20 July 2024, 14:34
By Jesse Akre Oct 05, 2021

Have you merchandised your website?

Upon entering a store, customers are typically greeted by a curated, well-balanced display – so why do so many retailers ignore how their product assortment comes across online? The president and COO of RetailSystem Global Brands, Jesse Akre, offers a few tips for turning clicks into conversions …

Retailers hear “you need to do this on your website,” and they immediately think of something else that’s more fun to do (OK, maybe not). But for many retailers, websites fall into a separate category of importance and prioritisation – almost like the gym on 4th January. Hot one day. For about a week. Then it’s back to the same old routines. 

One could make a blanket statement that Covid has pulled the need for web awesomeness five years forward (or more) – the great accelerator of all things digital for retail. But I still see many retailers struggling with the basic blocking and tackling of daily web activities. 

You want the cart to ring – but you’re not doing enough to make it happen (yes, I said cart, but don’t just think ecommerce – consumers still come to stores!).

In this article, I’m going to cover one activity that warrants daily review and action – merchandising your website (and do not equate merchandising to ecommerce – whether in-store or online, it’s all about engagement, so get your best items in front of your prospects first).

Think of the retail floor – the main showroom. The first thing the customer sees when they cross the physical threshold of your store is a strategically curated mix of items. Bestsellers. Top collections and items. High-profit items and loss leaders. Nothing’s there without some sort of purpose, and it’s carefully placed to grab their attention (engagement). 

Now, replace the words ‘main showroom’ with ‘your website’. What’s the first thing the customer sees when they visit your website? Are they presented with that cohesive merchandised experience? That purposefully curated selection, which engages and delights while aligning with your retail business goals? Really?

Don’t panic – just make it a priority. It’s not a difficult exercise, it just needs to happen (on a regular basis). Here’s a few tips to get you going …

Prioritise in stock and on display

Consumer hat on – what gets you visiting a particular store (beyond salt and pepper and daily consumables)? I’ll bet it has something to do with readiness for you to see/evaluate/purchase/take. As a retailer, you have to do all you can to set the items you have ready for the consumer to come and snatch up flagged on the site as ‘in stock’. 

If you have multiple locations in which they’re in stock, these items must be front and centre – the first things people see. Going one step further, hopefully your web platform has the ability to sort by those items that are ready for immediate purchase and pick-up – BOPIS anyone?

Focus on items with short lead times

If you have eight coffee table items in stock, but 10 others that can be in the consumer’s hands within a few weeks, consider prioritising the latter. As a consumer, you want a solid selection of items that meet that sense of urgency, but sometimes a brief wait is OK. Supply is always a challenge, so if you do elect to add a bit of depth to your prioritisation, make sure you revisit this on a regular basis with each vendor.

Fill in with supplier bestsellers

As I mentioned, having an ample selection within a category of products has a huge impact. For in-stock, short-lead time items, consider bestsellers in that category from the suppliers you carry. They may already be in stock or on a short lead time, so you may already be there – but you should always be asking your reps and suppliers what’s hot. There could be a few secret gems to add to the product mix.

Keep it thematic

Ever hear the term ‘hodgepodge’, as in a confused mixture (ironically the Google definition mentions furniture!)? When you’re adding products to categories, make sure they belong with the rest of the items you carry in that category. 

Sticking with the coffee table example, you have 20 coffee tables listed – all very modern and classic. Yet you have one coffee table that is shag covered with LED lighting (I’ve seen it – it is a thing). Yes, it’s technically still a coffee table – but does it fit? Or does it make the category feel like a hodgepodge?

Think about the fold

Ever hear someone say “keep it above the fold”? When you visit a website, without scrolling, what you see is above the fold. That immediate, first-glance presentation, without any user input.

Why is the fold important? Consumer hat on – you look at ‘coffee tables’, and there are three. That’s it. And then blank space. What does that do to your experience? Would you rush, credit card in hand, to do business with that retailer? Maybe – but probably not. 

Make sure you have a healthy assortment. If your web page has two rows of products above the fold, make sure you deliver a fulfilling experience.

But do note that as a consumer refines their selection, the number of items will naturally shrink. I’m discussing main category pages for the products you focus on on your site – would you dedicate valuable physical floor space to rugs, and only have two on display? 

Merchandising your site with the same level of detail as you dedicate to your main showroom will produce results. Consumers have expectations – take these steps to meet them. If you don’t have time, assign them to a key team member and hold them accountable. Either way, you’ll be glad you did.

Jesse Akre is the president of RetailSystem Global Brands. RetailSystem is a cloud-based retail management system (EPoS) designed specifically for furniture and mattress retailers.

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