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An introduction to Online merchandising

Author's avatar By 21 Jun, 2016
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5 steps to getting started with merchandising for Online Trading

In the broadest sense, merchandising is defined as 'the activity of promoting the sale of goods'. Whether this is in a store, over the phone or online the principle is the same – 'Sell more stuff (Profitably)'; the differences come in the techniques employed to do this.

A traditional retail store will use gondala end displays, clip-strip cross-sells and sales assistants to maximise revenues, but without the advantage of face-to-face sales influence how can we sell online?


5 Steps to increasing Ecommerce sales using merchandising techniques

  • 1. Know your customer

The anonymity associated with online customers is one of the biggest challenges to overcome in successful Ecommerce merchandising. After all, if I don't know what you want, how can I sell it to you?

There is, however, a wealth of data available relatively easily within your analytics; you just need to know what to look for.

  • Marketing Channel – Where did your visitor come from? E.g. if natural search, what was the keyword they used – this is the biggest clue as to what they are looking for.
  • Visit history – Is this their first visit to your website? If not, what did they look at last time?
  • Device – Are they on a mobile device, tablet or traditional desktop?
  • Geography – Where are they in the world – do they have a store nearby?
  •  Seasonality – What is happening in the macro-environment? Is it Christmas/Easter/Summer?
  • 2. Demonstrate depth of product knowledge

If you're embarking on an online merchandising journey, you need to know all about your products and where they sit within the overall range.

Product sales should be a report that you see everyday, trends will quickly become apparent and your product knowledge will improve.

From my experience the most important product groups to know about are:

  • Best Sellers – These will form the foundation of your revenue; consistently good performance that requires little stimulation from you. Your customers will love these and will most likely be evangelical about them (in the form of reviews)
  • Unsung Heroes – Ticking away in the background, never in your top 10, but never far from your top 50.
  • Slow Sellers – Perhaps these are doing well in other channels of your business, but just not working online, these offer an opportunity to review merchandising and improve sales.
  • New Products – Depending on your industry, new products might be very important to you and your customers e.g. fashion, home furnishings, technology.
  • Branded Products – Products that are most likely sold by your competitors, they are all about being price competitive and giving the customer reasons to buy from you rather than anyone else

An example of homepage merchandising with House of Fraser

Here is an example of House of Fraser where they demonstrate product knowledge and a variety of different merchandising techniques on their homepage:


  • 3. Facilitate finding products

There are an unknown number of potential journeys visitors can take en-route to your products, your job is to make these journeys as easy as possible, and to provide new routes to product pages.

Online Merchandising also gives you the unique opportunity to guide visitors' journeys, as you want.

This can be done through a variety of techniques including:

  • On-site search
  • Banners
  • Product Recommendations
  • Landing Pages
  • Content
  • 4. Sell your product

Getting people to a product page is only part of the battle though, you now have a whole new set of levers to pull to ensure they get what they want and you get an order.

  • Product Imagery – one of the biggest drawbacks of online selling is the inability to touch and feel a product before purchasing. However, good quality imagery, videos or 360 spin shots help a customer feel closer to a product.

    What is right for you will depend largely on your industry, but may also vary by product category e.g. visitors will expect a lot more when viewing an expensive bike than they would when viewing a puncture repair kit.

  • Ratings/Reviews – research has shown that 61% of customers read reviews before making a purchasing decision . These are no longer an option on a modern e-commerce website – they are a necessity; customers expect to be able to read peer reviews before purchasing.
  • Copy/Specification – If you can't read your product's description and know exactly what you're buying, how can your customer?

    The product copy that you provide has to be detailed enough to answer questions, but snappy enough to hold attention. Try splitting up the product description and specification – this makes it easier to digest but gives the depth of content needed.

  • Cross-sells – Just because the customer has landed on a product page, doesn't mean they have found what they are looking for. Cross-sells give you the opportunity to steer your customer to other products, display the depth of your range and offer alternatives.

Product page content for Halfords

An example of product page content varying between products. This is an example from Halfords and the difference in the amount of information is huge.

Halfords _ Boardman Road Team Bike 2012_2013 - Large 55cm


  • 5. Get the order...

Your customer has added the product to their basket and you're only a few steps away from an order; a smart approach to checkout will mean the difference between getting the customer to place an order and losing the sale (and potentially future custom). This video from Google Analytics sums up nicely some pitfalls when it comes to checkouts:

There is no 'one size fits all' approach to checkout optimisation, individual testing is required to find the journey that suits your customers and your business. Some things to consider:

  • Should your customer have to login to checkout?
  • What payment types are you offering?
  • How clear are your delivery options?

At it’s heart, online merchandising is all about focusing on the detail to ensure that your customers find what they are looking for and that  you 'sell more stuff'; using these steps will help you get closer to the detail and figure out where your areas of merchandising focus need to be.

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Online retail merchandising

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