Merchandising in fashion ecommerce: best strategies and practices
In this article, we'll take a look at some of the most effective ecommerce merchandising practices that you can use to increase your online sales.
Merchandising is not an entirely new concept. Different product presentation techniques and strategies boosting sales in brick-and-mortar stores have been around for almost as long as trade itself. Traditional visual merchandising is about understanding how to display products to influence purchasing decisions. Ecommerce merchandising may use different strategies, but it’s implemented with the same goal in mind.
In this article, we'll take a look at some of the most effective ecommerce merchandising techniques and strategies that you can use to increase your online sales.
What is merchandising in brick-and-mortar stores?
Popular merchandising strategies and practices in physical stores are designed around basic human instincts and senses – how the product looks, smells or feels to the touch is just as important as its quality.
This explains why brick-and-mortar shops put so much effort into using elaborate window displays, mannequin arrangements and decoratively folded clothes. Merchandising has become an integral part of every store’s strategy to create a tantalizing environment for shoppers.
Traditional (or visual) merchandising techniques are important for many reasons. They help to:
Attract new customers
Generate more foot traffic
Enhance brand awareness,
Promote specific products and services.
Merchandising in brick-and-mortar stores is proven to work, but there is a limit to how much can be done without data. This is where ecommerce merchandising techniques show their advantage.
How does ecommerce merchandising differ from traditional visual merchandising?
Many traditional visual merchandising techniques can be successfully replicated in ecommerce stores. While brick-and-mortar shoppers can rely on the experience of knowledgeable store employees, ecommerce stores can implement different size guides, fit finders, product videos, 360-degree product photography or virtual fitting rooms.
Nudie Jeans, a denim brand founded in Gothenburg in 2001 by Maria Erixon Levin, is a perfect example. The store offers its shoppers an intuitive fit guide, allowing them to find the right design and fit. Such a shopping experience helps the brand slash its return rates and keep its customers happy – statistics show that over 50% of returns are attributed to the wrong size or fit.
Additionally, Nudie Jeans offers a virtual fitting solution called Virtusize, which enables online fashion retailers to show consumers how the clothes will fit and look. As a result, choosing the right size is no longer a guessing game for Nudie Jeans shoppers.
As evidenced above, ecommerce merchandising attempts to translate traditional visual merchandising tactics into the digital world – and adds data and unique techniques to spice it all up. Compared to its non-digital counterpart, ecommerce merchandising is a complex process that involves proper product selection, pricing, website design and personalization.
Just like product groupings in brick-and-mortar stores help shoppers navigate the stores they know and love, ecommerce shoppers learn and get used to their favorite online store’s layout.
Good merchandising is a hallmark of great ecommerce, but building an effective ecommerce merchandising strategy isn’t as simple as replicating what shoppers experience in-store.
What is ecommerce merchandising?
In ecommerce terms, merchandising is a process of showing products to shoppers in a way that does not interfere with or interrupt their shopping journey. Merchandising on an ecommerce website is the process of displaying products or offers in order to boost sales.
Best ecommerce merchandising practices incorporate different marketing strategies and tactics encompassing UX, website design, sales and automation, and product photography. It happens on category pages and product pages, as well as in copy, and is supported by various personalization techniques.
Accenture reports that 91% of modern shoppers prefer brands that recognize them, remember them, and provide personalized offers and recommendations compared to brands that do not.
For online stores, good merchandising is a way to stand out from the competition. With merchandising, you can influence the way people perceive your brand and how they shop, driving brand engagement and awareness.
Also, you can drive more revenue by implementing a comprehensive merchandising strategy. In addition to increasing average order value (AOV), merchandising can inspire customers to return in the future, which is one of the main ways businesses grow revenue.
Is merchandising the same as personalization?
Merchandising and personalization both work toward boosting sales and guiding your customers through the buyer’s journey, but they focus on different measures to reach that goal.
Visitors to your brick-and-mortar store will encounter the same visuals, smells and associates, but your ecommerce site can offer many different paths to customers. Here’s a quick rundown of each approach:
Merchandising focuses on presenting your products in an organized and visually appealing way. Customers need to be able to find what they're looking for easily, and it’s in the store’s interest to make them buy more.
