For years, we’ve watched even major online retailers struggle with some of the basics. Which, for us, begged the question…
What are the best practices for merchandising when it comes to ecommerce?
We couldn’t find anything… and we hunted for resources.
With so much trouble finding anything ourselves, we figured everyone else was having the same problem.
So, we decided to get our hands dirty and find out what the best of the best are doing.
We’ve consulted with every expert we could in various fields to build the most comprehensive ecommerce merchandising guide possible.
This is the result of those labors.
(And we’re not done, this is a living, breathing document for us. Bookmark it! Signup for notifications. We’ll be adding to this guide on a regular and irregular basis with new tips as we come across them)
To start, let’s clarify what we’re talking about when we say “ecommerce merchandising.”
What is ecommerce merchandising all about?
As in, how products are presented and arranged on any given results page.
That’s our umbrella definition we’re using to build this guide.
Controlling how your products are displayed (ordered)
Separate Products from Accessories
When a user searches for a high ticket item, the last thing you want to do is display a page full of accessories. That’s the #1 sin we see etailers, large and small, making all the time.
When a shopper searches or browses for a “Nintendo Switch” they expect to see a Nintendo Switch, not adapters, cables, controllers, and whatnots.
Promote the products that match the shopper’s intent. Move the accessories down.
9 x’s out of 10 when a user wants an accessory item, the search or browsing behavior will be more specific.
How to sniff out what products to merchandise this way:
Granted, that won’t “always” be the case, so if you’re unsure on a set of products, take a peek at your Google Analytics. Here’s what to look for:
- Go to the “Search Terms” report under Behavior
- Look at these data points:
- Search exits: A significantly higher than average exit rate would likely indicate that the results visitors are seeing are not satisfactory.
- Search refinements: This tells us how many times people who searched for “nintendo switch” tried another variation. Any time this number is greater than 0, it means they didn’t find what they wanted,
- Time after search: This tells us how much additional time the visitor spent on your site after completing this search. Higher numbers are generally better.
- Average search depth: This tells us how many additional pages were viewed after completing the initial search.
If this number is between 1 and 2, it could mean that they clicked on a product, and then went on to other areas of the site. If it’s higher than that, this probably means that people didn’t find what they wanted and went on to try other search queries.
Grouping related products
Imagine you’re out browsing at your local mall for that killer new two-piece for next weekend’s pool party. How’s the merchandise displayed? Are all the tops on one rack and all the bottom’s on another rack across the store?
Of course not, that’d be silly.
For merchants, it makes sense to group products the same way online.
Swimwear retailer Mikoh does this. They group matching products into pairs similar to the way they’d be hung on a rack at a store.
Grouping similar products
Grouping isn’t limited to ensembles or matching product sets.
PinkLily groups products in the same category based on their color. Again, this is very similar to the way the retailers merchandise their items in physical stores.
If grouping individual products make sense in a physical store, it might make sense online.
For those that aren’t sure of exactly what they want to buy yet, this style of presentation can help to introduce them to the variety of options available within that category.
Let’s call this one the “mall browser’s merchandising strategy” 😉
In brick-and-mortar retail, it’s very common to place items from the same brand next to each other on the shelf, or on the same rack.
Often, this practice translates well to the online store as well.
Imagine shopping for an “Apple Extended Keyboard.”
Now, we all know Apple doesn’t play nice with 3rd party hardware (most of the time). So, even though there are a plethora of 3rd party options, promoting and grouping original Apple products together might be advantageous and incredibly helpful for shoppers.
At the very least, anytime 3rd party vs. OEM is at play, grouping branded products together is a smart play.
Get a lot of repeat visitors?
Odds are good your regular shoppers are hoping to see something new and fresh.
Rotating products is a good way to ensure that your most valuable shoppers see something different the next time they visit your store – even when your product catalog hasn’t flipped with new inventory yet.
Get a large number of new shoppers each month?
Promote products that have received high review scores to the top of your most popular result pages.
Promoting on-sale products
Have a flash sale coming up, or maybe trying to clear out some stagnant inventory with a sale?
Get those products top, front and center. Boost “on sale” items to the top of your results pages.
Bonus: pre-set the display order with date triggers so any product on sale only moves to the top of the results display while it’s on sale and reverts to its original product display order when it’s not.
Promote high-converting products
As simple as the title says.
Imagine searching for “dress” and all the best performers (not most clicked, but most purchased) displayed in the first few positions.
Make this strategy global or only for a select few product categories. Either way, it’s a great way to engage your first-time shoppers with your tried and true best product offerings.
