Merchandise on your website is the single most important thing you can do to increase sales. In a conversation, I was discussing the disjointed experience around shopping online versus in a store and it came down to how much dedication you place on merchandising, and if you have the right tools to take complete control of your customer’s shopping experience. I am going to just scratch the surface on merchandising, it is a very complex and deep subject.
For me, nothing is a substitute for in-store shopping but you can get closer with the proper merchandising and getting the right product, in front of the right person, at the right time. When you are in a store you are often browsing by simply just walking around, something catches your eye, you walk to it and touch it. Maybe buy it, maybe not. Online your product discovery is very different. You are typically in target mode, not browse mode, and when you try to browse so many sites just fail. Try browsing Amazon for a product, it’s nearly impossible. But search for the product you want (target mode) and you instantly have the product.
Replicating target shopping is easy, a good search tool will replace the store associate you ask where X product is located. But replicating the browsing is super difficult.
Circling back to walking through a store, when you walk in and want to buy yourself new shoes you don’t head to the “shoe” section, you head to the “men’s shoes” or “women’s shoes” and then the store merchandises it how they think you want to see it, either by activity or maybe by brand. Online is no different and I am baffled when I see sites that don’t even have either sub categories, or worse, no filters that allow me to “walk” to the section I want to browse. I have long made the argument that you should have subcategories based solely on how one would compare products. Meaning, I wouldn’t have a “shoe” category as no one wants to compare men’s and women’s shoes, I would have a second level category to break down by gender, but I wouldn’t break it down further and would rely on filters to allow the shopper to decide if they wanted to view dress shoes and casual together or separate. Some people want to buy across a brand and others want to get narrow. Leave the control to the shopper, don’t decide for them. For example, the display at Nordstrom may put all of a brand on a single table, from the dress all the way down to the sneaker. They are merchandising for the brand shopper, let the customer decide what type of shopper they want to be today.
Others could argue for having less leaf categories and relying on filters. This hands over all control to the shopper, the question comes down to how much control do you want to give up. If you want to be a total purist you could have a product listing page that shows every product and then let them narrow by filtering to find what they want. But then you would miss out on merchandising as you traverse the categories. As I browse to “Men’s Shoes”, a well merchandised page will have a banner that would draw me in, maybe a lifestyle showing me someone hip wearing some cool shoes (think mannequin in the store) and then maybe some great content that is engaging in lieu of a product tile, in this case maybe “How to pick the perfect running shoes” would be great injected content. You would use merchandise rules to bias products to the top that you would prefer I buy, or rely on some algorithmic sorting that changes with my behavior to create more personalized sorting. You wouldn’t just sort by price high to low, instead you want to curate to be much like that plan-o-gram you once used in stores to catch my eye.
How you layout a page and what you put on it is the closest you will come to replicating the in-store experience. It goes deeper than just merchandising your PLP or Search Results. Your PDP page is equally important. Do you have badges on your products that mimic the yellow ‘sale’ stickers you would have in a store? Do you have fit guides on products to mimic the shoe sizers laying around the store? Do you show the shoes being worn in lifestyle pictures so I can get an idea of how they look in real life? Do you offer “fit surveys” so I can understand if your size 12 runs true to size?
Think about this, why do you pull out a cookbook to find something to eat but you search for a recipe to find what to cook. Two very different actions, you flip through a recipe book for ideas, you search for the recipe of what you want. Make your website browsing like flipping pages in a cookbook for ideas and your search for finding what you already want to make.
So, how seriously are you taking your merchandise online, or are you still stuck in ‘put it online and it just works’? Many companies are not investing in merchandise and are relying on the platform they chose to just ‘work’. It doesn’t and you need the right tools, but more importantly, the right people to be able to effectively merchandise.