In a nutshell, Ecommerce merchandising is a blend of retail-centric science and art, and its sole goal is to boost sales. Online merchandising and search engine optimization work in tandem and sometimes overlap, but they’re not the same thing. Your site is a retail space on Internet Lane in the middle of the night: SEO techniques switch on the lights so that people can see your business. When visitors enter your store, ecommerce merchandising tactics turn them into paying customers.
Why Ecommerce Merchandising Matters
Effective SEO campaigns help landing pages rank highly on search engines, like Google. Optimized snippets make promises about products and services, while strategically placed links in articles or blog posts about consumer problems or products funnel visitors to sites.
If SEO best practices drive consumers to online stores, ecommerce merchandising strategies take over when people arrive. Top-notch visual merchandising drives revenue and increases your average order value (AOV) — and you’ll also build up a repeat customer base. Both of those factors positively influence business growth.
Differences Between Traditional Merchandising and Ecommerce Merchandising
On the face of it, traditional and ecommerce merchandising are completely different from one another. Traditional stores are buildings made of brick and mortar; ecommerce stores are made of code and appear only on a screen. Traditional stores usually contain shelves full of products; ecommerce stores have pages full of items in list or grid form. Traditional stores hang posters in windows; ecommerce stores put banners at the top of microsites.
If you dig a little deeper, though, you’ll find that ecommerce merchandising strategies closely emulate traditional merchandising tactics.
1. Store layout.
Both traditional retailers and ecommerce retailers follow a set of best practices when they design their store layouts. Both offline and online, store layouts have to encourage maximum sales while remaining accessible.
Brick and mortar
Ever felt a sense of deja vu when you walk into a big box store? There’s a reason for that. Successful traditional retailers, like Costco, Walmart, and Walgreens, go back to the same set of time-tested floor plans whenever they build or refit stores. Companies with enough financial clout erect buildings based on existing store layout maps, while smaller firms modify their floor plans to fit inside extant premises.
When they standardize stores, companies create a feeling of familiarity. Returning customers instantly feel at home and use visual cues to find the products they’re looking for — even if layouts are a little different from location to location. End caps, clip strips, and seasonal displays highlight special offers and specific brands, while distinct departments and well-organized aisles contain a range of everyday items.
Cleverly planned and expertly implemented traditional floor plans guide customers through stores without frustrating them, creating opportunities for impulse purchases along the way.
Online businesses don’t use physical floor plans, but they do organize sites into departments and sub-departments. Banners and pop-up windows replace end caps and clip strips, highlighting special offers and seasonal items. Because they’re not bound by the physical limits of buildings, ecommerce retailers have a lot of freedom when they design their sites. That being said, customers expect to encounter reasonably predictable ecommerce layouts: intuitive sites tend to create the greatest number of conversions.
In general, ecommerce retailers publish one main site per country; sometimes, they produce additional minisites to highlight new products, mega deals, and sales. By standardizing their site layouts, ecommerce retailers achieve the same comforting sense of familiarity as brick-and-mortar stores with similar floor plans in multiple stores.
Mega menus — like this one on the Jeep People homepage — make navigation easier.
Stellar branding is an essential part of business success, both online and offline. Long-standing companies with market dominance almost invariably have iconic logos. Take the word “Pepsi” off the Pepsi logo, and people still recognize the logo; similar things happen with the Nike Swoosh, McDonald’s’ Golden Arches, and other corporate trademarks.
Brick and mortar
Corporate branding is a holistic thing. Companies usually start with a logo, which they use as the basis for all their subsequent visual branding decisions. Great logos have three things in common:
- They’re minimalist.
- They’re distinctive.
- They scale well.
Companies with brick-and-mortar stores have to spend a lot of money on branding. Large physical items are usually top of the list, including exterior store signage, interior and fixture signage, and vehicle decals. Many retailers extend their branding to include uniforms, banners, posters, till receipts, letterheads, flyers, and various promotional products.
What’s it all for? Well, successful branding promotes consumer awareness. When you apply your memorable logo to a desirable product, you trigger a connection in consumers’ minds. Later on, those consumers see your logo and feel compelled to buy the product they associate with it. Branding begins with a logo, but it ends with an emotional connection.
