The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic prompted us all to make sweeping lifestyle changes in an effort to stay safe while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy. As physical storefronts became hotbeds, consumers turned to digital devices for virtually all of their shopping needs. Although the pandemic frenzy is slowly simmering down, eCommerce, and as such eCommerce visual merchandising, is only getting started.
Consumers continue to value convenient purchasing options, and trends have indicated that this will only grow as technology advances. 2021 US eCommerce sales saw a dramatic annual 14.2% increase to 870.8 billion. Interestingly enough, these numbers are expected to see even greater gains in 2022, soaring another 16.1% to $1.06 trillion. The global eCommerce market is expected to grow by $10.87 trillion between 2021 and 2025.
Needless to say, the eCommerce space has never been more opportune. However, with greater opportunity comes greater competition. Lower returns on advertisement spending is requiring companies to rethink their eCommerce strategy. There is a greater need to focus on mastering the art of eCommerce visual merchandising.
A Visual Playing Field
Online merchandising entices consumers visually while also promoting brand loyalty and prioritizing customer lifetime value. Consumers want to purchase from brands that align with their personal beliefs. Brands are more likely to acquire and retain customers because of their proposition, rather than their prices. Investing in the customer experience through online visual merchandising will increase retention, loyalty, and repeat business despite rising advertising costs and ongoing uncertainty in 2022.
For eCommerce visual merchandising to have its desired growth impact, it’s important for businesses to recognize that eCommerce serves an omnichannel purpose. Consumers have become increasingly set on maximizing the efficiency of shopping while minimizing physical in-store time. Retailers who successfully combine a physical and digital shopping experience will draw more customers. Those who can’t will be left in the dust.
This guide presents winning eCommerce visual merchandising strategies to stand out from the competition. It will also guide you on how to minimize costs, maximize gains, and boost customer lifetime value for long-term success.
What is eCommerce Visual Merchandising?
Traditional in-store visual merchandising aims to maximize the visual appeal of store displays to engage prospective buyers and increase sales. Products are displayed in ways to pique interest, relate to the customer’s needs, and highlight their features. Customers who shop in-store can also see how many products are in stock, or inquire for information or assistance.
In the digital sphere, visual merchandising is essential as customers cannot physically engage their senses. Therefore, successful online businesses rely on effective eCommerce visual merchandising. Powerful eCommerce visual merchandising aims to build a user-friendly online store, promote website engagement, and encourage higher spending.
Many web stores fail to successfully implement a winning online merchandising strategy because they believe that creating a soli interface is enough. The reality is that your site needs to reach far beyond this starting point. It needs to integrate your brand message, customer personalization, inventory, convenience, and ease of use across various channels and devices.
Key Elements of eCommerce Visual Merchandising
In-store visual merchandising elements can be translated and adapted for equal eCommerce impact.
The window display in a brick-and-mortar store is the first opportunity businesses have to invite customers to explore more. This is akin to a website homepage. This initial display page should involve alluring images, a fluid interface, and personalized content to best represent the brand while showcasing products.
In brick-and-mortar stores, consumers navigate through shop layouts that are intentionally designed to fill their shopping carts. This categorization makes it easy for customers to spot products, and if done right, leave with more than intended. For example, perhaps someone is looking for a dress. After seeing the mannequin sporting a complimentary pair of heels, they decide to purchase the entire outfit.
Digital stores can implement this exact marketing strategy, but with even greater personalization. The site may present “frequently bought together” purchases or recommended products based on things the viewer has already shown interest in.
Have you ever spotted the perfect top but couldn’t find the fitting room? The digital equivalent of this is navigating a site and not being able to find the right product or even checkout. As retail stores have signage to indicate product categories for each aisle, your web store needs an even clearer indication of where viewers can find what they are looking for. Besides clear navigation indicators and tiered product menus, e-stores should include filter options, especially when product ranges are extensive.
An essential and often underestimated feature of visual merchandising is the search function. If a customer comes into a brick-and-mortar store for a specific item, they can ask a sales assistant. Successful eCommerce sites should be able to provide this same service without a live representative. Not optimizing the search function translates to lost dollars for businesses.
