From Endcaps to Digital Shelves: The Rise of Digital Merchandising
By C.T. Prince
What is digital merchandising?
Until the last decade, the term “merchandising” could be defined as the variety and display of products on shelves in physical stores, and how that display entices customers to buy said products. Thanks to the internet and all the convenience available through online shopping, that definition has changed.
If you have an ecommerce business, you’ve probably (hopefully) heard of digital merchandising. Digital merchandising is what draws customers into your site, and is usually the final push behind conversions. For online merchandising, the “variety” of products part drops off the definition, leaving only the “display to entice customers” part. This opens a plethora of opportunities to win over your customers to buy, and buy bigger. Every landing page, every piece of web copy is a chance to win a sale.
How does it differ from brick and mortar merchandising?
While digital merchandising is the close cousin of brick and mortar, digital merchandising is the cooler cousin with more toys. With retailers having the attractive option to bypass the overhead of a physical store and gain more access to customers through mobile, competition is fiercer than ever before. Customers have their pick of the litter as far as where they choose to shop. This increase in competition has retailers desperately vying for customer loyalty, causing an uptick in emphasis on customer experience. With digital merchandising, customers aren’t afraid to ask for what they want or go elsewhere.
In brick and mortar stores, product placement on shelves and endcaps can have a major impact on buying decisions. But when the playing field is a mobile screen, customers only see a few products at a time. This makes brand placement within the site, keyword functions, and total brand control more important.
Let’s talk digital transformation.
Digital transformation is the new buzz phrase coined to define the shift of most businesses towards integrating with digital technology as part of their business plans. Retail has been impacted the hardest by digital transformation, as online shopping becomes more popular than brick and mortar.
In today’s go-go-go economy, no one has time to leisurely stroll around a shopping mall, being exposed to more advertising, more window displays, more opportunities to buy. Customers are turning to their computers and mobile devices to purchase what they need, when they need it.
For example, if a customer needs a baby shower gift but they’re slammed at work, they can just log into Amazon, buy a diaper genie with the highest rating and have it delivered to their office or doorstep on the same day. That far beats skipping your lunch break to drive across town to a brick and mortar store that may not even have the product you’re looking for.
In this new convenience-driven environment, retailers must learn to adapt or face being absorbed by a bigger company that has adapted. (Sears begrudgingly partnering with Amazon, anyone?)
Mobile Share of U.S. Ecommerce Sales
So, what’s a brand to do in times like these?
In these digital times, your business must lead a customer-obsessed transformation to stay relevant in the retail sphere. While competition is fierce, brands and retailers also have more opportunities than ever to win their customers over through digital ads, attractive web display, and great customer service. The future is bright for a retail business, if they account for the following things:
1. Control your brand.
Make sure your product content is being placed where your customers can see it and be affected by it, on and off your site. Consider the three stages of the customer journey (Awareness, Consideration, Decision) and how your product content will fit into those stages to influence your customer. This could be tailoring content to another site it will show up on, or ensuring your content shows up well on your own site.
2. Go mobile, and do it well.
Having a mobile-enabled site will serve your bottom line for brick and mortar and online alike. When shoppers use mobile search to look up a product, they are 51% more likely to buy, whether they buy in-store or online. On the flip side, 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. The easiest way to miss out on the large increase in mobile-based ecommerce is by not adapting your site to be not just mobile enabled, but mobile-friendly.
3. Customer Service is key.
The one thing brick and mortar has over e-commerce is the human experience customers get when shopping in a physical store. Until they come out with drones that can deliver glasses of champagne to casual shoppers, you can just focus on having great customer service and support. This can come in the form of pop-up chat functions, online personal shoppers, or just a very responsive customer service department.
Fear not, brands and retailers!
While this may all sound very alarmist, there is still hope for retailers and merchants everywhere. Brick and mortar isn’t dying by any means, it’s only adapting to share the market with online shopping. By buying into digital transformation and understanding how mobile can support your online and physical presence, you won’t lose part of your market share to online competitors. Invest in digital ways to cater to your customers, and you and your brand can thrive in the age of the customer.