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Ebook | 24 minute read

eCommerce Merchandising 101: The Ultimate Playbook for Digital Merchandising Success

Optimize your business’s eCommerce merchandising strategy to win business and drive revenue

Merchandisers are the backbone of any commerce business. Charged with a plethora of roles, the merchandiser is responsible for inventory, catalogs, pricing, promotions, analyzing shopping behavior, and visually appealing storefronts both online and in-store. Each and every part of the merchandiser’s role is about driving revenue.

In the age of eCommerce, the importance of merchandising has become even more important. After all, when you sell online, you’re not just competing with the shop down the road – your merchandising stands in comparison to everything else available on the internet.

Even if it seems imposing, effective eCommerce merchandising has the ability to turbocharge revenue and bottom-line results for your business. Learn about digital merchandising, how online merchandising has changed, and eCommerce merchandising strategies that can help your business. Throughout, see how Elastic Path Composable Commerce – especially Product Experience Manager – unlocks eCommerce merchandising success.

What is eCommerce merchandising?

eCommerce merchandising – also known as digital merchandising, online merchandising, and site merchandising – is the practice of putting the right product in front of the right customer at the right time.

Effective eCommerce merchandising means displaying products in ways that increase conversion, sales, and site revenue. That includes making products easier to find. Think of your online store as an extension of a traditional, brick-and-mortar shopping experience. In a store, selected products are more visible to shoppers. Designated sections of the store sell specific types of products. Some sections of the store may exclusively include for-sale products. Customers know where to go to get what they want – and ideally, they walk out with more than they originally intended to buy.

eCommerce merchandising operates on the same principles. Digital merchandising is about displaying your products so that consumers buy them, and attracting customers that are likely to buy your products.

Why is digital merchandising important?

Simply, online merchandising is important because digital shopping has never been more popular and is becoming even more common. Today, about one in five retail purchases take place online; by 2026, one in four purchases will happen online.

Many businesses see an even greater share of their sales take place online, with many digital-native businesses reporting a majority – or even all – of their revenues being realized through eCommerce.

Digital commerce comes with tremendous opportunities – namely, being able to reach customers around the world – but is also imperative for many businesses to stay competitive. Having snazzy stores and fast-talking sales associates is no longer enough. Consumers will likely expect to see your products online, and the way that your products are merchandised will determine whether people buy them and how the market sees your brand.

The evolution of online merchandising

eCommerce merchandising has changed with the growth of the internet. One of the biggest digital merchandising changes has been an increased emphasis on omnichannel commerce experiences. Mobile commerce, in particular, has become a much more regular way to buy goods and services online.

Digital merchandising has also evolved over time to place a greater emphasis on customer personalization. In the early days of the internet, having a boilerplate experience for all customers was acceptable. Now, curated experiences are an expectation for many consumers.

Finally, online merchandising has evolved in that it’s more and more likely to be the place where customers start their commerce journey. At one time, consumers would have turned to online shopping after being told in-store or over the phone that an item was best bought online. Now, customers are more likely to first search for products online. Strong site merchandising ensures that your products appear when consumers are searching online for products.

11 winning eCommerce merchandising strategies

  1. Personalization
  2. Virtual storefronts
  3. User-generated content
  4. Optimized checkout
  5. Product bundling
  6. Strong product descriptions
  7. Customer filtering and product variation
  8. Site search
  9. Consistent data collection
  10. Fast website load times
  11. Site sales

eCommerce merchandising strategy #1: Personalization

You must know your customers if you’re going to sell to them and, beyond that, win their trust. One of the drawbacks of buying products online is an impersonal feeling, and personalization helps counteract that.

Personalization is about giving shoppers unique experiences that serve their specific needs. An example of personalization in action is when a shopper returns to your store and they see curated products under a banner that says, “Because you bought last time…” or “Inspired by your shopping trends.”

Personalization can also mean giving shoppers in certain geographies unique, tailored experiences. Examples of this include having a built-in map that shows nearby stores or promoting merchandise, such as sports paraphernalia, that corresponds with a local product.