There are two crucial aspects to closing the deal: the product listing (imagery and description) as well as the ease of checkout.
A quintessential part of in-store shopping is being able to feel fabrics, smell perfumes or spices, compare sizes, and even taste samples. Although it may seem that online stores lack in this area, there are ways to compensate for the missing in-person experience.
Even when in-store, a customer is not able to view a demonstration of every product. They cannot see different styles to wear a scarf or how their peers are enjoying the same purchase. Online, all of this is possible. Short video clips can give the viewer a new perspective about a common product and peer images can display others enjoying their purchase. This works to positively influence the buyer’s decision.
Structure it Right
It is essential to provide detailed descriptions that relate specifically to the product as well as clear images from different angles. The images and descriptions should be sequenced strategically to capture the viewer’s interest before getting into specific product details. For example, a company selling office chairs may start by indicating a best seller and highlight its most sought-after features (i.e., ergonomic design, built-in massager, stain-proof fabric, being height-adjustable). Only after this should chair assembly or less relevant design materials be mentioned.
Just because the customer is holding an item in their hand, does not mean they are going to purchase it. In the same way, a sale is not a sale until the online buyer has completed their payment. A March 2021 study revealed that almost 80% of online shoppers abandoned their carts and never completed their purchases. Considering all of the resources that have been poured into the eCommerce visual merchandising process to this point, losing customers to poorly optimized checkouts is nothing short of arbitrary.
The process should be simple and streamlined, without distractions. Payment options should be convenient and efficient. A customer who is trying to make an immediate purchase and struggles to finalize the payment will likely click onto a competitor’s site that offers a smoother payment process.
Benefits of eCommerce Visual Merchandising
The benefits of eCommerce visual merchandising are so significant that whether or not you implement online merchandising strategies can make or break your e-store.
Visual merchandising online provides a consistent opportunity to build an engaged brand community and foster loyalty. It offers significant insights into customer behavioral trends, which is impossible to achieve with brick-and-mortar stores. This, in turn, allows for a higher level of personalization, on-point, and individualized marketing, as well as strategic marketing spending.
ECommerce visual merchandising allows easy access to an expansive market. It opens doors to access an untapped audience, broaden the target audience range, and expand the marketing message across various platforms and access points. This allows companies to expand their business model while reducing overheads of traditional retail spaces, customer-facing staff, and stale inventory.
Reaching new markets can lead to servicing other states or countries, offering your digital store in other languages, and endless opportunities for growth and international partnerships.
eCommerce Visual Merchandising Trends For 2022
Today’s consumers expect companies to anticipate their needs and excel in meeting them with innovative solutions. With a constantly fluctuating marketplace, it’s essential for organizations to regularly adapt their strategy and harness the power of analytics to gain an advantage over competitors in 2022.
Hyper-Personalization of Customer Experience
Implementing a hyper-personalized marketing strategy allows companies to excel in today’s competitive marketplace. Using customer-specific data, analytics, and automating the shopping experience is the most advanced personalized marketing tactic. Industry-specific customer insights can be put into action by communicating highly contextualized messages to individuals at the most opportune time, through the most effective channel.
As digital marketing becomes crowded and increasingly competitive, hyper-personalized marketing offers users a breath of fresh air. When an individual feels seen and heard, it solidifies the customer relationships, improves customer satisfaction, and drives brand loyalty.
Customer needs, trends, and preferences are constantly evolving. This means that hyper-personalization is an ongoing process that needs to be adjusted to keep consumers engaged. It can be integrated throughout the customer journey, from drawing customers with personalized landing pages and interest-specific offers to offering on-point, real-time assistance and after-sales service.
Hyper-personalization can craft a customer journey to look like this
A customer’s browsing display will exhibit content and advertisements relevant to their individual search history and interests. Landing pages use data surrounding past visits, location, and preferences to show the most relevant products and recommendations. During the purchase process, chatbots learn from customer interactions and deliver personalized assistance by answering specific questions on-demand. As the journey progresses, hyper-personalization allows for real-time updates of product shipment status as well as following up with renewal reminders and promotions.
