Why visual merchandising is the hot new eCommerce trend you shouldn’t ignore

Kate Hassey profile picture
Last updated: 13 Feb 2019

Visual merchandising is a marketing concept that traditional brick-and-mortar retail stores have embraced for years. It’s a simple, yet highly effective strategy that companies use to improve the customer experience, build brand loyalty, drive sales, and generate repeat business.

But that doesn’t mean it’s something that online merchandising companies should ignore. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Because so many digital merchandising eCommerce companies are ignoring this powerful marketing tool, you can use it to your advantage to stand out from the competition in a big way.

What is visual merchandising?

Visual merchandising is a concept that is very easy to understand. In fact, you almost certainly experienced it to some degree the last time you visited a store in your neighborhood.

Think back to your last visit to that store. When you walked in you probably noticed everything was laid out a certain way. The lighting was nice and bright so you could see all of the products. The store probably had a certain smell to it. There may have been soft music playing. Depending on the store, you may have even been welcomed by a greeter when you first walked in.

All of these are elements of visual merchandising. Each element is one part of a carefully designed marketing plan that is used to make sure the overall customer experience is warm, inviting, and positive.

It’s important to point out that despite the name, visual merchandising isn’t just about making sure things are visually pleasing. It’s about the overall customer experience. Elements of visual merchandising may include:

  • The store layout
  • The way merchandise is displayed
  • The color schemes used throughout the store
  • The sounds customers hear
  • The way a store smells
  • The overall feel (welcoming, warm, cozy, etc.)

The feeling you get when you walk in a store is not an accident. It is very carefully designed to make you feel a certain way. There’s even an entire field of study devoted to it in academia that’s known as marketing psychology.

This feeling you get in a store is carefully designed to encourage you to one thing: buy products.

Visual merchandising for eCommerce

Many online merchandising companies assume that visual merchandising is something that only applies to brick-and-mortar stores. After all, customers who are shopping online can’t smell anything in the store. Special lighting doesn’t apply. And there’s no one to greet them, thank them for their business, or wish them a good day.

But it would be a mistake to think that visual merchandising doesn’t apply to online merchandising companies. Many of the concepts that are used in brick and mortar stores can be applied to eCommerce platforms to increase sales, just in a different way.

The store layout is one example. Instead of the focus being on how products are displayed in a physical store, the store layout for online merchandising involves the visual attractiveness of the website, how easy products are to find, product descriptions and images, and other factors.

Critical factors

First impressions are made within the first 2-3 seconds. And if new customers land on your website and don’t like what they see, they will most likely hit the back button and take their business elsewhere. Because of this, it’s absolutely critical that your website is as visually attractive as possible.

Your homepage is your storefront. It’s the first page customers land on when they go to your website. As such, you want it to look as visually pleasing as possible. You want the “wow factor” to be high.

Your homepage should be very simple, warm, and inviting. It should have a visually pleasing color scheme, be uncluttered, and have intuitive navigation. It’s also very important to resist the temptation to include too much information on the homepage. You don’t want to overwhelm customers, and some things, like information on the company, can be placed on an “About” page.

To maximize the customer experience, all products should have several high-resolution images that were taken by a professional photographer. The website should allow customers to zoom in and out and even see a 360 degree view of each product.

Quality images help customers make informed buying decisions. This ensures there are no surprises, and it also decreases product returns.

If a professional photographer is not currently in your budget, it’s still possible to take high-quality images yourself by using a DSLR camera and a light box. There are many used cameras available for affordable prices, and light boxes are very inexpensive.

In addition to having great product images, you also want to have product descriptions that are easy to read and to the point. Short product descriptions are preferable. Most customers won’t take the time to read a lengthy description. You want them to be as short as possible while conveying all of the necessary information. Product descriptions should also avoid using complex terminology (unless unavoidable).

The connection between brick and mortars and eCommerce

These days many brick-and-mortar retail stores also have eCommerce websites. It isn’t always a case of one or the other. Sometimes it’s both. And increasingly many companies are making sure that the two retail platforms are connected.

One way companies are connecting the two platforms is by giving customers the option to order products online and then pick them up at a local store. And many companies also give customers that ordered products online the option to return them to a local store for a quick refund.

In short, a surprising percentage of retail shopping is now being done on people’s laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other devices. And if your company sells products both in person and online, you want to make sure your website is fully optimized for a variety of different digital devices.

The simplest way to make sure your website is fully optimized is to choose an eCommerce platform that is responsive. This simply means that the platform automatically adjusts the website layout to fit the screen of whatever device is being used to view it.

Having a responsive eCommerce platform isn’t just about making your website look good. Google has recently stated that they are now penalizing websites  that aren’t mobile friendly through appropriately low search results ranking. s.

An investment in your future

Visual merchandising is no longer something that eCommerce companies can ignore. Selling on the internet continues to change at a rapid pace, and to remain competitive, companies need to make sure the shopping experience is one that leaves customers with a positive impression of the company.

Thankfully, visual merchandising is not a difficult concept to understand and implement. And after incorporating the strategy into your eCommerce platform, it is something that takes very little work to maintain.

It’s a small investment that can lead to big rewards.

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