Boost high margin products
It’s ideal to focus on what the shopper wants, but why should that come at your expense?
You can get yours too!
Boost products that have higher margins, while retaining the overall relevance of products on a particular search or category page.
Boost trending products
How vulnerable are to trends?
If you’re at the mercy of a temperamental customer base, promoting products based on popularity could be your ticket to relief-ville.
Rather than manually arranging products on a day-to-day basis, try setting an automated rule that promotes products that have been popular over the last few hours to days.
Demote out of stock items
“out of stock”
You know your shoppers are cursing you from the other side of the screen, right?
Not anymore! Demote out of stock items to the bottom of the results page.
Bonus: Use this strategy with any sales and promotions that you’re running. Imagine the shopper hate you’ll avoid by no longer displaying that product that JUST went out of stock at the top of the results.
Boosting products based on demographic
Many retailers cater to many demographics but receive an overwhelming amount of traffic from one in particular.
As one example of many, we came across, novelty shops often find that despite carrying costumes for male and female characters, the overwhelming majority of the sales are for female costumes.
Even a search for “spiderman” (which by default is a male product) often results in purchases of female versions.
In this case, a rule could be created that would promote female products above male ones.
Demote products with missing images
Outside of making shopping easier, demoting items that are missing product images to the bottom of results pages can pay dividends.
Badges & Banner Campaigns
Display customizable banners on search result pages, brand pages, or category pages
to promote special deals or incentives.
Use unique banners with each new season to promote recently added items or discounts on last year’s inventory.
Promote Your Sales Beyond The Landing Page
Another favorite is to include banners atop search result pages or category pages. This can help promote hot ticket items and generate excitement for promotional offerings across your entire storefront in all relevant situations.
Two of the most popular promotions you could implement would be free shipping” and/or “BOGO (buy one get one) offers”.
Incentivize higher AOV
For some reason, this one tends to be overlooked, but it’s a powerful promotion that can consistently increase your AOV.
Encourage shoppers to spend more than they were originally planning by offering an incentive, like a gift card, after a certain goal is met.
In addition to increasing the immediate AOV, it also drives shoppers back to the store to redeem the gift card.
Just make sure that…
Your offers and promotions are consistent across all of your advertisements and banners. Make sure you’re using consistent ad copy and promotional codes across the board – social ads, landing pages, emails, etc…
Cross-Sell & Up-Sell with Product Recommendations
Cross-selling and up-selling are critical pieces of the online retail puzzle. What are the different approaches and methods that you can use to encourage your shoppers to spend a few more dollars?
Chapter 4 / Part A
Strategies for determining what products to promote
When a shopper is searching for a non-specific product, they will usually be open to suggestions for similar products.
These suggestions help to expose shoppers to other options that they have not seen before.
Help shoppers find products that are designed to be used together.
A shopper searching for a printer may not know exactly which ink cartridges they need. This type of suggestion will make it much easier for them to find the cartridges they need.
For apparel retailers, a woman searching for a bikini top, for example, might not have considered buying other accessories like a cover-up, hat, or sunglasses.
This is a perfect way to merchandise outfits and increases customer satisfaction along with your average order values.
Use global and broad category recommendations to increase exposure for your new or top selling products.
Imagine being a computer hardware supplier and the new iPhone just came out. For every Apple-related search, you could recommend your latest iPhone accessories in stock or all the old stock marked on clearance that you literally need to clear out of your inventory.
Display products based on the context of what a user has already done.
While tracking users over multiple sessions is not very common and comes with its own set of problems, short-term personalization can be done in a relatively effective manner.
Provide recommendations that display products based on what your shopper has added to their viewed, added to cart, or is in the process of purchasing.
Chapter 4 / Part B
Strategies for determining where to promote
In most cases, the home page is the first page visitors see when they come to your site.
At this point, we don’t know much about them, so product suggestions will not be the most effective.
However, widgets containing these global types of product recommendations still make sense in this context:
- New products
- Trending products
- On-sale products
- Highest rated products
- Popular products
Shoppers who reach product pages generally have the highest purchase intent, whether they have navigated to the page from search, your category pages or directly from a marketing campaign.
Here, you have the most critical information about what the shopper is interested in.
For example, on the product page for a printer, product recommendations can easily boost the AOV all while enhancing the shopper’s experience with highly relevant additional product suggestions.
