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First Things First: Know The Essentials of E-Commerce Merchandising

Author's avatar By Mark D. Hall 11 Jun, 2018
Essential Essential topic

Sales guru Jim Rohn aptly said:

‘Success is neither magical nor mysterious; it’s the natural consequence of consistently applying the fundamentals.’

I agree wholeheartedly. In order to sell better online you need to know the fundamentals, or essentials, of persuasive selling. These same principles apply whether you’re selling face-to-face or on a website. Only by doing so will you achieve your overarching merchandising goals: more add-to-carts and conversions, triggered by higher click-throughs on your website’s sales pages.

In this post I cover essential selling practices. I discuss best practices and optimisation techniques separately.

Start with the essentials

For us humans, the essentials are food, water and rest. For online merchandising, selling essentials are more emotion-based, and include:

  • Understanding your prospects needs and desires
  • Earning the trust of your visitors
  • Using persuasive selling tactics
  • Tailoring your pitch to your shopper’s stage
  • Creating a Product Finder tool
  • Offering proactive customer support

Understanding your prospects

Here’s another saying I love, as a quote collector and customer experience analyst:

‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’
Steven Covey’s 5th Habit

Translation: Before you sell, spend some time getting to know your prospects and customers. Otherwise you risk pushing the wrong products, and with the wrong sales messaging.

To be sure, it does take some patience and humility to start a merchandising project by admitting you don’t know everything. But if you do, you will learn more and ultimately sell - that is, convert - better. Because you will focus everything you do, both online and offline, towards the real problem your prospect wants to solve. And you’ll earn a reputation for being a caring, customer-centric brand.

Read Smart Insight’s Essential Practices of E-Commerce Merchandising Guide for details on how to do this.

Earning the trust of your visitors

People tend to judge first on appearance. It doesn’t mean we’re superficial; it’s just the way we’re wired. So your website needs to take this into account and gain each visitor’s trust in a matter of seconds, or he’ll bail out, never to return.

Fortunately, thanks to the work done by B.J. Fogg’s team at Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab in the mid-2000’s, we know the top trust factors for online experiences. It’s just a matter of using them, at the right time and in the right context.

Both online and offline, people only do business with brands they trust. So make sure you brand is sending the right trust signals.

Using persuasive selling tactics

Once you know your visitor’s pain points - the problem he wants to solve, and his associated  questions and anxieties - it’s time to sell, persuasively.

The latest research in psychology and neuroscience, as popularized in Phil Barden’s wonderful book Decoded, tells us exactly what tactics sell best. But I have unfortunately found that many Web designers either don’t know these tactics or don’t apply them. This means that many merchandising websites are losing hundreds of sales opportunities every day.

So don’t just layer cool visual designs on top of existing layouts; start applying persuasion design best practices right now. And watch your conversion rate and revenues grow as a result.

Tailoring your pitch to your shopper’s stage

If you’ve done enough research to understand your prospects, you know who they are and what makes them tick. That’s great, but it’s not enough. You also need to know where each of your prospects is in their shopping journey, so you can adjust your user experience accordingly.

For example, if your prospect is only aware of his problem, you need to inform him about the solution options you offer, and the advantages of buying from your brand. If he knows exactly what product he wants, you need to get him to that Product or Offer page ASAP.  That way he’ll feel like he’s getting in and out of your store more quickly. And, as I know from witnessing hundreds of user tests, faster shoppers are happier and more likely to buy.

Creating a product finder tool

With the exception of the grumpy, lone wolf shoppers we sometimes see in stores, most of us appreciate some help from time to time. Yes, your target visitor may be a savvy online shopper. But he may not know much about your product (at least you shouldn’t assume that he does). Worse yet, he may have some misconceptions about your product or brand that you need to dispel.

You can do this by creating a ‘selling concierge’, in the form of a Product Finder. This tool asks your prospect a few questions, then recommends one or more products that fulfill his needs. Best of all, by suggesting related accessories (cross-sells), this experience offers both a complete solution and increases your average order value (AOV).

At the end of the Q&A sequence, including an ‘Email this’ option will give your prospect a digital memory of items that haven’t been carted, as well as a way to share the recommendations with a friend.

Offer proactive customer support

Even if your website does an awesome job of informing and selling, on both the rational and emotional levels, your visitors will have questions. To improve your conversion rate, you need to answer these questions proactively.

Put your toll-free phone number and chat link in the site header so they’re visible at all times. And ‘push’ chat invites to visitors who are more engaged and closer to conversion. After all, it would be tragic to lose a sale just because you left a simple question unanswered.

You also need to make after-the-sale and technical support easy to find for your returning visitors. Keep them satisfied, so they’ll tell their friends about their great experience with your brand.

See the results soon!

Learn and implement these essential practices and you’ll have a new mindset for selling.

And you’ll soon see your engagement, conversion rate and revenues rise!

Read the complete guide

Author's avatar

By Mark D. Hall

Seasoned Voice of Customer (VOC) Insights, Customer Experience (CX) and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) professional. Mark raises the revenues and customer loyalty of E-Commerce and SAAS-based brands by finding and fixing the ‘holes’ in their customer experience. For over 20 years Mark has worked with a wide range of clients, including AT&T, AutoZone, American Express, Delta Dental, Kaiser Permanente, Denon, Edmunds, eDriving, SpyTec and The California Lottery. Mark holds a B.S. in Engineering from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of Colorado. When not working, Mark enjoys playing tenor saxophone, mountain biking, reading and watching soccer. Read his blog, connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter

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