Personalization involves using data about your customers’ preferences and behavior to customize their shopping experience. The goal is to create a more personalized and targeted experience that will keep customers coming back.
Personalized shopping experiences lead to repeat purchases for 44% of all consumers. The pandemic only accelerated the shift to online retail, and while we’ve mostly learned to live with COVID in 2022, the shopping trends are here to stay.
This just makes the competition stronger, so you need to use the right techniques to engage your customers.
Best practices for ecommerce merchandising
As an ecommerce business, it’s important to have a solid merchandising strategy in place to ensure that your products are being presented in the best possible light and are appealing to your target audience.
By investing in effective merchandising techniques and strategies, you can increase your sales and profits, while also ensuring that your customers have a positive shopping experience. Effective merchandising can make your products more visible and appealing to potential customers, which can encourage them to make a purchase.
You can use merchandising techniques to upsell higher-priced items, or encourage customers to buy more products. Additionally, by making your products more appealing, you may be able to charge slightly higher amounts and still maintain healthy sales levels.
Finally, another big benefit of investing in merchandising is that it can help to create a better shopping experience for your customers. If customers enjoy their experience shopping on your site, they are more likely to return in the future and recommend your business to others.
Before developing your ecommerce merchandising strategy, you need to answer a few key questions:
Who are you selling to?
What are their needs and wants?
What type of products are they interested in?
By understanding your target audience, you'll be able to better select and market products that they'll be interested in. This increases your chances of being relevant from the beginning of the shopper’s journey. Merchandising-focused websites make the best first impression and guide the user from the start.
In the next sections, we will get into the nitty-gritty of online merchandising strategies that you can use.
Merchandising: Home page
The first thing your customers see when they search for your brand is your home page. Here are a few good ideas for home page merchandising:
Implement personalization to show users content in their language and using their currency. However, make sure to allow users to change the language and country settings at any time.
Promote popular, trending products, and show special deals or promotional offers
Include easy-to-access drop-down menus with categories
Show the search bar (with predictive search)
Display CTAs to boost conversions (e.g. Order now, Sign up for a trial, See the winter collection)
Give users an option to sign up for a newsletter
Ideal of Sweden uses their home page to show special deals and promotional offers.
Use great photos, videos and other media to make your homepage more appealing to customers and make it easy to navigate. Carefully consider the layout, and aim for an engaging yet simple homepage. And don’t forget about your mobile shoppers: one-third of internet users in the US buy something online with their mobile phones every week. So having a mobile-optimized online store — or better yet, a dedicated ecommerce app — is crucial.
Let’s take a closer look at some key elements of the store’s home page:
A menu is an essential navigation tool for your customers to find their way around your site. Menu items will provide quick links to the homepage, product categories and shopping cart of the site.
Holzweiler uses a simple menu at the top of the screen with different collections (Women, Men, Kids, Scarves, Holzweiler Holiday). After clicking, a list of related product categories will appear.
Your home page should highlight a product or collection that your potential customers would most likely find appealing. This could be a seasonal offering, your all-time most popular product, or the highest-rated one. Take this example from Holzweiler – the store features the new jacket collection for the 2022 winter season.
Likewise, NN07 showcases a trending collection right above the fold, with a CTA button encouraging the customer to see all products.
Below the fold, the home page can also be used to show other products or product categories. Eton does this well by showing the three product categories under the fold of the home page – Dress Shirts, Casual Shirts, and Flannel Shirts.
Alternatively, based on behavioral data about your users, you can set different rules to help you show shoppers something relevant to them. Stronger, for example, displays recommendations of products the visitor might like based on what they’ve previously looked at or purchased on the website.
Free shipping threshold
Shipping costs are among the most common shopper concerns and causes of cart abandonment in ecommerce. Offering a free shipping option and communicating it right on the home page is a great strategy to turn undecided visitors into customers. The “free shipping” banner on the Stronger home page is one of the first things shoppers notice.
