In the first installment of Merchandising Matters, we explored several ideas to improve the merchandising power of your entry/landing pages and start the conversion process off strong.

The next phase of the conversion funnel includes category pages and listing pages. Depending on what you sell and your overall brand aesthetic, the layout and level of detail offered on these pages can differ greatly from one website to the next—in fact, some marketers don’t even use category or subcategory pages.

While each marketer has to determine what role these pages fill for its audience and then develop web content accordingly, there are best practices to consider that will help drive performance. At this stage in the funnel, you’re really managing the balance of giving visitors enough information to empower a decision without overwhelming them so early in the conversion process that you depress response.

That’s easier said than done, for sure. So, here are a number of ideas to test to better merchandise your category and listing pages, drawing visitors closer to conversion.

CATEGORY PAGES
Target hero images by traffic segment.
Category, or splash, pages often use hero images to introduce visitors to product categories by setting a mood with decorative imagery and copy. But showing the same hero image to every visitor is sure to result in disconnects with different segments of your traffic. To better leverage the power of heroes, target your visitors’ affinities for specific brands, styles, promotions, etc., as indicated by their past purchase purchase history or on-site activity. The same logic is true for any subcategory images you promote under the main hero on category pages.

Try smaller hero images.
Test a more condensed hero image that takes up less page space, so important content—especially product thumbnails and subcategory images—doesn’t get pushed below the fold. You want to draw visitors into the product mix, which means the product grid and/or subcategory images need to still be visible.

Skip the category page altogether.
Anything you can do to decrease the length of the conversion process from landing page to checkout will improve response. And of all the web pages in the funnel, category pages often are the least essential. To determine when to test skipping over these interstitial pages, look at your traffic by segment. For example, new visitors might benefit from this extra help in navigating your site, while frequent customers might prefer quicker access to listing pages. And when a visitor clicks on a category from the top navigation bar, that’s also an opportunity to speed up their shopping trip by linking directly to the listing page.

Not only do shoppers benefit from fewer clicks to find the products they want, marketing and creative teams save time and resources spent creating and managing the content needed to keep category pages continuously updated.

LISTING PAGES
Build content around product type.
More and more information from the product detail page is getting added to the listing page to help visitors make their selections quickly. But again, it’s a balancing act of offering useful features against making it easy to quickly scan and compare items. While most marketers benefit from featuring photos and prices on listing pages, what else gets included depends on the type of products being sold. For example, color swatches are critical for fashion, linens, home furnishings, etc. With electronics, a visual representation of customer ratings and reviews (such as “x” stars out of five and the number of reviews) is important to the research-heavy buying process.

And considering the rise of “showrooming, marketers should think about indicating when video is available for products; badges, pop-ups or links to the product detail page are all good ways to highlight this element.

Offer alternate product views.
Another way to incorporate compelling content from the product detail page is to offer alternate product images on the listing page. For example, you could use badges that display thumbnail overlays of product back or side views upon rollover.

Default to more products per page.
When it comes to the number of products you offer on listing pages, more definitely performs better. This is true for all devices, even smartphones. It seems counter-intuitive to show 300 products versus 30 to mobile users, but scrolling down a page is far easier than getting your thumb on the exact page in a page selector—or waiting for page after page to load. In fact, the ideal scenario is to display all products for a given category or search result on a single page; it’s certainly worth a test.

Target sortation defaults by traffic segment.
Utilize what you already have available in terms of selectors and organizers on the listing page to not only help visitors refine the offering, but also to personalize the default sortation for a more relevant product assortment. For example, you could sort products on price from high to low when you see that a visitor’s purchase history involves an average order value that is higher than that of the typical customer, and vice-versa. Or you could modify the sort based on the visitor’s referring source (e.g., if it’s a social networking site, then display top-rated items; if they’re coming from a discount-focused affiliate site, then sort by what’s on sale).

Support one-click add to cart.
Until recently, the product detail page was always considered the end all, be all when it comes to getting the visitor’s final decision to buy. But test after test proves that streamlining the conversion process helps today’s busy customer shop efficiently.

Another shortcut to test: Give visitors the ability with a single click to add products that don’t require a great deal of editing (size, color, configuration, and other refinements) to their cart directly from the listing page. Returning customers, especially, can use this functionality to their advantage, without losing the option to view product detail pages as needed.

Show stock availability.
Few things are more frustrating for visitors than going from a listing page to a product detail page to a cart summary page, only to find out on the latter step that the item they want is out of stock. It wastes their time and leaves them on a dead-end page—and leaves you in a tough position to save the sale via a suggested product substitution or back order.

Instead, create a better customer experience by indicating stock availability on the listing page. Test different ways of conveying this information, such as “out of stock,” “more in stock soon,” “available in x weeks,” etc.

Optimizing the customer experience for all visitors is a juggling act. To get the best performance from category pages and landing pages, be sure to combine targeted merchandising tactics with time-saving features and functionality.

Next up in the Merchandising Matters series: the product detail page.