An example of eCommerce merchandising personalization comes from Charlotte Tilbury. The Hollywood Blush & Glow Glide Palette is a popular, well-reviewed item on the site.

Along with the product information, Charlotte Tilbury’s merchandisers have set up personalized recommendations for related products.

The “Use It With” display includes products that are related to the face palette. The “You May Also Like” includes links to related but distinct product categories.

All told, the shopper gets more options without needing to continue scrolling or searching for similar products.

Makeup and skincare are far from the only industries in which personalization is an important part of eCommerce merchandising. Let’s say that you are a B2C 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. This way, you’re merchandising a product to consumers who appreciate its value, and are more likely to convert.

Another example of customer personalization is loyalty programs. Loyalty programs mean special offerings to customers who are regular buyers. Ideally, these programs repeatedly serve consumers products they’re likely to be interested in, and offer specialized pricing to these consumers.

Elastic Path’s Catalog Management capability offers the flexibility to set product category and individualized pricing without waiting on IT support. This way, you can offer personalized experiences, and your eCommerce merchandising can reflect customer needs.

eCommerce merchandising strategy #2: Virtual storefronts

Presentation is everything, and is especially powerful when selling a product that the buyer hasn’t seen in person.

In digital merchandising, a strong virtual storefront is essential. A virtual storefront and product catalog should mirror in-person buying experiences. Just as the customer wants to touch and even try on the sweater in store, a similar experience must be accessible to virtual customers. High-quality, detailed imagery that shows the product from many angles helps tell a product’s story, while close-ups of the product show the product’s function.

In the case of clothing and accessories, online merchandisers should show close-ups of texture and stitching. In the case of electronics, close-ups tell the story of how the device operates, where buttons or functions are located, and the device’s finish. To enhance product merchandising, you may also consider using a 360-view function that activates when a consumer hovers over or clicks on an image.

In stores, it’s normal to group products together by category, and that’s possibly even more essential online. Different merchandisers group products by brand, use, style, color, size, or features – or maybe a combination of all of them. Your product catalog and virtual storefront should be detailed, so that no product is unable to be grouped with other products that share similar attributes a customer prefers.

Similar to the entranceway to a store, the site homepage is the first impression eCommerce merchandisers can make on consumers. So, take the opportunity to promote your highest performing products and those that are trending according to your market research. Put your best, most popular products where people can find them.

Diverse content, such as product demos or tutorials further enhance your product story. Videos are especially useful and can skyrocket conversion rates.

Virtual and augmented reality have created dynamic opportunities to improve the shopping experience, especially when making highly personal or big-ticket purchases online. It’s now possible for consumers 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. Virtual and augmented reality reduce the frustrating (and typically costly) consequences of having to accept an item return.

Product Experience Manager has catalog management capabilities that enable eCommerce merchandisers to create product catalogs that spur conversion and revenue.

eCommerce merchandising strategy #3: User generated content for eCommerce

People trust people, which is why user generated content – in which customers evangelize about your product in their own voice – is an important part of online merchandising.

One example of user generated content for online merchandisers comes on social media. Brands often 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 products or your brand. You may also develop a relationship with an influencer in your industry who will develop ongoing content about your products.

More and more merchandisers use user-generated content in crossover capacities and on different mediums. You should consider sharing customer photos, video, and testimonial content within your online store or in your email marketing campaign.

Customer product reviews are invaluable to the buying journey. More than 99% of consumers read online reviews before making purchases. In other words, consumers are going to read reviews about your products before they buy them. Some brands, like Charlotte Tilbury, include product reviews on the product page itself, as a form of social proof and validation.

