How the best of brick-and-mortar can inspire your online merchandising

When it comes to online merchandising, there are plenty of subtle but effective in-store tactics that can be difficult to replicate in ecommerce. Ambient lighting, signature scents, soothing music – it’s all part of a carefully curated experience that expresses both who you are as a brand, and how you make your customers feel. Are you young, loud, and colorful? Or sophisticated, modern, and exclusive?  

That’s before you even consider the value of physical touch. Think stacks of soft, tactile materials that shoppers stroke as they pass, almost without thinking. The ability to gauge the weight and quality of a product by picking it up and turning it over in your hands. An online product description that states, “material: polyester” doesn’t quite have the same impact.  

Some things just can’t be reproduced online, but that’s not to say ecommerce stores can’t learn from how their brick-and-mortar counterparts have been doing it for years. By taking inspiration from the traditional approach, online retailers can transform their merchandising from sporadic sale banners into an immersive shopping experience. 

Create an inviting ‘window display’

To a passing shopper in the mall, a glimpse of a window display can be what ultimately decides whether they step inside a store. The online equivalent is your homepage. Are you highlighting your latest arrivals? Probably. Are you presenting them alongside complementary accessories? Maybe. Are you conveying the problem those products will solve for your customer? Unlikely.

Spotlight your products from the moment a shopper lands on your site. Show the customer how they will look or feel if they make a purchase. Promote limited-time offers and sale items. There’s a reason physical stores don’t fill their window displays with standard racks and shelves, and it’s the same reason you shouldn’t use dull, flat product images on your homepage. Make sure you’re enticing browsers to take a closer look at what’s inside. 

Guide shoppers through your departments

In a brick-and-mortar store, there’s a physical path that guides shoppers through various departments in a natural progression. Even in an unfamiliar outlet, most shoppers can instinctively figure out where to find different categories of products. In an ecommerce store, this is where your site navigation comes into play. In fact, it’s an opportunity to dramatically outperform the in-store experience.  

If an online shopper is browsing for a new outfit, they can filter their way to the perfect sizes, colors, and styles without having to rifle through racks of clothes. If they have a specific homeware product in mind, they can instantly search for the relevant brand or SKU instead of roaming the aisles in the hopes of stumbling across the item they need. 

The downside is, if a shopper has committed to traveling to a store, they’re more likely to take the time to find what they’re looking for, or ask a member of staff to help if necessary. Online, if a shopper doesn’t find the right product immediately, they can leave just as quickly. An intuitive search and navigation experience is critical to this part of the purchasing journey. 

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