Netflix, for example, has implemented a highly contextualized and individual viewing experience for its entertainment subscribers. The subscriber’s homepage is based on their past viewing history allowing the viewer to continue where they left off and recommending relevant new content.
The streaming service uses an algorithm to calculate content that viewers will want to see according to the predictive learning of behavioral attributes including movie genres, actors, viewing times, preferred device, and duration. Netflix’s algorithm sends 103 million subscribers unique content recommendations to improve engagement and loyalty. As a testament to the success of their hyper-personalized strategy, Netflix’s recommendation engine sees only 20% of users searching for content while 80% follow their recommendations.
Omnichannel Visual Merchandising
Not too long ago, online and in-store shopping experiences were two separate entities. In today’s integrated world, there is no way to divide them. Omnichannel merchandising entails creating a consistent shopping experience throughout various touchpoints, including online, in-store, social media, and third-party marketplaces. Customers want to shop and access customer services when it suits them, how it suits them. The omnichannel approach is centered around the customer as opposed to the product to create a seamless, on-demand customer experience across every sales channel.
Omnichannel merchandising is vital even for businesses that don’t have a brick-and-mortar presence. Consistency between web stores, social selling platforms, influencer campaigns, and apps allow the customer to pick up where they left off, receive the same marketing and campaign messages in a consistent brand tone, and interact with customer care in real-time. The enhanced customer experience fosters brand loyalty by creating a community of followers that are engaged with your brand continuously because you are easy to find where and when it suits them.
Understanding the Scope
The scope of omnichannel merchandising continues to expand as customer needs change. To avoid delayed shipping, reduce in-store shopping time, and eliminate the frustration of having to coordinate delivery times, there has been an increasing trend in consumers making online/in-app purchases and collecting in-store. This showroom-style store makes it possible for retailers to cut down on large retail rentals and also alleviates the pressure of having to overstock inventory.
Inventory transparency across channels is another aspect of omnichannel merchandising that allows not only the retailer to gain clear on-demand information about stock levels and best sellers, but also allows consumers to check stock availability themselves.
If consumers cannot find the consistent cross-channel service they require with your brand, it is likely that they will find another provider who can meet their needs. After all, it only takes a few clicks to do that. Successfully implementing an omnichannel strategy will keep those dollars where they belong: in your pocket!
Increasing Focus on Mobile Shopping Experience
Smartphones have revolutionized the concept of convenience, allowing shoppers to make a purchase any time from anywhere. Mobile commerce (m-commerce) involves the sale and purchase of items through a handheld device.
There are multiple ways in which mobile apps can enhance the shopping experience for consumers. Once the seller’s app is downloaded, users can scan catalogs, make purchases/in-store payments, track shipping, receive notifications, and join loyalty programs.
While the number of people who own home desktops has remained somewhat stagnant since 2015, smartphone ownership continues to rise, with 335 million new users buying a device in 2021. This brought the total global count of smartphone users to nearly 6.2 billion, an ever growing number.
As the popularity of mobile technology overtakes stationary desktop devices, it is vital for eCommerce companies to adapt their website experience as well. To stay relevant, e-retailers need a mobile-friendly website with a precise display and fast loading time, or a dedicated mobile app.
With 79% of smartphone users having made a purchase using their mobile device, it’s no surprise that 85% of users agree that a company’s website for mobile viewing should be as good or superior to the desktop version. Considering that 57% of mobile users won’t even recommend a company with a poorly designed mobile site and 40% of users will switch to a competitor after a poor mobile experience, it’s crucial to understand that a poor mobile shopping experience can be more destructive than not offering one at all.
Despite these statistics, 84% of users indicate having experienced problems in completing a mobile transaction. This shows just how immense the opportunity is for organizations to capitalize on consumer conversion, by designing mobile responsive websites and user-friendly apps. Prioritizing mobile experience in 2022 will undoubtedly be a competitive advantage for your business.
Leveraging User-Generated Content (UGC)
Traditional advertising messages have a bad wrap with the consumer public. A staggering 97% of consumers perceive advertising to be exaggerated or only partly accurate. Since very few consumers trust advertisements, it’s not surprising that more than 40% of internet users use ad blockers. In addition to not being perceived as trustworthy, the top reasons cited for the use of ad blockers are ads being annoying, irrelevant, intrusive, or repetitive.