The results bear out Charlotte Tilbury’s reviews-centric digital merchandising strategy. Including customer reviews in your online store or other eCommerce merchandising campaigns can increase conversion rates by as much as 270%.

eCommerce merchandising strategy #4: Optimized checkout

As a merchandiser, one of your goals is to make the buying process as painless, engaging, and informed as possible. Try 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 that keeping a clear, uncluttered line of sight to the cart reduces abandonment.
  • Do you allow your customers to check out in any way they choose? Allowing options for account sign-in or guest checkout are helpful for customers. This way, they get a personalized experience based on past purchases if applicable.
  • What payments do you accept? Hopefully, it’s as many payment types as possible. Non-card payments, such as digital wallets, and Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) options indicate that shoppers are looking for more flexibility when it comes to payments. Having a strong payment processor, like Stripe, increases the types of payments you can accept.
  • Do you have email or push notifications after a cart is abandoned? 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. Combatting cart abandonment is an important part of digital merchandising success and maximizing revenue.

A fast, well-optimized checkout experience will improve your conversion rate and boost sales. Elastic Path Payments, a best-in-class payment processing solution powered by Stripe, includes a one-click checkout tool that allows merchandisers to offer secure, fast checkout for popular products.

eCommerce merchandising strategy #5: Product bundling

Product bundles, in which independent products are sold together, are a common eCommerce merchandising strategy and a great way to increase average order volume (AOV). Ask yourself a few questions to see if bundling is an effective tactic for your business:

  • Does your digital commerce solution support bundling?
  • Do your customers’ buying habits support product bundling?

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 & match works well with perishables to move inventory quickly, and with products that come 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, such as coffee lovers, spa goers, and movie fans.
  • BOGO: BOGO stands for buy one, get one. BOGO is useful for slower moving, more expensive items, and helps clear product inventory and encourage buying.
  • Special occasion: Special occasion bundles are good for flash sales, often based around holidays.
  • Upsell or cross-sell: The upsell bundle is when consumers are offered an upgraded or enhanced or newer version of the original product. Cross-selling is about adding to the original product complementary items. For example, a sporting goods store may have an online cross-sell in which they offer bindings, boots, and goggles to customers who are buying skis. Likely, the bindings, boots, and goggles are less expensive when purchased with the skis than when purchased separately, but the business makes more money when they sell the consumer all these goods at once.
  • Dynamic bundles: With dynamic product bundles, merchandisers give consumers the ability to choose their own options in a bundle. For example, a video game bundle might include the choice of one of three different machine options, two of four different controller options, and three of eight different game options.

Product bundling that increases AOV and drives revenue is possible with Product Experience Manager. See how merchandisers using Product Experience Manager can create dynamic bundles fast and without IT support.

eCommerce merchandising strategy #6: Strong product descriptions

Product descriptions are essential to eCommerce merchandising. For digital merchandisers, the right product description can take a consumer from clicking around, to purchasing, to even becoming a long-term, loyal customer.

Vivrelle has strong product descriptions on its site.

The product description includes the bag’s color and fabric. The description also compliments the product visuals. Note also that Vivrelle, which is a membership club, lists the estimated retail cost of the bag in the product description. This way, members get a sense of how much they are saving by using the Vivrelle product.

As you create product descriptions, here are considerations:

  • Spend time describing how your product differentiates from those offered by competitors.
  • Tell the product’s story and include the most relevant information. Is this a clothing item? Include a sizing chart and include reviews of how other customers experienced the fit. For expensive items, consider integrating VR applications so a customer sees a visual representation of what the item may look like in their home or on their body. This helps reduce returns and improve customer satisfaction.
  • Product descriptions can have real SEO value. Merchandisers should work with their web team to SEO-optimize product descriptions. You may find yourself driving sustained, converting web traffic to your product pages.

Strong product descriptions help differentiate your products from your competitors’, increase conversions, reduce returns, and can lead consumers to your site.

eCommerce merchandising strategy #7: Customer filtering and product variation

Like personalization, customer filtering and customization is about putting power into your customers’ hands. After all, it’s your customers who are shopping. They should be able to see the content – and the products – that they want.

