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5 Lessons Online Merchandisers Can Learn From Leading Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

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When it comes to online merchandising, there are plenty of subtle but effective in-store tactics that can be difficult to replicate. Mannequins, store layout and even music are all curated to express your brand identity and drive a unique customer experience. 

Not to mention the fact that there is value in physical touch. According to BigCommerce, 49% of consumers cite not being able to touch, feel or try on a product as one of their least favorite aspects of online shopping. 

In store, shoppers are able to gauge the weight and quality of a product by picking it up and turning it over in their hands. The ability to hold an item can help create an immediate sense of ownership and a potential “fear of loss” for the shopper if they do not purchase it right away. An online product that the consumer can’t touch often fails to inspire the same desire.

While some aspects of an in-store retail experience just can’t be reproduced online, it is still possible for ecommerce stores to find inspiration from their brick-and-mortar counterparts. The right inspiration, paired with the right technology, can transform an online merchandising strategy into an immersive shopping experience. 

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1. Entice shoppers with digital “window” displays

To a passing shopper, a glimpse of a window display can be a deciding factor in their decision to step inside a store. The online equivalent is a homepage. Many retailers already highlight the latest arrivals and present them alongside complementary accessories, but miss the opportunity to convey how these products will solve a particular need or problem for the customer.

A 2020 survey found that 50% of mobile traffic on Amazon was considered to be the new version of “window shopping.” Physical stores don’t design their window displays in the same way they fill their racks and shelves, so similarly, you shouldn’t highlight uninteresting product images on your homepage. Make sure you’re enticing visitors to take a closer look at what’s “inside” your site by promoting sale items and spotlighting best-selling products the moment a shopper arrives. As well, consider utilizing video to showcase how your product performs out in the wild. Think of video as your digital store’s mannequin. 

2. Create navigable departments

In physical stores, shoppers can easily navigate through various departments. The online equivalent is site navigation, which provides the opportunity to drastically outperform the in-store experience.

For example, if a shopper is browsing for a new dress, she can filter through sizes, colors and styles with speed and ease. This is a significant improvement compared to a brick-and-mortar store, in which shoppers often have to search through haphazard racks. If they have a specific product in mind — such as a microwave or a rug — they can instantly search for the relevant brand or SKU.

However, it’s important to consider that while in a store, a shopper is more likely to ask for help in order to find what they’re looking for. Online, they can leave the site just as quickly as they entered. To avoid this, an intuitive search and navigation experience is crucial to the purchasing journey, and can be achieved with the appropriate tools. Live chat, for example, can be strategically utilized to answer a shopper’s questions in real time, capitalizing on their purchase intent.

3. Be savvy around sales and promotions

A common mistake online merchandisers make is imitating in-store offers with loud, vague banners and badges. It’s important to remember that online, mass communication of multiple offers isn’t necessary. Delivering the right product to the right person at the right time is a more effective strategy. 

Campaign landing pages are the online equivalent of sale racks and seasonal displays, and can easily be set up in the backend of a website to run for specified periods with limited time offers. These landing pages make for a much more pleasant shopping experience than chaotic in-store sales, where finding the right product or size often comes down to chance. 

What’s more, by combining your on-site merchandising campaigns with targeted email and social media marketing, you can drive highly engaged traffic to hyper-relevant products. For example, sending end-of-summer sale messaging to consumers who showed an interest in those products earlier in the season is an effective way to increase conversions.

4. Don’t ignore checkout

In store, after a shopper chooses their products, they head to checkout and wait in line to pay, grazing over the add-on purchases displayed at the cashier. Online checkout should be no different. What’s more, you have the ability to make personalized suggestions and recommendations online based on what a shopper has in their basket. Suggest the right charger for the technology they’re buying, the tools they need to assemble the bookshelf or earrings to match a necklace. Just ensure online recommendations are as natural and unobtrusive as they are in store. 

5. Make online merchandising a unique experience

Retailers should not look to duplicate the in-store experience online, but rather draw inspiration from brick-and-mortar, and adapt and improve upon it online. Even better than in-store, online merchandising has unique benefits, including enhanced site navigation and personalized recommendation potential. By leveraging data and backend processes, you can efficiently tell your brand story and solve customers’ problems across multiple touch points. 


Mike Masten is an Account Development Representative at Searchspring, where he trains customers on how to use their search and merchandising platform. He loves combining his natural enthusiasm for helping people with his ecommerce knowledge to build relationships with clients.

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