The Ultimate Guide to Online Visual Merchandising [2022]

If your eCommerce brand is not investing big in online visual merchandising, you’re missing out on a lot of revenue potential. What revenue potential?

By 2025, online retail sales are expected to exceed $7.3 billion, with online shoppers already exceeding 2.14 billion. There is no denying that post-pandemic eCommerce industry changes are here to stay. But with increased online shoppers and revenue comes stiffer competition.

Therefore, if you want to compete, you need to make sure you are creating an immersive shopping experience across your online store. You not only need to show the right product at the right time to improve conversion chances, but do it in a visually strategic way.

This is where online visual merchandising can set you apart, while improving revenue, inventory optimization, and overall customer experience. All of this ensures long-term profitability.

This post takes you through everything you need to know about visual merchandising, including: 

  1. What Is Online Visual Merchandising?
  2. Online Visual Merchandising Benefits
  3. Key Elements of a Winning Visual Merchandising Strategy
  4. 3 Expert Online Visual Merchandising Strategies, Best Practices, and Hacks to Boost Profits

What Is Online Visual Merchandising?

Online visual merchandising is the strategy used by eCommerce brands to encourage potential customers and shoppers to explore collections, categories, and products. Like in-store merchandising, it’s about grabbing attention, creating an enhanced customer experience, and pushing specific products to specific customers.

This means turning window displays into website homepages, replacing in-store events with online social proof, and adding a host of online visual merchandising touchpoints across your entire shopping journey to create an immersive shopping experience that boosts profits.

Pro Tip: Want to boost profits even more? Then combine the power of online visual merchandising with advanced category product sorting and smart product collections. Even better, harness the machine learning optimization and automation of Kimonix so you can do it on autopilot.

When it comes to visual merchandising, every second counts. Unlike in-store merchandising, which has the advantage of a captive audience, online retailers have fewer than 15 seconds to grab a potential customer's attention and keep them engaged.

While physical stores rely on discoverability, eCommerce online visual merchandising is designed to attract customers as quickly as possible and keep them engaged throughout the buyers' entire journeys.

Beginner Note: Evolution of Online Visual Merchandising

New to visual online merchandising? Before we get into the critical elements of a winning strategy, let’s look at the evolution of merchandising. Here are a few ways traditional brick-and-mortar merchandising has evolved for the eCommerce industry:

  1. Store layout became site layout, while the signage became store site navigation.
  2. Window displays became homepage collections and layouts.
  3. Checkout merchandising became checkout optimization, such as product upsells and in-cart promotions.

And the benefits?

Online Visual Merchandising Benefits

Visual merchandising enables eCommerce marketers to create a seamless, engaging shopping experience. It increases important eCommerce metrics, such as time on site, AOVs (average order values), and conversion rates while lowering bounce rates.

How? A robust online visual merchandising strategy increases:

  1. Brand accessibility: When created right, online merchandising strategies draws in shoppers intuitively. Ultimately, it means the difference between potential customers easily finding their way to products they would love or bouncing off to a more accessible competitor’s site.
  2. Product conversions: A winning online merchandising strategy will ensure that the right products are shown to the right potential shopper at the right time through visual journey building and advanced product sorting.
  3. Brand loyalty and trust: The way you display your products and their relevance to specific shoppers play a significant role in customers identifying positively with your brand. Additionally, when combined with social proof and reviews, it builds trust and offers a way for customers to engage with your brand, even after a sale is completed.

Key Elements of a Winning Visual Merchandising Strategy

There are five main areas you will want to optimize first when it comes to visual commerce. They include your store’s:

  • Homepage
  • Layout and navigation
  • Category pages and product collections
  • Product pages
  • Cart and checkout

Ultimately, you want to make sure that they all work together to create a seamless and personalized shopping journey from awareness to sale. 

Let’s take a closer look at each:

1. Homepage

Your homepage is most often the first point of contact between you and a potential customer. It sets the tone for your overall aesthetics, layout, and navigation. Whether it’s the colors and hues or the placement of product collections, every UX element counts.

