Having tracked ecommerce for 16 years with a focus on intelligent merchandising, the e-tailing group has learned this: The customer today is short on time, yet willing to research product and price to ensure they’re getting the right product that suits their needs. That aspect of shopping hasn’t changed, but what’s different is the Internet’s ability to zero in quickly on that item.

Merchandising serves as the conduit for researchers and buyers, where giving product visibility can be the difference between a click to cart and a click to a competitor. With conversion still concentrated in the 2% range, according to our e-tailing group 2012 Merchant Survey, merchandising selection and placement is paramount to success.

Here are 12 ways to be smart about making the most of your shoppers’ limited time to find the right product.

1. Winning strategies center around search, so optimizing one’s search results through labeling and merchandising of themes, hot products, or sales should be beneficial.

2. Creativity and visibility go hand in hand, as 86% of the merchants we shopped during our 2012 Mystery Shopping study have wisely chosen to leverage dropdown navigation given its frequency of use. Others have taken this offering one step farther; 56% make it part of their type-ahead feature when shoppers enter a keyword or phrase.

3. The use of slide shows and promotional overlays plays well in best showing one’s assortment.

4. Labeling search results serves as the merchant’s editor to direct shoppers to new or sale product, or even an item that may have been featured on a top television show.

5. From the traditional tactics that have long been part and parcel to shopping (such as calling out top sellers) comes social-oriented tools to enhance search results (such as top rated and customer photos) that provide peer-based sentiments.

6. Video, too, is an up-and-comer, bringing to life in search results any products that require demonstration or categories that can use explanation to educate shoppers while they are in the path to purchase.

search results_video

7. Despite challenging the retailer’s bottom line, free is seen as the perennial favorite where retention is often forthcoming, as many of us know from our Prime Amazon memberships or increased Nordstrom purchasing based on such added convenience.

8. Beyond the perk of free shipping, retailers’ frequent shopper programs reward customers, for whom relationships with the brands often transcend finding the lowest price.

9. The product page is at the core of intelligent merchandising, where real estate is tight and information requirements unlimited. We have learned through some of our proprietary research that the quality of the image, color change, alternative views of the product, and zoom top the list of tactics consumers want to see. A comprehensive product page should be able to inform and inspire, and may be a first step to an in-store visit fueled by a product locator and/or in-store pickup option.

10. Category-centric selling on the product page is essential, as retailers incorporate comparison tools, configurators, or the ability to “look inside” in order for shoppers to make confident buying decisions. The devil is in the details, from showing scale of jewelry to the inside of rolling luggage.

11. Social dynamics on product pages are a must, from product ratings and reviews to Q&As that allow for community engagement.

product page_social tools

12. Videos and how-to guides on product pages provide product-specific information that demonstrates how the stroller opens and closes or how to install a kitchen sink.

Learning what works for your brand and your customer should be all about testing and refining the shopper experience. At the same time, monitoring your own website as well as the competitive landscape—something that is core to our business at the e-tailing group—is advisable to ensure your merchandising is intelligent and on par with the best in the business.

For more highlights from our 2012 Mystery Shopping study and tips for putting the right products in front of the right customers, join me for the Intelligent Merchandising That Drives Conversions webinar that takes place February 20, 12-1pm ET.

Lauren FreedmanLauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group, is a seasoned 15–year ecommerce veteran as well as a recognized and respected figure in the online retail industry,. She has a passion for merchandising that she has parlayed as president of the e-tailing group, evangelists for merchandising and customer service best practices. Lauren founded the e-tailing group in 1993 after an extensive career as a department/specialty store buyer and under her guidance the e-tailing group has evolved to be one of the premier ecommerce consultancies. They advise retailers on merchandising, strategy and customer experience best practices while simultaneously developing thought leadership and go-to-market strategies for top technology companies.