Profitable ecommerce retailers often spend less on signs and more on brand narrative. What’s brand narrative? It’s the story you tell about your business — it’s your company mythos. You don’t have a physical store, so you need to recreate the ambiance of a physical store in your customer’s mind. Emblematic logos, rich corporate colors, standardized web fonts, compelling imagery, sleek banners, and smooth transitions work together to create a branding sensation.
Physical items wrap a ribbon around your brand. When customers open the logo-stamped boxes, you send them and see your carefully packaged products nestling inside, their positive experiences complete your branding narrative.
Check out Cutter and Buck’s branding: a simple, instantly recognizable logo on the top left, coupled with a coordinating white and dark blue theme. Timeless.
3. Product grouping.
Have you ever gone to the store for milk and come out with more than you bargained for? Maybe you saw french fried onions, beans, and cream of mushroom soup on an endcap and thought, “Oh! I’ll make green bean casserole tonight!” Perhaps you came across a cardboard display full of personal care items and went down a rabbit hole. Either way, you probably fell for product grouping.
Brick and mortar
Product grouping is an essential part of brick-and-mortar retailing. Sometimes it’s obvious — the green bean casserole end cap is one example. Hairstyling tools, extra-hold mousse, and bobby pins work well together; nail polish and emery boards are another classic combo. Razors, refills, and shaving cream almost always live next to each other.
Product grouping isn’t limited to end caps. The beer-and-diapers data mining story may be an urban myth, but certain products complement each other on the shelf. Burgers and fries. Strawberries and cream. Digital cameras and memory cards. A shirt and slacks. Speaking of pants — the children’s clothing and women’s clothing sections sit right next to each other for a reason.
In the grocery department, typical lost leaders, like milk, boost orange juice and bread sales. Over in electronics, laptops promote headphone sales and smartphones never leave without a case. Visual merchandisers plan product groups and cross-selling techniques to help increase revenue across the whole store.
Unbound by the physical constraints of concrete and steel, ecommerce stores can innovate when grouping products. Given limited space, physical shops place products on a single end cap — they have limited real estate in-store, so they have to optimize each display. Online, retailers can put products in multiple groups simply by associating tags. One particular type of face cream, for example, might appear in a makeup group, a spa-themed group, and a seasonal gift group.
You can tinker with groups in your shop as much as you like. Some ecommerce retailers put bestselling items together and give the group an enticing title: kitchen classics, must-have holiday accessories, super-smart technology essentials, etcetera. Groups work exceptionally well on high-traffic pages, and some e-tailers promote them via email as well.
Here, Bliss adds an extra kick to a cleanser and moisturizer group with prominent free shipping and samples offer.
Personalization isn’t a new phenomenon — it’s been around as long as brick and mortar stores. Retailers who know their customers individually and familiarize themselves with their consumer bases do better on the high street. When customers feel appreciated, they develop brand loyalty and come back time and again.
Brick and mortar
In brick-and-mortar retail stores, personalized shopping experiences begin when business owners build relationships with customers.
“Good morning, Mrs. Jones. How’s your son? Would you like some more of that fudge you bought last week?”
Statements like that indicate regard. When we remember people and take an interest in them, they feel valued. We’re glad to see Mrs. Jones, we hold her son in the same high esteem, and we remember what she bought last week: we care about her. Customers like Mrs. Jones invariably visit retailers who value her business more than retailers who ignore her.
The more we know about Mrs. Jones, the more we can personalize her shopping experience. Savvy stores encourage customers to sign up for loyalty cards and usually retain their email addresses in the process. When customers use their cards, those businesses track purchases; later, they send personalized emails highlighting specific products with custom coupon codes attached.
E-tailers don’t usually come face-to-face with their customers, but they can still offer personalized shopping experiences. On the most basic level, ecommerce retailers customize product suggestions based on their customers’ shopping habits. Bought a sweater? Well, here’s an email with 10% off a second sweater.
Savvy online retailers begin offering personalized recommendations for potential customers before they get to the checkout. People who sign up for accounts with ecommerce stores before they buy (lured in with the promise of a discount or free shipping) make it much easier for companies to track their preferences. Ecommerce stores with built-in dynamic algorithms display eerily prescient recommendations for returning customers.
Revelry’s More to Love slider shows a selection of dresses based on a visitor’s previous click history.