Single product focus
This is not a common case in fashion ecommerce, as most brands offer a number of products, but lesser-known brands that don’t have social proof or have a small product catalog can build their stores around just a few powerful, pixel-perfect images and text.
If you have a smaller range of products, focus on a single one on your homepage and develop powerful storytelling around it. This is also a good strategy if your ecommerce store is new and you have a limited budget to publicize them. Broz&Broz is a perfect example of a mono-brand that has turned this to its advantage. The brand offers a single product designed in various colors and styles, monochrome and patterned. For monochrome swimsuits, it’s even possible to create a customized pair.
But other than that, there isn’t much more on the website. They just use crisp photography and storytelling.
Telling a story on your home page helps you show who you are, what you sell, and what solutions you provide. Start by including imagery and text explaining your products or brand, how your products work, and why customers should buy them. A shopper can then scroll down to find more detailed information and specific categories, offers or discounts.
Harkila is Europe's leading hunting apparel, footwear and equipment brand. They use storytelling through photography and copy to tell the brand’s story: Härkila is true to its legacy and has a strong commitment to quality. Their products are designed to last and are used by those who demand more from their hunting gear. It’s for the ambitious, the passionate and the professional.
Your brand identity is determined by your tone of voice and how you present yourself visually. The goal of ecommerce merchandising is to grab the customer’s attention as quickly as possible, encouraging them to learn more and stay on your site for as long as possible.
Therefore, businesses must step up their homepage visuals. Visual merchandising is needed on all pages, in fact – from the homepage to individual product pages. Some brands have experimented with 360-degree visuals and demonstration videos to showcase the product. Platform as a Service (PaaS) businesses, for example, may rely on these demos, because a physical product doesn’t exist.
Storytelling for your brand can be reinforced with social media content on the official fan page. Besides improving SEO (especially in fashion ecommerce) and rankings, this can also give customers an even better understanding of brand identity, allowing them to see what other customers think of your products. They may also purchase if the reviews and feedback are good.
Merchandising: Social Proof
Offering discounts and attractively displaying products may not be enough to convince shoppers to purchase. Your potential customers need to feel comfortable purchasing from you. Reinforce your brand with social proof. You should back up your bold marketing claims using customer reviews, testimonials, ratings, user product reviews, user-generated content, important badges, etc.
Social proof can be shown on the home page, product pages or search result pages. You can let your customers speak for you by displaying social proof on your website. More than 90% of consumers look at product reviews and customer testimonials before making an online purchase. Moreover, 72% of consumers say positive reviews have helped them trust a company before making a purchase.
To implement social proof, you can use a wide range of elements that encourage them, such as:
Positive reviews may help you remove any potential barriers to purchase. For example, the equestrian wear brand Maya Delorez uses testimonials of happy customers to reinforce their image and eliminate shoppers’ concerns with social proof.
Ideal of Sweden, on the other hand, includes a feed of Instagram photos tagged #idealofsweden – this is an excellent tactic to build social proof. It’s like saying: yes, our products look great, and here is the proof – Instagram photos featuring our products from our happy shoppers.
Merchandising: Category pages
Fashion ecommerce category pages should include not only product names and images, but also some of the most basic information that customers might find important, such as pricing and shipping information.
Attractive, category-based merchandising should include:
A spotlight on the bestselling product from the category
Product comparisons on options available
Searching for a specific product can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Grouping related products in relevant categories is an effective merchandising strategy, especially in ecommerce. Fashion shoppers expect to be able to find a product using categories like trousers, vests, shirts, etc.
Category pages can be used to show promotions and upsell to customers. They also make it easier for users to navigate the site, just like going to a specific department of a physical store. Also like in a physical store, some categories can cross over – for example, ties can appear alongside bow ties, and sweatshirts can cross over with hoodies, meaning your ecommerce platform should allow you to assign multiple categories to a single product.
Adding faceted search and filtering options within category pages will make it easier for customers to find a specific product, even before reading product descriptions. Nudie Jeans uses very transparent categories to organize their product range, and each category comes with additional filters to facilitate product discovery.
