Indie Retailers are missing a trick with online merchandising

Nothing beats the excitement of a delivery of a new range to be merchandised onto the shop floor - so why are so many retailers not translating this to online merchandising too?

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2nd February 2022, 8 minute read

What makes a retailer tick? I can tell you, as a former shop owner myself, that nothing beats the excitement of a delivery of a new range to be merchandised onto the shop floor.

Creating beautiful displays that really sell the products and their associated lifestyles was one of my main passions. Then of course there are the Point-of-Sale materials, the windows, and the snapshots for social.

As purveyors of beautiful products, retailers love to touch, feel, and have things more than they like to look at pictures of them and create tags for them online. It’s no wonder then that so many independent stores are missing a trick with their online merchandising, which could bring in thousands of pounds of extra revenue each year.

What is online merchandising? 

Much like you would place products and signage strategically on the shop floor, online merchandising takes advantage of space within your website to cross-sell, upsell and promote special offers.


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The phrase can also be applied to how products are categorised and sectioned within your store, as this too can make a difference to sales. Making products easy to find for customers should be a common-sense part of your website strategy, but it is all too commonly missed.

Carefully curated categories

Let’s take a simple product category such as “Toys.”

This is an overly broad category and if you have more than 20 SKUS then customers could quickly tire of searching.


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What is more helpful to a customer is to refine the categories into the way people shop. Some prefer “Wooden Toys”, others will need guidance on what is right for a particular age group: “Baby toys” “Pre-school toys” “2-5 years” and so on.

Beware of splitting toys into “boys” and “girls” as this can alienate some audiences today as more of us move towards gender-neutral parenting. Instead, think about the types of toys: “Vehicles” “Soft toys” “Roleplay” for example.

Product order

This might be a tricky one if you have a large product range and limited time, but, the order you load your products onto your CMS will usually dictate the order in which your customer sees them.


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For example, let’s take toys again. If you sell a line of play kitchens, accessories, and play food, then upload these all together and with the most expensive items first.

Someone looking to buy their child a play kitchen as a gift is likely to want to add all the trimmings too – pots, pans, vegetables – and if they can see them right next to the kitchen itself, they’re much more likely to think this way, find the right accessories and add them to their cart.

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Similarly, if you have a distinctive brand such as Jellycat, upload the range together as avid fans might not be able to resist the temptation of more than one purchase.

Recommended products, upsells and cross-sells

We don’t need to teach you the value of a cross-sell or upsell. A case to go with that new laptop, protection sprays for new trainers or a full dining set instead of just the plates.

Following these principles on your website is easy, so long as you have a suitably adaptable content management system. Shopify is one of our favourites, because it has a full suite of features for both your website and bricks and mortar store, including a POS and inventory system.

Shopify also allows you to display related and recommended products with similar tags. It takes a little extra work to think about and manually add the tags, but it's certainly worth the effort.

Website signage

Compared to a real-life store, websites offer a lot more space to shout. You’re not limited by wall and window space, or health and safety issues, and web signage doesn’t cost anything near the amount of large format or specialist printing.

You can entice your customers to browse deeper into your product catalogue by using banners, pop-ups, countdown timers, sidebars, sliders, and embedded videos.

Missguided, a solely online womenswear retailer, is a perfect example of this.

Within a few seconds of landing on the homepage, a sidebar pop-up slides in offering 10% off for email signup. Beneath the main menu, three offers are displayed: A VIP service, a sale, and an extra discount code. Next follows a feature slider giving the opportunity to shop by season, special event (Valentines) new arrivals, or sale. Beneath some category boxes is a call to action to download the app, and within each product we see “Similar vibes” and “Others also viewed” recommendations. Some products are brandished with a “going fast” flame giving the shopper a sense of needing to buy immediately or risk missing out. And it’s usual for sites like Missguided to display countdown timers stating how long is left before the sale prices end – commence panic and impulse buying!

example of online merchandising ecommerce

Website merchandising and marketing merchandising

You can also use your social channels and email marketing software for merchandising.

The social media side falls into place quite naturally for most retailers. New stock arrives – share product photos, share stock display, add appropriate excitable emojis…

Creating a new product line marketing plan will help you remember all the opportunities you have to promote the new range. This might look a little like the below:

PhotographyWebsiteSocial mediaEmail marketing
Individual ProductsNew range graphic/banner for homepageFacebook and instagram story teaser and then full rangeSimple new range in store message with hero image and 2-3 products mentioned
In store displayNew category – ensure all relevant products have correct tags for cross-sellingAnnouncement post with link to web sectionConsider a 10% off message for limited time, or alternatively for your most engaged email contacts a VIP offer or preview
Lifestyle shotWrite a blog post introducing the new rangeInstagram reel with products in use/being wornFocus in detail on 1 or 2 bestsellers from the new range and how they work with any of your existing well-known ranges
Delighted customers with purchases (taken by customer)Consider adding videos and photos to a gallery pageAdd to Facebook shops (if not automated by your CMS)Email customers who brought equivalent products last season or last year “if you liked this, then you’ll love”
Video of staff/customer/influencer reviewing or demoing productFind old best performing posts and re-use them, but add in the new range too, e.g., Homeware post to include new bedding ranges alongside existing towels etc
Create a Pinterest board

Making website merchandising part of your wider marketing goals

Marketing departments achieve more when there are routines in place, when there is consistency and when there are plans to follow.

Setting out a matrix like the above for what to do when, will make sure each new product line is given its fair chance to grab the online attention it deserves. Remember though, even though planning 3, 6, and 12 months ahead is good practice, your mid and long-term marketing plans should be fluid. So, take time to review your progress monthly, do more of what’s working well, adapt what’s ok, but could do better, and ditch anything that feels like a waste of effort. You might like to try our Plan: 5 Steps to Marketing Maturity plan by The Marketing Eye, Uckfield to see where you are doing well and where you could improve.

At The Marketing Eye, we offer you and your team remote retail marketing support for content marketing, marketing automation, and marketing analytics. For an informal discussion about how we could support your shop online, and help increase footfall in your shop, please get in touch.

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