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Online Merchandising Trends and Techniques: Session Recap from Online Market World

Last week, Alan and I spoke at the first edition of a new conference: Online Market World.

How will this conference make its mark among the sea of offerings targeted toward online retailers? Maybe with its highly interactive style. Each session offered its own live online chat, with in-the –room moderators then flipping comments and controversies back to the folks onstage. Attendees were also armed with hand-held signs (kinda like auction paddles) with "thumbs up" on one side and the ever-popular “No Bull” symbol on the other.

The panel I moderated was Online Merchandising Trends and Techniques. As I was honored to share the stage with some smart and interesting folks, I thought I’d offer a few highlights.

I kicked things off with 3 questions to frame the conversation to follow. The questions come from challenges we tackle with clients as they merchandise paid search landing pages and as we work to increase conversion with our consulting work.

Three challenges RKG identifies as central for online merchandisers:

  1. How can each page on your site help your user complete two key tasks: choosing a product to buy, and choosing to buy from you? On each page, you’re not only merchandising your SKUs, you’re merchandising your value proposition, too. This is especially important for retailers selling widely available products who wish to compete with more than price.
  2. How should your own site balance and blend old-school merchandising tactics (heroes, best-sellers, merchant's pick) with new techniques leveraging algorithmic and voice-of-customer approaches?
  3. How can off the shelf tools be customized to appropriately represent your brand and your selection, and the needs of your particular customer?

Next up, Lauren Freedman, President of The E-tailing Group shared highlights from her firm’s Annual Merchant Survey. Even more interesting than the survey’s many data points were several of the “that was then, this is now” observations Lauren offered to frame online merchandising’s evolution over the last decade. Some examples:

  • Who’s in control? Old World: The Merchant. New World: The Customer
  • What’s the starting point? Old World: Homepage. New World: Product Detail Page
  • What’s Community? Old World: Testimonials. New World: Product Reviews

Kelly O’Neill of ATG, brought the perspective of an e-commerce platform provider serving a large assortment of online stores. She reminded the audience that (as much as we may use physical retail space as an appropriate metaphor) online merchandisers have a huge opportunity to get creative and go beyond the limitations of available endcaps and a store’s physical layout. Kelly encouraged retailers to break through traditional barriers by gaining insight into the distinct customers and segments shopping their sites, and then offering each one an appropriately personalized and interactive shopping experience. And Kelly acknowledged that this involved taking a clear-eyed look at the size of one’s team and available tools--- and real work!

Michael Levit of Vendio encouraged retailers merchandising their own storefront to…look beyond their own storefront. Stressing the impact of distributed and portal commerce, Michael observed that “ The line between marketing and merchandising becomes blurry with Distributed Commerce”. Citing examples ranging from cross-sell apps on portals, merchandising via rss and blogs and the increased product detail available on some search engine's results pages Michael pointed out that widgets are gaining importance and practical applications within e-commerce.

Last but not least, Jack Jia, Baynote’s CEO and Founder offered a very interesting take on how online retailers can begin to reap the potential of true long-tail merchandising. He stressed that relying on any website’s slim and vocal minority—those few folks who actually bother to post product reviews, fill out surveys, etc.- can lead to the trap of “drawing on the biases of these few to set the standard for everyone else.” Jack points out that the majority of a site’s prospective customers—a group he describes with the neat phrase “The Invisible Crowd” are too often likely to leave the site with their needs unmet and their shopping carts empty. Jack’s interested in reversing this trend and seeks to help online retailers observe the behavior of their site’s Invisible Crowd and then merchandise with increased relevance to increase conversion.

Cool stuff all around, and I was glad to swap online merchandising ideas with this great panel.

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