Match – items are selected by the customer in set quantities. An example of this is the “Pick 6” trend for craft beer, giving customers some choice and control over the transaction. Mix & Watch works well with perishables to move inventory quickly, and with items in large quantities
     
  • Gift Sets – Typically offered around the holidays, gift sets take the guesswork and time out of gift giving for the busy shopper and exude confidence in the quality and the luxury of the gift. Such bundles can be tailored for specific recipients i.e. coffee lovers, spa package, movie fans, etc.
     
  • BOGO-style – Great for use with slower moving, more expensive items where the offer includes a discount or free gift with purchase, or as a percentage discount when the customer hits a cart threshold
     
  • Occasion – Ideal for limited time offers around a holiday or gift-giving occasion
     
  • New/Lesser Known – Intended to attract attention to new product launches, or lesser-known products by combining them with popular bestsellers
     
  • Upsell/Cross-Sell – the upsell bundle is used to offer a pricier upgrade along with accessories or additional related items, while the cross-sell uses the same logic but with complementary items to the original intended purchase. A sporting goods package is an example of an upsell bundle. For the skier who is looking for the next model up, you may create a bundle of skis, bindings, boots, and goggles to outfit the customer for the upcoming season with a single pricing model.

6. eCommerce Product Description Best-Practices

A product description can make or break a sale. With the right mix of storytelling and SEO, you can bridge the gaps between window shopping, making the sale, and securing a loyal customer for the long haul.

Know your audience. And with the wealth of data on shopping behavior you have through analytics and the power of keywords you have what you need to be unstoppable. Where a particular product, and its customer base, may call for short and sweet bullet points to describe form and function, another may call for more prose.

Here is a contrast and comparison of product descriptions based on customer analytics. The first experience includes bullet points; information about fabric care, sizing, and where the product is made.

athleta_ecommerce_merchandising_product_page

j_crew_ecommerce_merchandising

(Figure 2)

While the second example speaks more to the experience the customer wishes to have with the item. You’ll notice the same tabs are included for the product specs, but this description is designed for the customer who may be looking for a special occasion outfit; including a recommendation of the accessories paired with the item for the ultimate finishing touches.

Other points to consider:

  • If you have a particularly technical product, spend time describing how the product differentiates from a competitor. Before your customer can ask the question, answer it in the description.
     
  • Are you telling the whole story? Provide as much detail and information as you can within the item’s page. Is this a clothing item? Include a sizing chart and include reviews of how other customers experienced the fit. For big ticket items such as furnishings or accent pieces consider integrating VR applications so a customer sees a visual representation of what the item may look like in their home. The last thing you want is for the item to be returned, with a dissatisfied customer in a position to influence other’s buying decisions.
     
  • Product descriptions are another area to recommend products as part of a personalization strategy (if you like this… consider this). Also consider the power of suggestion within this area for items that would complement the purchase in an upsell capacity.
     
  • Use a conversational, natural tone and pepper the description with SEO keywords while maintaining an authentic voice.
     
  • Elastic Path solutions allow for you to make updates and/or changes without the need for developer support. You are empowered to make changes around product variations, bundling, and pricing without consulting or employing IT support.

7. Customer-led Approach

Like personalization, customization has more to do with putting power into your customers’ hands on the content they see. A few examples include:

  • Filtering by product attribute – customizing a search to filter by price, size, color, or any number of criteria the customer chooses from a dropdown menu puts the decision making in their hands and allows them to quickly drill down to what they want.
     
  • When a customer opts in to receive emails from you, ask them what their preferences are instead of choosing the cadence on your schedule.
     
  • Curating a made-to-order experience for a shopper based on features of their choosing; iterations of this tactic in the virtual marketplace include building a custom flower bouquet for a loved one, designing a custom watch from a selection of watch face and band options, or creating a unique engagement ring from the comfort of home.

8. Banners

Just as you’d outfit a brick and mortar with POS signage and displays, your online store requires the same attention to create excitement and drive sales. This is not a monthly cadence, but a weekly maybe daily occurrence depending on your inventory and the season. A few tips to consider when working alongside your web or marketing team to create the assets:

  • Impactful, well-designed banners create excitement and spur action from the shopper
     
  • If you’re using banner ads from a manufacturer, balance those with your own store’s personality and product mix
     
  • Don’t create sensory overload; no one wants to see stacks upon stacks of offers and CTAs as they’re navigating a site
     
  • Create special sales or offers and use the banner to link to a dedicated landing page with those items
     
  • Use alt tags so search engines identify what you’re offering

9. eCommerce Search

Having a solid merchandising plan is not enough in this day and age of the discerning online consumer. It’s time to invest in next level tooling and partner integrations to facilitate the customer journey.