The answer to minimizing traditional advertising and maximizing trust is user-generated content (UGC). Social proof has proven to play a significant role in establishing brand trustworthiness and loyalty.
User-generated content is unpaid/unsponsored content including images, reviews, social media posts, testimonials, and video clips. When users share posts of themselves authentically enjoying their new favorite ice-cream flavor from @yourbrand or their stylish new coat from #yourcompetitorsbrand, they’re generating content to indirectly promote a brand (rather than the brand sharing curated advertising).
Consumers value the authenticity of UGC rather than exaggerated sales messages, and this fosters engagement and trust. Statistics show that companies generate a 28% higher engagement rate when consumers create and share social content, compared to standard curated company posts.
The Role of Social Media
Social media is a driving force for UGC, as content is instantly accessible worldwide. Whether or not consumers know each other, they still trust regular people’s opinions over traditional advertising messages. Another significant aspect of social UGC is its unique ability to create a sense of connection, build community, and share common needs. For businesses, this translates into cost-effective marketing, increasing engagement at minimal cost, and boosts growth while building a loyal fan base.
In addition, integrating UGC into your brand’s website, social content, and catalogs will enhance product authenticity while making them more appealing. This will also keep customers advocating for your brand, completing a dynamic “shop-and-share” customer journey with high engagement.
Automate (Almost) Everything in Inventory Management
If you’re still manually counting stock and filling in spreadsheets, you’re losing out big time. Not only are you wasting precious time and money, but you’re subjecting your processes to human error and limiting what you can offer your customers.
An automated inventory management system can help you optimize inventory and distribution processes from stock counts, order invoicing, dropshipping, backorders, partial fulfillment, and customer tagging. Automation not only reduces human error, administrative requirements, and labor, but it also offers real-time insights into sales trends and insufficiencies. This further allows you to adapt your eCommerce site to promote the right products while avoiding overstocking.
Automated inventory management for eCommerce can also allow consumers to see if their desired products are available. It eliminates the multiple screens once needed to keep track of everything, and consolidates efficient workflows in one simple and intuitive interface.
Choosing a unified eCommerce operating system that automatically integrates all aspects of online merchandising will help with demand and cash-flow forecasting, risk management, and projected profit margins for on-point planning and data-driven decision-making.
Online Visual Merchandising Best Practices
Visual merchandising for eCommerce isn’t only a clever marketing ploy – it’s science. As much as 90% of external information interpreted by the brain is visual data. Visual information is processed 60,000 times faster than any other form of information. If you aren’t maximizing online visual merchandising, your competition – who is effectively integrating this into their strategy – is winning over customers that could have been yours. These practices will help you optimize your merchandising strategy.
Create a Story in Your Homepage
When shopping in a physical store, the shop window leaves little to the imagination concerning what the store sells, and gives shoppers a clear idea of the brand image. The window is displayed to entice customers inside to discover more. Your homepage is the shop window to your eCommerce site. It needs to catch the attention of the viewer, entice them to look deeper, clearly convey the brand image, and of course, what the e-store sells.
Not focusing on what is important on your homepage can cost you. People want to know that you can solve their problems and that your products and services are going to improve their lives. Before a site visitor can be converted, they need to be engaged. Your homepage is there to engage while the landing page is there to convert.
In addition to conveying that you are the best solution to your customer’s problem, you need to communicate your message clearly and simply. Realistically, you have less than 15 seconds to impress your customer before they click away. Consider this to be the first date with your customer. You need to go all out to make the first impression count. The best way to avoid homepage design pitfalls and optimize every opportunity is by using this page to tell your brand’s story.
If you do this effectively, you can build customer brand loyalty, as opposed to product loyalty. This is important for long-term success, because other suppliers may have the same or similar products, but they will never be your brand and they can never share your same story.
Keep Things Customer-Centric
Donald Miller created the StoryBrand framework to help companies communicate clear and simple, yet highly effective messages. In your brand story, the customer needs to be the hero, not your brand. If what you do is customer-centric, the customer feels valued and will, in turn, remains loyal. Loyal customers are the bottom line’s best friend.