When it comes to homepage visual commerce strategies, it helps to think of your main store page as your virtual window display. You want to make sure it can quickly grab the attention of potential shoppers with the right products, categories, and collections, while also instilling instant trust.

A good eCommerce homepage includes:

  1. Highlighted products, categories, and collections
  2. Easy-to-find or follow site search and navigation triggers
  3. Social proof and UGC (user-generated content)
  4. Links to essential information pages
  5. Onsite personalization based on key demographics and intent

Pro Tip: Take your homepage category product sorting to pro level. By using basic demographic data and advanced product sorting based on key retail KPIs, you can tailor your online visual marketing strategy to specific locations while simultaneously meeting retail goals. The most effective way of doing this is with advanced multi-parameter product sorting tools like Kimonix.

Don’t forget to put your value-added proposition and CTAs front-and-center above the fold. Here’s a great CTA example of a brand doing just that, from Bulletproof:

bulletproof online store CTA example

[Source: StoreYa]

They have their value (“power your morning”), a promotion (“ save 30%”), and a CTA (“stock up”) all in one banner that immediately engages shoppers.

2. Layout and Navigation

Your store navigation plays a key role in your online visual merchandising. Why? It helps to think of navigation as the equivalent of in-store signage. There are essential elements of layout and navigation.

  • Menus
  • Search

When designed well, your layout and site navigation help move shoppers more seamlessly through the buying process.

To do this, stores should consider:

  • Optimizing and text of overall navigation structure
  • Investing in search bar design
  • Displaying parent categories with easy navigation to subcategories prominently
  • Highlighting popular product collections, such as “best sellers” or “new arrivals”
  • Including a sitewide benefits bar
sitewide benefits bar example shopify

[Source: Shopify]

3. Category Pages and Product Collections

The next area that plays a big part in your overall visual commerce are product and collection pages. Again, this is not just about design; it’s about putting the right products front and center. It’s all about putting the right sorting or ranking strategies in place.

After all, isn’t the overall goal of online visual merchandising to get the right product in front of the right shopper at the right time in the most seamless way possible? Yes, your layout matters in ensuring they have a good shopper experience and easy engagement, but the way you rank products on these pages will ultimately determine conversion potential.

When it comes to optimizing collections and category pages, you will want to:

  • Tweak and optimize UX
  • Add advanced product sorting and automation
  • Optimize pages for SEO
  • Consider optimized filtering and sorting options
  • Optimize pages with advanced online merchandising and recommendations

Example: Paninisport uses advanced innovative collections that take a host of parameters into consideration for product collection and category pages.

Topper

You can read more about optimizing your category pages and see winning examples in our 6 Steps to Optimizing Retail Category Pages [+ Winning Examples] post.

4. Product Pages

It should be no surprise that product pages are an important conversion factor in your overall online visual merchandising strategy.

According to HubSpot, 85% of shoppers say product information and pictures are vital when deciding which brand or retailer to buy from. Additionally, when it comes to selection (and purchasing), 67% of shoppers put image quality as the most critical consideration.

Optimized product pages should include:

  • A well-tested, prominent CTA
  • Multiple clear product images
  • Page navigation links
  • Clear product descriptions without keyword stuffing
  • Important product information, such as sizing
  • Mobile optimization
  • Related products and upsell recommendations

Pro Tip: Product Recommendation and Bundle Collections

Let’s talk about product recommendations. Whether it’s a product page upsell or a strategically placed section on your home page, you want to ensure you make recommendations as personal as possible.

It’s even better if you can combine one-on-one personalization with advanced metric product sorting that answers key retail KPIs. This is particularly useful when adding best-selling product collections to key site locations. You can read more about optimizing best-selling collections here.

5. Cart and Checkout

Last, let’s talk checkout optimization.

As shopping moved online, checkout line merchandising needed to be adapted for the eCommerce sector. As this area traditionally meant higher margins and lower costs, it was vital to find a way to bring those strategies online. This is where checkout optimization and cart abandonment strategies come into play. Both a key part in your overall online visual merchandising space.

