The Basics of Visual Merchandising
If you’re in the e-commerce business, you’re more than familiar with some of the headaches that come along with running an online store. From web design and maintenance to social media outreach and the constant struggle to keep up with rapidly changing technology, being an online retailer can sometimes feel like running on a nonstop treadmill. That’s why it’s so common for many e-commerce professionals to neglect the importance of visual merchandising. Therefore, I’ve put together a little refresher on the basics of this crucial aspect of online retail.
What is Visual Merchandising?
Very simply, visual merchandising is the art and science of displaying your products in a way that's both strategic and aesthetically appealing. It’s all about combining your analytic knowledge of your customer base (e.g., their lifestyles, buying habits, etc.) with an artistic eye for presentation to create a shopping experience that's pleasant for your customers, while also increasing your conversion rates and average order sizes.
In a brick-and-mortar store, shoppers might be influenced by your store layout and eye-catching signs. They can reach out and touch the products, try on clothes and easily ask questions of the nearest sales associate. In e-commerce, it’s all visual. All you have is what consumers can see on the screen, which can present some unique merchandising challenges.
How Do I Go About It?
First, whether you’re using Google Analytics or another analytics program, it’s important that you know your customers and products inside and out. What are your customers likes and dislikes? What's their general age range? Are you targeting families? Young professionals? Teens? When are they most likely to buy? You also need to understand the most appealing aspects of a certain product and how best to highlight them.
After that, you need to take care of the nuts and bolts, such as the following:
- Analytics: When merchandising your catalog pages, keep a close eye on your sales and conversion rates for each item, then organize them accordingly. Your best-sellers obviously don’t need as much help as those items that tend to sit around longer than others, so use these analytics to your advantage to get more exposure for some of your low and medium performers.
- Inventory: Stock up on your best-sellers at all times. Items that you place above the fold are going to move more quickly than others, so pay extra close attention to them and always have them in stock. You should also keep an eye on your featured colors and patterns. The ones you choose to display should always be in stock and high performers.
- Images: You always want to use high-quality photos that present your products in a flattering way, while providing as much detail as possible. Again, your customers can’t reach out and touch your products, so the more professional your photos are, the more likely your products are to sell.
- Copy: From general website copy to detailed product descriptions, you’ll be amazed at what a few punchy lines of good sales copy can do for your conversion rates — not to mention what a little search-optimized content can do for your search visibility. Don’t be afraid to be personal and conversational. People are more likely to buy from live sales associates when they're friendly and fun. The same goes for web copy.
- Layout: This is absolutely crucial. If a brick-and-mortar store is well-designed and inviting, people will spend more time shopping in it. The same is true for a website. If the design is clunky, the colors don’t work and the navigation is confusing, people will leave your site in heartbeat — and most likely won’t come back.
Good online merchandising means thinking like a customer. Therefore, think about what you like in an e-commerce site. Take a look at some of your favorite sites and pull inspiration from other retailers to try to create the store that you want to browse and shop in.
Where Can You Find Help?
While it sounds simple enough, good online merchandising requires a lot of work. If you can, it’s a good idea to hire someone with merchandising experience who can handle both the technical and aesthetic sides of the job. However, this can be expensive and still won’t guarantee the best results because finding the right merchandiser, especially one with a lot of online experience, is no easy task. But never fear, if you’re having trouble finding quality merchandising help, there are programs out there that are designed to handle all your data. From SKUs and colorways to Google Analytics, social media and customer reviews, programs are designed to help you organize your store, respond to real-time market changes and maximize your merchandising results while providing an appealing user experience for your customers.
Whether you do it yourself or bring in some outside help, the important thing is that you get your visual merchandising house in order. Once you do, you’ll start noticing the difference it makes in your conversion rates right away.
Teresa Zobrist is the founder and CEO of Smart Merchandiser, which creates an easy-to-use visual merchandising interface that simulates the look and functionality of your IBM Websphere e-commerce site.