The retail customer journey often begins online. 81% of shoppers conduct an online search before buying. However, just having an online presence is just table stakes and not a differentiator anymore. Retailers need to differentiate by delivering engaging and interactive content that recreate physical experiences online. One needs to approach Online Merchandising with a fresh perspective. You need new strategies to combat the digital fatigue of shoppers that is bound to set in. Keep reading to get some interesting ideas.
What is Online Merchandising? Online Merchandising can be described as the presentation of products, collections and other products information in a strategic manner to make the digital storefront more relevant for the shoppers. An enhanced website makes the shopping journey more engaging, thus leading to increased online sales. Merchandisers are responsible for everything that happens to a product from the moment it is delivered to the moment a shopper actually purchases the product. The goal of online merchandising is to present the products in the best possible manner and make them discoverable at the right time, nudging the customer to “add to cart” and buy the products. Merchandisers have to optimise screen real estate to boost sales.
Now let’s take a look at all the tools in the arsenal.
Online store: Site Design
Aesthetics and clarity
Branding and storytelling
Banner and Home pages
Product placements- ranking and display
Upselling and cross-selling
Sales and offers
Reviews and Ratings
User generated content, etc.
Site Search and Navigation: Data suggests that eCommerce retailers investing in advanced search capabilities enjoy 50% higher conversion rates in comparison to those with basic search features. To make Search and navigation more intuitive you need to have rich product attribution that enables products to surface at the right time. The Searcher has already shown intent and is down the purchase funnel. We need to ensure she finds what she is looking for no matter how she looks for it. An advanced search that understands query intent, synonyms, handles spelling, strong fall-back logic and relevant recommendations leads to greater conversion.
Enriched product attributes allow the merchandiser to slice and dice the catalog in ways that are engaging. Shoppers should be able to look for occasion-based collections like Office wear, Brunch wear etc. This adds context to their shopping experience.
And if Search and Navigation can be personalised then we can’t ask for more. Product enrichment and personalisation would require some amount of automation so you should look at AI-powered solutions.
Product Presentation: Merchandisers focus a lot on Content generation for the PLP and PDP pages as they know how critical it is for sales. Large teams or agencies work on this aspect. When done manually content is prone to errors.
Good-quality images are a must in online merchandising. Typically, products are shot, backgrounds are removed and replaced and aspect ratios and order of presentation are maintained. For images with flat backgrounds experiments of adding shadows have proven to significantly impact sales. All of this tedious image management can be automated. The next step in this journey is digital garments. These are still not commercially viable but you should keep an eye on this technology.
Most product descriptions are typically describing the product that a shopper can see in the visual and do not add much value. n Fashion for instance product descriptions should offer style advice and tell the shopper how she can style the garment, what occasion she can use it for and how she is likely to be perceived in that outfit. Automated systems like the Outfitter offer vogue style descriptions at scale.
Product ranking and listing based on sales velocity and trends and other business goals need to be in real-time if possible and that is possible only with intelligent automation. It is possible to automatically monitor product listing on competitor sites to understand what is selling for them and adjust your presentation accordingly. This Product ranking and listing should also be personalised based on the affinity of the shopper to purchase it.
Creating Omnichannel Experiences : Pre-Covid Omni channel was just a buzz word now it is a reality. 74% of online shoppers take advantage of multiple channels to search products and complete transactions during their purchase journey. Another statistic suggests that the shoppers using multiple channels for online shopping purchase 3 times more than shoppers using single channels. 75% customers expect unified experiences across all or any shopping channels they choose.
Brands with large catalogs can use visual search to enable their customers to take a photo of anything and look for a similar product within the brands catalog. This works exceedingly well for fashion. Say you liked something a celebrity was wearing or saw something on instagram, you can upload that image and find similar products.
Sephora has done a fantastic job of Omni-channel retailing. In the offline store, they even have an AI styling Virtual Artist that enables you to apply makeup on your avatar to experience how it will look without having to actually try on the product. You also have AI stylists that can assist in finding the right garments for you.
Retailers need to build seamless and tailored customer experiences across diverse sales channels and platforms. They need to let customers effortlessly cross over channels with combinations like buying online while picking up in-store, earning loyalty points across channels, offering multiple ways to reach out to customer service, and even providing more than one way to return merchandise.
Personalization and Beyond : Data says that 80% of customers are more likely to purchase from brands that offer personalized experiences. The entire shopping experience, right from discovery to purchase and beyond, needs to be personalized and tailored based on the individual customer needs, preferences and current and past behaviours.
Build customers’ virtual closets and offer AI styling advice at scale to all your loyalty program members. Stitch Fix cracked the fashion-in-a-box concept using both tech and stylists. This technology is now available for all and can be effectively used for Loyalty members.
Style quizzes and browsing data give a granular view of shoppers’ preferences. Retailers leveraging automated tools and self-learning AI offer hyper-personalized shopping experiences. The look and feel of the website and content are curated just for the shopper. They get highly tailored, real-time recommendations and promotional offers nudging them towards conversion.
Fashion retailers can conduct styling competitions with AI-powered Mix and Match tools to create outfits. This gamification leads to greater engagement and offers a more immersive shopping experience.
With no physical stores, brands need to offer ways for customers to visualize products better. Merchandisers need to get familiar with AI; AR/VR; ML; 3D garments, Computer vision, voice recognition etc to figure out how these can add value to customer interactions across platforms. The unique applications of these technologies with the differentiating factor for every brand.
The future of retail is likely to involve further innovation and the integration of AI to improve the customer experience. The use of AI is playing an increasingly important role in this process, with retailers using it to improve the customer experience and offer personalized recommendations.
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