Fashion brands are the ones that most commonly organize products in collections, but this type of merchandising works just as well for other types of goods. Apart from product categories discussed above (trousers, T-shirts, vests, shoes, etc.), groups of products can also be organized within collections (women, men, running, etc.). A collection can contain products from multiple categories. This way, you can show your shoppers many related products that they may not have searched for using the search bar.
The jeans brand Nudie Jeans shows links to men’s and women’s collections under the fold on the home page.
Craft Sportswear shows neatly organized collections at the bottom of the home page.
To keep the homepage scannable and readable, utilize a grid style to host your collection photos and links. Also, it’s a good idea to rotate your collections to respond to current fashion trends and seasonality.
Grouping a collection of products on a single landing page is a good way to cross-sell your offerings and introduce your new collections to shoppers.
Collections are especially useful for shoppers who come to the store without a clear purchase intent. Many of them look for certain styles. If you feature multiple collections, create a category page for them that people can easily browse.
Maya Dolorez’s store organizes its products in a few different collections.
The example below, on the other hand, shows their “Show wear” collection, which consists of different products across different categories.
Collections not only support product discovery and help visitors navigate your store, but also allow them to discover products they would have never found through the search box. Cross-selling techniques work great in collection pages (more so than in categories).
Apart from the traditional collection categories like men, women, kids, etc., you can build collections around colors, fabrics, seasons, and trends. The sky is the limit.
See the example below from Stronger. Their “Women’s Sportswear and Printed Gym Leggings” collection contains products from different categories: bras, tights, hoodies, and so on.
Merchandising: Product pages
Product pages are pages created specifically for each product to make searching easier for the customer. Product pages, alongside great photography and pricing, should provide the shopper with complete information about the product. Of course, real estate is limited, and visual design aesthetics also play a role, so don’t go overboard. Too much of a good thing won’t help you sell your product — it might just make it harder to communicate its value.
Some elements are optional, while others have become a norm in fashion ecommerce. On your page, each of these elements must appear, and their order and placement can greatly influence your page’s effectiveness.
Let’s now look at some examples and good practices from fashion brands.
Allowing customers to zoom in on product photos lets shoppers get as close as possible to the tactile experience of seeing the product in a physical store. Nudie Jeans does just that, allowing shoppers to inspect every product detail before purchasing.
Close-up photos of the key features
Maya Dolorez uses high-quality close-up photos that showcase the product's key features. This answers some of the questions customers might have about the product, like what features it has or what accessories it comes with.
Quality 360-degree product photos
Quality 360-degree product photos allow customers to look at your products from every angle. The example below shows the Craft Sportswear homepage with pixel-perfect product photos.
Product videos are a great way to show the product from different angles and lighting conditions. Stronger does it exceptionally well. They add crisp videos featuring the product, helping the shopper build a positive mental image and imagine how they will use it.
For more on product photography in fashion ecommerce, head to another post on our blog.
The product page example has several elements that not only make it look good, but also increase conversions. The shopper is informed about limited stocks and free gifts that potentially come with the product.
On a fashion ecommerce site, you may notice a path at the top of the page, which may look something like:
Home > Hoodies > Men’s hoodies
This is a breadcrumb. Breadcrumbs describe a person's path to get to a product page on the web. They will show all the different web pages a customer visits before landing on a specific product. The example below shows breadcrumbs for Stronger’s Cush Cropped Tee, helping users orient themselves in the store's structure without showing them the whole navigation menu.
Titles should be prominent on the page and easy to find. The product title gives your customers a sense of what the product is about. Don't be too complicated, but try to be as specific as you can.
When writing a product title, it's important to be as specific as possible while still being easy to read. A product title could be a proprietary name (like the Sandquist Konrad example above) or more descriptive, like the Craft’s Adv Bike SubZ Jacket M, which immediately suggests its purpose and size.
Next to the photos, price and product title, you need a product description. This is also known as a product detail page (PDP). The product detail page is the last mile in selling merchandise. If one element has stayed static over the decades in the evolution of digital transformation, it's been the value associated with PDP. As a result, it stands today as the most crucial bridge in capturing the sale versus any other landing page on the site.
