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

Written by: Jessica Farrelly

Article // March 24, 2020

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. 

Generate a buzz around sales and promotions

In a physical store, special offers are often promoted through loud, eye-catching signage in prominent locations. On an ecommerce site, retailers often do the same by displaying sale banners or discount badges without giving too much thought to the strategy behind their placement.  But online merchandising isn’t about the mass communication of multiple offers at once. It’s about delivering the right product, to the right person, at the right time.

This is where your campaign landing pages come into play. As the online equivalent of sale racks and seasonal displays, they can easily be set up to run for specified periods with limited-time offers. And they make for a much more pleasant shopping experience than chaotic in-store sales where finding the right product or size often comes down to chance. By combining your on-site merchandising campaigns with targeted email and social media marketing, you can drive highly-engaged traffic to hyper-relevant products, and watch your conversions skyrocket. 

Curate cross-selling product displays 

Displaying matching or complementary products side-by-side is commonplace in brick-and-mortar stores, and is equally effective online. What many ecommerce retailers don’t realize, however, is that the products you demote and separate on your site can have just as much of an influence on conversions as the products you promote and group together.  

Product display order is often an afterthought for online retailers, but it’s a crucial aspect of any ecommerce merchandising strategy. So much so, that we’ve created an ebook dedicated to that topic alone. Download our Guide to High-Converting Product Displays for four tactics to optimize your category and results pages today. 

Don’t neglect your checkout

You’ve chosen your products, made your way to the checkout, and you’re waiting to pay. In-store, you’re probably casting your eye over those add-on purchases displayed by the cashier. How many times have you been reminded of something you had been meaning to add to your cart in that queue (or added something you didn’t really need just because it caught your attention)? 

Online checkout is no different. What’s more, you have the ability to make more personalized suggestions and recommendations in an ecommerce store. Do you have the right charger for that gadget you’re buying? The tools you’ll need to assemble that bookshelf? The earrings to match that necklace? Just make sure your online recommendations are as natural and unobtrusive as they are in-store. 

Download the online merchandising webinar!

Want to learn more about developing an online merchandising strategy? We’re diving into the details of how to leverage your data, tell your brand story, and solve your customers’ problems across multiple touchpoints in this webinar. Searchspring’s Product Manager, Ashley Hilton, is joined by Mikal Lewis, The Product Coach and Founder of Nordstrom Looks to share industry-leading examples and actionable tips on ‘How the Experts do Ecommerce Merchandising’. Download it now!

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