Examples of customer filtering and customization 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. This allows customers to see products that are within their price range and desired specifications.
  • Follow-up opt-ins: When a customer completes a purchase, ask them if they’d like to receive promotional offers. If they say yes, you can contact them for relevant sales. If they say no, you don’t irritate them with emails they won’t open.
  • Made-to-order experiences: Create an experience for shoppers based on product features they choose. Examples of a made-to-order eCommerce experience include building a custom flower bouquet, designing a ring, or choosing components to build a watch. Merchandisers provide options and the ability for customers to build their own product.

Product attributes and made-to-order experiences are stronger when merchandisers set clearly defined product variations. By offering products and parts in different colors and sizes and prices and specifications, you allow customers to filter through more product options. Your customers have more options and can find what they want.

See how Elastic Path gives digital merchandisers the ability to merchandise variations and enable customer filtering.

eCommerce merchandising strategy #8: Site search

Site search is an integral part of online merchandising. After all, merchandising is largely about how consumers find your products and how they interact with the products they find.

In the case of eCommerce, site search becomes especially important to merchandising success. If consumers can’t find what they want, they’re not going to look for a sales associate as they would in your store. They will go to another site or end their search altogether – leaving you without a sale.

Broadly speaking, searchers from within your website are 216% more likely to convert than searchers from search engines. So, having a strong site search is well worth the investment.

Elastic Path’s instant-on search integration with Algolia makes it simpler for merchandisers to optimize site search and drive real business results.

eCommerce merchandising strategy #9: Consistent data collection

As an eCommerce merchandiser, you’re only as effective as what you know about your customer. That’s why a vital digital merchandising strategy is to practice data collection.

Analytics and personalization tools, such as Google Analytics and heatmaps and UTMs, can give you a wealth of insights about your online shoppers:

  • How are they finding your site? What search engine result pages or email outreach or social media content brought them to your site?
  • How long are they spending on your site? What pages are they visiting?
  • Where are they located?
  • What device are they using? Mobile or desktop?

As you gather more data, you can answer these questions and understand your customers’ journeys. Over time, you can create eCommerce merchandising experiences that reflect your data and the behavior of your customers – boosting conversion, site traffic, and revenue.

eCommerce merchandising strategy #10: Fast website load times

Having the fastest website possible might sound technical, but it should be an eCommerce merchandising priority. A fast website means fewer abandoned carts, faster product page loads, and a more positive customer experience. That means higher conversion, better customer experience, more sales, and higher revenues.

Here are the statistics and measurements to consider as you improve your website load time:

  • 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.
  • Cumulative Layer Shift (CLS) measures visual stability and helps quantify how often users experience unexpected layout shifts, such as an ad or other unexpected content. 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. A fast site is how experiences remain engaging and enjoyable.

eCommerce merchandising strategy #11: Site sales

eCommerce merchandising is about selling products, and that means running sales. Compelling sales are a historic merchandising tactic. Buy one get one, 50% off, three for the price of two, available from now until Christmas – all of those sales phrases, which consumers hear every year, come from merchandisers.

For digital merchandisers, sales can come in different forms. Some are available only to members or consumers who spend above a certain threshold. Others are available for a limited time – such as on Cyber Monday – or only applied to a customer’s first online purchase.

Well-run sales spur customer purchases, increase AOV, and boost revenue and are a must for online merchandisers.

Future-proof your eCommerce merchandising with Elastic Path

Successful eCommerce merchandising takes time, data, and the right tools. And digital merchandising is changing, as different tools become available and different consumer expectations become the norm.

At Elastic Path, we empower merchandisers to create innovative commerce experiences that drive revenue. Our composable commerce solutions are based on the Unplatform™ – a flexible, business-centric approach that enables commerce innovation to happen piece-by-piece, over time, without a huge up-front investment.

Learn how the Elastic Path Composable Commerce family of products – especially Product Experience Manager – help merchandisers drive revenue and results.

Speak with an expert about how Elastic Path can help bring your digital merchandising vision to life.

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