A description of the product is also very important. It should not be too long but should include accurate information about the product and its functions, benefits and limitations.
Descriptions shouldn’t be too long, but they must address all common concerns and questions the shopper might have. If you can sprinkle it with relevant keywords from an SEO point of view as well, that’s even better.
Nudie Jeans uses product descriptions to address all shopper concerns in three sections: product details, transparency and care instructions.
A product description should also address any major objections or concerns anyone might have about the item.
Good product photography is the cornerstone of fashion ecommerce. A product page, just like the home page, needs high-quality images so customers can get a good look at what they’re buying.
Customers should be able to get the equivalent of feeling the texture of your products, smelling them and wandering around your store as they shop online. After all, they have one sense to use instead of four.
On the Halfords product page they offer a cross-sell mechanism that is combined with a customer’s favorite thing – a discount. The “bundle deals” put together the type of items a sales assistant in-store would suggest, apply a small discount, and offer an easy, one-step add-to-basket option.
The customer is happy with the convenience and discount, and the retailer is happy with additional add-on-sales.
Merchandising: Featured Products
The top of the page should generally be a hero shot of one specific offering. Nudient, for example, uses the space above the fold to feature their best-selling products. In the example below, you see the Red Dot Design Winner 2022 Bold Case for iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro.
By doing so, you are more likely to be able to show the new visitors something they might be interested in right from the start, as you are triggering multiple selling points designed for different segments.
Merchandising: Combining collections and featured products
For many online brands, combining collection-based and featured product merchandising on the homepage is the best of both worlds. Your site can be optimized for shoppers with specific needs while highlighting your most popular products. The example below comes from the Stronger website, which combines collections (categories at the top) with personalized product recommendations:
Rotating highlighted products
Suppose you have many repeat customers and a wide product range. In that case, a basic ecommerce merchandising strategy is to rotate your homepage visuals and highlight certain products (if you don’t use personalization).
Just consider that even traditional stores use this technique, and not just by changing what is in the window – grocery stores sometimes switch up rows or change the location of sections to force their customers to look at more products while searching for what they originally wanted.
Merchandising: Site search
About 10 to 20% of customers go straight to search bars to find the product they are looking for. For many users, entering a keyword in the search bar is the first way to interact with a website. In addition, you can personalize the search experience to show the shopper results tailored to them based on their profile, including past search history, purchase history, brand preference, product ratings, gender and more.
You should prioritize the products that generate the most revenue.
Provide the user with suggestions for related collections or product categories. Suggestions are better than showing a “no results found” page.
You can display products based on user history that are more likely relevant to them at the top of the search results.
Make the search result page more informative by including visuals instead of just text results.
Implement the search autocomplete feature.
Use promotional badges (roundels) on product images to highlight ongoing promotions, offers and discounts (e.g., SALE, 30% OFF, and so on).
Use faceted search to improve the shopping experience.
You can use banners to highlight promotional periods or specific products or brands outside of the search results so that shoppers know about new collections without interfering with their browsing experience. For example, during seasonal sales or promotional periods like Black Friday, banners can effectively boost sales, highlight bundle offers or inform shoppers of limited-time offers.
If your on-site search solution allows for this level of customization, you can also display search banners on results pages.
With instant search, the results change as the user types a query – there is no need to hit the enter key. Search results can be ordered or optimized with personalized products.
With predictive search, you can configure the search results to suggest products to shoppers as they type in the search box. Online shoppers can be guided, given product recommendations, and even corrected if omitted characters or misspellings occur with the right predictive search tool on ecommerce sites. The result? Higher conversion rates and customer satisfaction.
With autocomplete, suggestions are shown in the search query window as the shopper types. This should also automatically compensate for any spelling errors.
Search results can be filtered across your collections. For example, a filter for “shoes” or “T-shirts.”
Dynamic filters (aka facets)
With autocomplete, suggested filters appear dynamically to help the users narrow down the results.
Natural language search
The search box understands natural language phrases in different supported languages and can use them to recommend relevant products based on descriptions like “a warm sweater.” Look at the below example from the Lacoste online store.