Appropriate cross-sell and up-sell types would be:
- Alternative products (a different printer in the same price range)
- Complementary products (relevant printer accessories like ink cartridges)
- Also viewed (people who viewed this printer also viewed these products)
- Also purchased (people who purchased this printer also purchased these products)
Recommendations placed in the shopping cart should focus customers on up-selling, or adding accessories/products to complete a look.
WARNING: Showing cross-sells this deep in the purchase funnel can lead to cart abandons.
Appropriate recommendation types would include:
- Complementary products
- Also purchased
While category pages may seem like a strange place to put a recommendations widget, products on these pages are typically arranged in an arbitrary order.
When curating the product results isn’t possible, consider using these recommendation types:
- Popular products in that category
- Best selling products in that category
- Top rated products in that category
- New arrivals in that category
- Accessories in that category
Search results pages
In this context, search results will work very similar to category pages.
The shopper has provided an input that has narrowed the selection of products to a degree, so they should already be seeing relevant products. However, sometimes the best product options are not always that easy to find.
Filters and sorting options help, but a widget is another attractive option that can help the shopper’s browsing and discovery process.
The below recommendation types would be well suited to search pages:
- Popular products related to the search
- Best selling products related to the search
- Top rated products related to the search
- New arrivals related to the search
Custom Built Campaign Landing pages
Landing pages are typically heavily merchandised, so the need for additional cross-sells and up-sell isn’t always necessary.
However, it’s not uncommon for merchandisers to miss their mark from time to time. In those cases, you can salvage your campaign efforts and provide an additional opportunity for your shoppers to find products that they do find interesting.
Additionally, depending on the purpose of the page, it’s possible that some complementary product recommendations would also work.
For example, if the landing page is for “summer dresses”, you could show some shoes that work well with those items.
Possible cross-sell and up-sell types would be:
- Recently viewed
- People who viewed this purchased X
- Accessories to X (i.e. shoes that go well with the dresses on the page)
Things that can ruin your campaigns
You put in all that work, it’d be a shame to see it fall apart on account of a common mistake.
Chapter 5 / Part A
Navigation & Faceting Mistakes
Order Your Filters By Popularity (usually)
Most lists are sorted alpha-numerically, and that’s generally the best way to go, however, when it comes to sorting your navigation filters, we’ve found it’s best to sort your filters by popularity or count.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Brands, for instance, are still best sorted alphabetically.
Collapse Facet Groups by Default
Depending on your retail category, you might have dozens of facet groups. Color, size, shape, price range, brand, etc., and this can quickly tumble out of control and take up the entire vertical space on the left side of your screen.
It’s a good rule of thumb to collapse these groups by default if you have 10 or more in a group.
Integrate a Scrolling Feature (or a “more” button)
Many websites with filter options require users to scroll their entire page to see all of the filtration options.
If possible, integrate a feature that limits the filter box to a few hundred pixels tall (at most) and allows scrolling to take place inside of this box.
This will keep the page much more clean and usable. Combined with the previous suggestion, this will make sorting and filtering much easier for your shoppers.
Chapter 5 / Part B
Common Data Issues
When it comes to filters, it’s important not to confuse your shoppers. They should be able to use them quickly, and intuitively. Unfortunately, filters are often generated automatically, and that can lead to some confusing results.
For example, some retailers have color filters for both “grey” and “stone” or “pink”, “coral” and “salmon”.
Normalize these options to keep your filters light, clean, and easy to use.
Chapter 5 / Part C
Don’t Neglect Product Page Opportunities
UGC & Reviews
Uncertainty is one of the biggest deterrents that keep online shoppers from making a purchase.
User-generated reviews and customer photos provide information from past buyers about their experiences with your products.
For example, if you are buying workout clothing then size, fit and comfort are major factors in purchase decisions.
Rhone has customer reviews on their product pages that let past buyers describe their experience and address these concerns in detail for undecided shoppers.
Pura Vida refers product questions to past buyers, thereby encouraging conversations about their products.
This shows existing customers and new shoppers alike that your brand values transparency and strong customer relationships.
Bonus UGC Tip from Yotpo (Joanna Alter, Co-Marketing Manager at Yotpo):
Including authentic customer reviews and photos in your social ads makes them blend in with the surrounding social content and increases visibility.
Yotpo data shows that UGC increases click-through rates for Facebook ads by 300%.
You can also ask customers to share their reviews via social networks.
For example, IKEA ran an Instagram campaign asking customers to submit photos of their favorite pieces. The campaign got customers to share pictures of their IKEA furniture and gave the company a glimpse into which products customers like the most and how they use them.
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