Ideally, an optimized checkout should be clear, informative, and visually compelling (without surprise costs or forced account creation), while also keeping it simple. Here’s an excellent example from Asos, a brand that’s winning at checkout merchandising:

ASOS checkout page

[Source: Sleeknote]

As you can see, they keep their checkout as simple as possible. The idea is to make the purchasing journey as quick and easy as possible to improve sales chances.

If this fails, this is where online visual merchandising moves offsite to email and digital marketing with cart abandonment emails and remarketing campaigns.

3 Expert Online Visual Merchandising Strategies, Best Practices, and Hacks to Boost Profits

Now let’s look at three important online visual merchandising strategies, best practices, and hacks you can use to boost sales and loyalty.

1. Invest Well in Social Proof

As many as 93% of consumers believe that UGC helps them decide on products they want to buy. Additionally, 70% of people trust recommendations from people they don’t know, so it’s no surprise that social proof is so powerful. It’s helpful to think of social proof as the evolution of word-of-mouth marketing. It includes:

  • Testimonials
  • Social media shares
  • Customer reviews and ratings
  • UGC
  • Influencer endorsements
  • Friend referrals 

Ultimately, social proof goes a long way in building brand and product authority, playing a key role in the success of your online visual merchandising strategy. You need to be investing in:

  • Finding ways to boost social proof
  • Optimizing the best visual locations for UGC to boost sales
social proof examples

[Source: Yieldify]

Once you test the best visual locations for social proof, you will need to work at collating and optimizing your strategy. The best approach is to invest in robust social proof tools that will automate the process as much as possible. Here are some tools to consider:

2. Optimizing Product Sorting for Retail KPIs

Whether you’re sorting products for category pages, best-selling collections, or discount pages, to truly drive profits, it’s vital that your product sorting factors in multiple parameters. Simply put, you need to ensure that your inventory optimization and merchandising work together to drive profits and sales.

Ultimately, you want to ensure you use a combination of marketing and retail KPIs for visual merchandising product sorting. These include: 

  • Conversion rates
  • One-to-one, real-time personalization
  • Margins and/or real margins (with discounts)
  • Days to finish inventory (based on product daily sales rate)
  • Inventory value
  • Sales by quantity and/or revenue
  • Variants stock ratio
  • Number of days in stock
  • Product reviews
  • Product page views
  • Best sellers
Kimonix advanced product sorting

By incorporating inventory optimization into your product sorting strategies, brands can:

  1. Reduce costs and wastage
  2. Boost sales
  3. Optimize revenue potential while staying within margin goals
  4. Reduce non-moving stock levels
  5. Increase efficiency
  6. Prevent overstocking
  7. Increase customer retention
  8. Support fulfillment and inventory management strategies

You can read more about how to optimize inventory and merchandising to drive profits in our How Inventory Optimization Affects Profitability post.

3. Add Machine Learning to Category Management

For online visual merchandising to truly be profitable, your strategy needs to be about far more than how your category pages and sections look. You need to factor in how your products are ordered, sorted, and optimized.

Category management and product sorting are the foundation for product exposure. To maximize sales and profits, you need to balance your inventory metrics with shopping intent and preferences.

The most efficient way to do this is with machine learning. By incorporating the power of machine learning AI and automation into category page management, you can do that all in real-time, adapting to changing retail KPIs dynamically to drive sales and profits.

Pro Tip: Kimonix is a holistic, AI-powered merchandising solution that automates your category management and product sorting and optimizes in real-time. Additional features enable retailers to:

  1. Fulfill customer preferences intuitively
  2. Boost conversion rates and revenue
  3. Maximize margins and optimize inventory
  4. Optimize product sorting for retail KPIs
  5. Run A/B tests to find the most profitable collections
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Final Thoughts: Test, Tweak, and Test Again

Here’s the thing, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to online visual merchandising; every brand needs to tweak its strategies, elements, UX, customer experience, and product sorting to their specific market, brand, and shopper.

To truly build a high-performing online visual merchandising strategy, you will need to test, tweak, and test again. This applies to each new visual commerce element you add to your store, all your UX changes and upgrades, and your product collections.

Ready to upgrade your eCommerce merchandising to pro level? Get in touch with our merchandising gurus here.

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