Lacoste search box powered by Algolia
On the Stronger store, as you type “winter” in the search box, the results will include all clothes and accessories related to the season, even though the search query may not exactly match any particular product name.
Certain site search solution vendors like Search.io (now acquired by Algolia) offer site-wide personalization and recommendations for ecommerce websites.
Redirecting searches to landing pages
Sometimes, shoppers search for information about your store rather than for specific products. Searching for opening hours, contact information or the location of the store is the most common example. It’s not a good idea to take them to a search page without results when this happens. Direct your users to the relevant information on your site in these cases.
Merchandising: Shopping cart
Your shopping cart is a perfect place to implement cross-selling. This works especially well with accessories. Ecommerce merchants have a unique opportunity to offer related or complementary products when customers check their cart to see the items, overall price, shipping and other details, as you know in real-time what they are interested in.
With upselling, you simply take a product the customer has already committed to and offer a bigger, more complex, more expensive version of it.
A cross-sell, however, offers the customer something else they are likely to buy along with the chosen product. The key here is to consider the original intent. In this case, this means products that the customer searched for on the site.
Along with a "recommended products" section, you can leverage many strategies to provide relevant suggestions to shoppers.
Personalization is an integral part of ecommerce merchandising. Product recommendations help guide online shoppers on their customer journey. The process also opens up an array of opportunities to increase conversion rates and sales.
Beyond personalization based on various information the user provides in the registration process, there are many other types of personalization in ecommerce stores. Here are some of the most common:
Product recommendations: Based on your past purchasing history or browsing behavior, ecommerce websites can recommend similar or related products that you might be interested in.
Location-based personalization: Ecommerce stores can customize their content and product offerings based on your location. This could include showing different prices based on where you are located or displaying products that are popular in your area.
Search bar personalization: Ecommerce websites can remember what you have searched for in the past and use that information to provide tailored search results and recommendations.
Personalized emails: Stores can send personalized email campaigns or push notifications with relevant content.
Personalized shopping experience: Personalized home, category and checkout pages can create a unique user interface or design for each customer.
Personalized special offers: Custom discounts or deals can be based on customer preferences and behavior.
Personalized pricing: The store can display different prices to different customers based on their location, purchase history or other factors.
Personalization can improve the shopping experience for the shopper, and increase the AOV – a benefit for the store. You can use personalization techniques to recommend relevant products to the shopper, often as part of cross- or up-sell efforts. The cart, checkout and thank you pages all offer personalization opportunities. It is also a chance to get to know your customer better and build a long-term relationship with them.
Well-implemented personalization can make the shopper buy more. If the product combo makes sense, it might increase the order value. If the person is clearly buying gym tights, why not offer them a top to go with that?
Based on favorites and browsing history, Stronger recommends similar products.
Complete the style with other favorites – Stronger helps the shopper find products that go well together.
Upselling does not have to be limited to the cart page – it can also be done on the thank you page when the customer has already paid for the purchase but you think something would go really well with it.
In another post on the Centra blog, we go into the nitty-gritty of personalization techniques in ecommerce.
Merchandising to returning customers
It’s important to focus on building loyalty to your business if you want customers to make multiple purchases. One way to build strong customer loyalty is by making your shopping experience fast, convenient and without unnecessary interruptions. This will make it more likely that your customers will go with you when they need more of the products they bought before.
Additionally, consider implementing a loyalty program in which points can be redeemed for discounts or even one-time codes on birthdays. You can also incentivize retargeting abandoned carts with special offers for items most often left in them or listed as wish lists.
As the competition in ecommerce stores continues to escalate, it’s important to consider how you can create a branded journey for customers from the homepage to checkout. You may not be able to entice customers with scents and in-store displays in your ecommerce store, but you can compensate for it with powerful visual merchandising using technology and creativity.
Please keep in mind that each store is different, and while there might be a couple of do’s and don’ts, there is no silver bullet. Ecommerce merchandising is tough to get right. The best way forward is to think beyond the basics and experiment with different strategies that make sense for your brand.