Sometimes It Is About Looks — Implementing Visual Merchandising In Your Online Store

0aaJake Rheude Red Stag

Most shoppers are visual deciders, and they react best when they can see what they are about to buy. In brick-and-mortar stores, visual merchandising is about how you set up your front windows and how your products look, so how can that be done in an online store?

How do you replicate that split decision which often happens at the shelf?

You accomplish it with visual merchandising. It’s the same practice that brick-and-mortar stores use to showcase their goods. However, there are a few practices specific to e-Commerce. Let’s look at five.


Invest In Professional Photography

Nothing else you read will matter if you don’t have great photography. Take time to find a good photographer and spend on a professional who can help you take photos of products and style or stage them. If your goods need people, then ask the photographer to help you find a few models who can show off your products.

Match models to your branding and your existing customers, and you’ll create a connected feeling where your customers can see themselves in what you offer. If the image looks and feels like you (or who you want to be), then you’re more likely to buy.

High-quality, high-definition photos are a must-have as well. Better resolution will allow you to have images that can be resized dynamically based on the computer, smartphone or other device people are using to visit your store.

Think about the real world. A poorly-lit store makes it hard to see the products and that bland feeling can harm sales. So, there are amazing guides about how to build lighting in a physical space to optimize sales. It’s good news for you too because you can follow these setups to create the right atmosphere to snap a few shots of your goods.

Create Collections

While you’ve seen it before for clothes, nearly all products can be grouped into related items and complementary items. Collections allow users to find what they want in two main ways: accomplish a related goal or find what “feels like them.”

So, you can group products based on their utility. You’ll find this in home improvement stores where the weed trimmers are in the same grouping as the trimmer line/string, as well as hedge trimmers and chemical weed sprays. They’re all a little different but still connected.

In the same way, you can base your collections on emotion, feeling or value so that it resonates with a customer on a more personal level. This might be housing all your organic products in a single collection, grouping your beach towels and bathroom towels separately, or creating and curating outfits based on a specific style.

It helps site visitors browse and makes them feel like you understand them, which can help with sales.

Build Order Into The Store

Your collections will live across your site and not just on specific landing pages. They also may serve as product categories. When you’re creating these groups as well as your broader categories, keep composition in mind.

You want a visual and categorical hierarchy to be present. That means images of individual items should be about the same size, while collections can be larger. Add-ons and coupons should be a distinct size. And that can be your order from the top down: category, product, bonus.

It helps the user naturally move down to the thing they want. Reinforce this order visually by using just one color scheme, minimizing complimentary tones, so that there is less to distract or disrupt.

If you want to drive someone to a specific item — whether a new best-seller or a big sale — you can easily change the color or size to draw immediate attention and emphasis.

Navigate Better Than A Supermarket

If you’re not sure about the layout you create, think of your site like a digital supermarket. Some people will come in for a specific set of items. Others will have a list but happily browse and deviate, adding other things to the cart. Is your site easy to use by both kinds of shoppers, or are there problems that make it difficult?

Do the same thing with collections and categories with the marshmallow test.

Depending on the supermarket, marshmallows may be on the “snack” aisle or the “baking” aisle; and sometimes they move to a specialty aisle when it’s hot chocolate season. If someone was looking for a specific item and they opened your list of “aisles,” would they be able to choose the right one?

E-Commerce has a disadvantage here because if someone picks the wrong aisle and doesn’t find what they want, they can just head over to Google to find someone else. You don’t want any marshmallow confusion.

The Home Page Is Your Window Display

Just like you see the outside of a store before going in to browse its merchandise, most of your traffic is going to reach a home page before they click through to shop. Embrace the home page’s role in lead capture and qualifying by using it as a space to show off your brand.

The good news is that you can make this window display as long as you want — though make it easy to click at any point to get to product pages.

Here are a few elements that your home page needs to make a compelling case for your brand as well as your products:

  • Great images and explanations if products need them;
  • A clean, common story throughout. Start with the essential elements, whether that’s what makes your brand unique or the current specials you’re running;
  • Highlight main product categories or collections;
  • Reviews, testimonials and social proof of your company as well as popular products;
  • Clear explanations of your product, what makes it different and how to use it. You can make the demonstration purely visual ( for clothing, simply have the models wear it); and
  • Repeat call-to-actions for each section. If possible, make both buttons and all product images clickable to take you to a sales page.

If you sell to a few different types of customers, consider using a longer home page that stacks these messages to each customer profile. Move top to bottom from most to least lucrative.

Don’t Forget About The Writing

Last but never least is the writing of product descriptions and ads. Here you’ll want to match the language your customers use about themselves while filling in the details that photos don’t give us. Include the basics like sizing charts as well as talking about how products make them feel.

One important aspect of this, which might require some marketing help, is the inclusion of keywords and SEO practices on each page to make them more searchable.

A final bit of advice, if you’re struggling here, is to rely on customer reviews and testimonials to fill in the emotional bit of the description. Write out a bit of the practical side of things and then, under the photo, have a few scrolling reviews that sing the praises of your products.


Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an e-Commerce fulfillment warehouse. Rheude has years of experience in e-Commerce and business development. In his free time, Rheude enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experiences with others.

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