The aim of the story is to organize your customer’s thinking, eliminate confusion, and make the solution crystal clear while playing a supporting role to the hero of the story. Again, the customer is the hero!
Being strategic in deciding what content should be included and how it is arranged can be navigated by following a story framework such as this:
Your story hero (consumer) has a dilemma. The hero meets a guide (your business) who offers a solution. The guide indicates the steps to solve the problem and calls the hero to action, which results in success and helps them avoid future failures and dilemmas.
It is essential to know exactly what your customer wants from your brand to be able to tap into the driving force behind their purchase. The problem could be external, internal, or both.
It’s All in the Perception
The perception the viewer has of your brand will be essential to building trust. Showing empathy by relating to the customer’s pain point, and establishing yourself as an industry authority will enhance trustworthiness.
Your page layout should include a headline that either communicates brand benefits, identifies a problem and reassures the customer that you can solve it, or describes the company’s purpose in a concise way. To create trust and show authority, your page can include testimonials, awards, statistics, or logos of companies you have worked with. Homepage content should create an emotional connection with the customer which is followed up with a simple and clear call to action. The CTA can be in the form of a ‘Get in Touch’ button, ‘Try for Free’, or ‘Buy Now’.
Group Products For Better Shopping Experience
Just as in-store products are grouped in relevant categories, your eCommerce site should do the same. Products can be grouped together according to their function, size, color, price range, product type, and line. For example, if your site sells bedroom linen, you could group the linen into categories corresponding with different seasonal collections. They can also be categorized in sizes, color palettes, sheets, duvets, pillowcases, or themes.
The way you choose to categorize the items should make sense for your specific products, as well as follow a logical pattern of how your customer will browse the site. To determine this, you need a strong grasp of what your customers may look for and which products complement each other. If you need some help in determining this, look at the most common inquiries you receive about your products, or scan online forums where users discuss similar products and concerns.
Since product categories form the foundation of your catalog and site navigation, how you map them out can make or break the user’s shopping experience. Searching through multiple catalog pages for a product can become frustrating, time-consuming, and drive customers away. In addition to determining categories, online visual management should be optimized with sequencing, category format, and layout, as well as critical metrics that reveal conversion and abandonment rates.
Being able to sort and sequence products automatically will optimize eCommerce operations by monitoring inventory levels, customer preferences, and browsing behavior. Automatic sequencing ensures that no sales opportunities are missed without having to spend everyday gathering, reviewing, or analyzing site data.
Get to Know Customers Through Data Analytics
Although data is readily available to businesses with an online presence, it is not of much value if not interpreted and implemented in a strategic way. As a digital merchandiser, the data you obtain should be taken advantage of to enhance and personalize the customer experience. This can be done by checking which products and colors are the most popular and using this information in your layout and pricing strategy. The reverse also applies in determining which products are not popular and may not be worth stocking in high volumes, or manufacturing at all.
Data will also reveal consumer behavior and trends, changes in consumer needs, as well as their concerns. This also allows you to tap into the driving force behind purchases by showcasing relevant products at the forefront. It will help you formulate a visual strategy to optimize your merchandising tactic, and increase conversion rates with images that are relatable and impactful.
Data is imperative to carry out forecasting to stay ahead of the game. It helps you to anticipate customer needs and desires and set the tone for trends – as opposed to following trends. Your site should make consumers feel like they are discovering something new and that they can follow your brand as a trendsetter, regardless of the industry.
Focusing on Customer Needs is a Win
Giving customers more value than just your products can be a huge selling point to not only keep them browsing, but to keep them regularly coming back to your online store.
Producing relevant and interesting content that customers will find useful assures them that you are a legitimate leader in your field, increases the time they spend on your page, and encourages customers to take action on purchases. This content can take the form of product reviews, tips, blogs, videos, infographics, and images.
Continually updating the manners in which your e-store displays products will keep viewers engaged to see what’s new. In addition, product descriptions and attributes should be consistently updated. Accurate product information is vital to eCommerce growth, since customers cannot physically see and touch the product before purchasing.