Virtual Fitting Rooms - offering comparable shopping experiences to meet your customer where they are is crucial. Just as you offer changing rooms in a brick and mortar, you can offer the same experience virtually. Gaining in popularity especially during the pandemic when physical stores closed, or barred the use of changing rooms, customers needed a virtual option.

Photography/Imagery - services like Shutter Stream offer additional merchandizing support without incurring the cost of a professional photographer. The application allows for image creation and editing for all skill levels to help you automate yet maintain high quality results on your site.

Enable and enhance search function – Elastic Path partners with many vendors to bring the next level of eCommerce platform solutions to market. One of the functions heavily influenced by merchandizing is how your customers interact with online search; how they find what they’re looking for, how it’s displayed, and how they interact with those results. When you partner with an eCommerce platform provider, they work with you to find the best integrations for what your business requires. Search is proven to increase conversion. Internal searchers are 216% more likely to convert than regular users. Despite this statistic, only 15% of companies have resources dedicated to optimizing it.

Heatmaps and Behavior Analytics – while a tool like Google Analytics can give you the detail of what happens on your site as far as conversion and bounce rates, it does not provide insight as to the why. More advanced analytic tooling such as HotJar or Lucky Orange provide you with specific feedback as to why a customer may leave your site through session recordings, what information is missing they were looking for, or where they spend the most time on your site and why.

10. Website Load Times

You are in more control of the optimal customer experience. Google user experience metrics inform how to create the fastest, most efficient user experience. Aside from the proven tenants of UI/UX design consider the following metrics when gauging how fast your customers are willing to wait to engage in your site/dedicated app:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – measures perceived load times and marks the point where the page’s main content has likely loaded. Reducing the LCP helps the user see essential content faster.

First Input Delay (FID) – measures responsiveness from when a user first interacts with the page and how fast the page responds to the action. Going back to the matter of milliseconds a site must meet to satisfy a user, this metric is key but can be tricker to measure.

Cumulative Layer Shift (CLS) – measures visual stability because it helps quantify how often users experience unexpected layout shifts, as in when an ad or other unexpected content pops up from a clinked link. A low CLS ensures intrusive ads or banners won’t disrupt the experience and ultimately drive users away.

Ultimately your customers are looking for consistent, engaging experiences across channels. That means your efforts must resonate from the physical storefront to the billboard, to your website and dedicated app, and across all types of devices.

Visual commerce goes beyond branding and UX/UI design, into the realm of unique, tech-forward shopping experiences that entice the shopper to purchase and return for the same, if not better, experience. Whatever is created in-store to attract and excite shoppers can and should be replicated online with the right tech in your eCommerce platform.

It’s all in the dedicated app

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With smartphones dominating the mobile commerce landscape, the app has become essential to the shopping experience. Converting at a much higher rate than web, businesses must now develop apps to stay competitive in the market. Shopping app usage rose globally mid-2021 with Android users clocking in at 2 billion hours per week. While this number is arguably influenced by the COVID pandemic, research supports mobile app shopping overwhelmingly leads the pack and will continue that trajectory.

As you develop your eCommerce strategy going forward consider the following:

You’re no longer ahead of the game with an optimized mobile site. The dedicated mobile app is the preferred way to shop from discovery to purchase; an overwhelming 78% of shoppers would prefer to access a store via app than through a mobile website.

Do you find your customers appreciate the reassurance of a live salesperson? Chatbots fill that role in an online store. In fact, many customers prefer a chatbot to emailing or calling when issues arise within their online cart. You can use the chatbot feature as a personal shopper in the virtual world with real-time recommendations and responses to product questions.

You can have the best of both worlds in virtual and in-store experiences, in fact, shoppers demand it. You as a merchandiser are on the frontlines of the demand for better experiences.

Looking for other ways to streamline your day-to-day merchandising activities?

Discover how Elastic Path can help you better manage your merchandising needs, from product variations to managing multiple catalogs and more with this this on-demand demo of Catalog Composer.

 

Watch Catalog Composer Demo