Using a product catalog and attribute management tool to streamline and fast-track the process of updating product displays and descriptions will save you loads of time. Automation options, batch updates, and simplified drag-and-drop organization will allow you to refresh your catalog seamlessly.
Make it Easy to Find Products
When looking for a product in a brick-and-mortar store, customers can ask a sales associate. Online, the eCommerce site’s search tool serves as the sales associate.
Maximizing your search tool’s functionality is essential since consumers can only purchase products they can actually find in your catalog. If they can’t find what they’re looking for with ease, they will turn somewhere else. Doing this requires in-depth knowledge of what your customers may be looking for as well as the search terms associated with those items.
Your search function should guide the viewer to notice the items that you want them to view. This could entail showcasing newly launched or high-margin items first, listing according to stock availability, and featuring product collections or bundles. These could be beneficial, for example, if someone wants to redecorate a bedroom with a blue theme. Items could include bedding, pillows, cushions, lampshades, curtains, and decorations. These items may not necessarily belong in a single category, but can facilitate the upsell or cross-sell opportunities when featured in a collection or in bundles.
Offering a dynamic browsing experience also includes optimizing search filters. If a customer has searched and landed on a page for sneakers, allow them to filter the search further by gender, color, size, price range, and brand.
Displaying images straight away when searching for a product enhances the search and may also lead to customers clicking on something based on its visual appeal, even if they aren’t specifically looking for that product.
Investing in natural language processing (NLP) could turn your search function into an online shop assistant beyond reproach. NLP can provide an autocomplete tool for the search bar and offer related keyword suggestions in case a customer is using search terms that differ from the site’s.
Emphasize The “Visual” in Visual Merchandising
At the very core of eCommerce visual merchandising success lies the visual aspect. Since customers can’t physically engage with your sales staff, see the products, or experience the ambiance of your store, your eCommerce store and product visuals are the only way to win them over.
Best practices for effective product representation include using high-resolution and zoomable images, as well as providing multiple photos from different angles. Be cognizant of downloading time, as visitors with slower connections may struggle to view images and be steered away.
Integrating UGC into your product catalogs will allow you to connect with customers by asking them to share photos of them using or wearing the products. This serves as social proof and will influence and inspire other viewers to purchase the items.
Use large product photos since small photos can lead to confusion and reduce credibility. A great way to further boost credibility is by incorporating a product video. This may entail a demonstration of product use, offer clear 360˚ product views, be instructional, or showcase product benefits.
A 30-second video can allow you to convey information equal to at least half a page of text. Visitors are often more likely to watch the video, convert when viewing a product with a video than one without, and are less likely to return these products after purchase. It’s worth noting that this does not mean you should skimp on a text description. Ideally, they should be integrated to complement each other for the best results.
Next Level Digital Visual Merchandising with Smart Merchandiser
One reason many new businesses don’t prioritize eCommerce visual merchandising is that it be incredibly time-consuming. In business, time is money. Lost time is lost cash-flow. Ignoring the importance of effective online merchandising can set you far behind your competitors. However, if you have the right tools, eCommerce visual merchandising can be a breeze to coordinate and execute. This will not only save you time and money, but also drive sales and boost revenue.
Smart Merchandiser revolutionizes online store management by combining web intelligence, analytics, social, and graphical inventory. Smart Merchandiser allows you to merge analytics and monitoring with editing and inventory. You can seamlessly manage catalogs with drag-and-drop thumbnails. You can also sequence effectively, utilizing readily available information about who is visiting your site, the products they’re searching for, and what they are buying.
Smart Merchandiser knows that the online merchandising process is difficult without visual cues. This has led to the integration of the useful analytics overlay design. The tool backend overlays data onto images of the actual products, allowing you to see inventory updates and sales for each product on-demand. This insight facilitates strategic layout decisions based on real-time sales reports, color, inventory fluctuations, and social activity.
Smart Merchandiser allows your team to streamline processes and improve productivity by integrating all data sources and spreadsheets into a single tool. Not only does this allow you to respond in real-time to marketplace changes, but it boosts customers’ online experience.
Reach out to Smart Merchandiser today to streamline your eCommerce visual merchandising, optimize your site layout, boost productivity, maximize the customer experience, and ultimately drive sales!