Online Visual Merchandising Strategies for Retailers

Online Visual Merchandising Strategies for Retailers

In the digital age, how do you recreate the magic of window displays and artfully stacked products? By merging classic techniques with cutting-edge technology, online visual merchandising transforms your screen into a captivating shopping wonderland.

Visual merchandising is a retail marketing approach that turns shopping into a satisfying, immersive experience (versus a chore to be over and done with.) Christmas window displays, the warm glow of neon signage in an 80s-era mall, an artfully stacked display of black beans – all of these are examples of visual merchandising in physical spaces. Done well, it has the power to evoke nostalgia, or spark excitement, or create demand (e.g., “I need those beans!”) 

We’ve come a long way since the era of mall walking and electric signage. Visual merchandising has moved online. It’s no longer limited to physical spaces and storefronts. Visual merchandising is equally important on digital channels like websites, apps, and online marketplaces. Mastering visual merchandising strategies can help you increase sales, boost revenue, and keep customers coming back again and again.

What is Visual Merchandising?

Whether online or in-store, visual merchandising plays an important role in creating an engaging shopping experience. In a traditional store setting, visual merchandising uses colors, layout, product placement, signage, and text to influence shopper behavior. 

But it’s not just about catching someone’s eye as they navigate through a store or on a website. 

Visual merchandising is intentional. It increases sales and motivates shoppers by:

  • Using all five senses to set a mood – color, lighting, music, scent, and texture work together to make shoppers comfortable and willing to stick around.
  • Leveraging visual cues to guide shoppers – product displays, signage, colors, and store layout guide shoppers towards sales, new items, and high-value merchandise. 
  • Using various cues to upsell and cross sell items – bold displays, signage, and the positioning of items in visible places like end caps draw attention to new items, sales, and encourages impulse purchases.
  • Promoting engagement – Visual displays that showcase products in useful and attractive ways encourage shoppers to touch, smell, and interact with items. 
  • Telling a story – showcasing a product in action – on a mannequin, in a window display, as part of a group of products – helps customers visualize how the product fits into their life. It brings tangibility to ownership of something. This is an approach that’s easy to replicate online with the right photos and videos.

Visual merchandising is not merely an aesthetic endeavor; it is a strategic and vital component of retail, both online and offline. By tapping into sensory cues, guiding shopping behaviors, promoting genuine product interaction, and crafting compelling product narratives, visual merchandising bridges the gap between mere product viewing and actual purchase intent. 

Whether a shopper is gazing at a window display or scrolling through an online catalog, the principles remain consistent: create an environment where products don’t just exist but come alive, inviting customers to become part of their story.


The impact of visual merchandising on the retail industry

One of the most significant impacts of visual merchandising is its ability to increase sales and revenue. 41% of consumers use visual elements when deciding on what to purchase. Strategically placed products and appealing displays draw customers in and entice them to buy more. 

Effective visual merchandising also creates a mood. It enhances customer experience and engagement. It’s what makes Starbucks a destination versus a quick stop on your way to work – the music, the smells, the artfully arranged tables – it’s the total package. 

When customers are immersed in a well-thought-out retail environment, they’re more likely to feel connected to your brand. They spend more time shopping and are motivated to return.

5 Online Visual Merchandising Strategies 

Below, we’ve listed 5 key strategies and best practices of online visual merchandising for retailers and merchandisers to give you a clear sense of some approaches you can use to create immersive digital shopping experiences. 

1. Invest in High-Quality Product Images

Good photography is the online retailer’s primary selling tool when it comes to catching a fickle shopper’s eye. When creating high-quality product images, stick with the following best practices:

  • Use professional high-resolution photos and videos.
  • Include multiple views of a product as separate images (e.g., front, back, top, etc).
  • Provide images that showcase all color options.
  • Enable zoom so people can see the details.
  • Be consistent with layout, background, and quality.
  • Use a light, white, or neutral background.
  • Make images accurately represent the product.
  • Include image ALT tags for accessibility and SEO.


2. Craft Effective Product Descriptions

Writing comprehensive product descriptions that accurately represent each product is an underrated online merchandising tool. Good descriptions move already-interested shoppers closer to purchasing, but they serve another purpose as well. Clear, relevant descriptions make it easier for searchers to find you on external search engines or via your own website search. 

When writing compelling and effective product description, make sure you:

  • Keep your descriptions clear and concise.
  • Focus on the product’s benefits – what differentiates it?
  • Incorporate 2-3 keyword variations in each description (e.g., footwear, shoes, sneakers).
  • Stick with your brand voice and style.
  • Avoid overpromising or being overtly salesy.
  • Be descriptive and creative – evoke emotion, but don’t overdo it.


3. Implement Strategic Product Placement

It’s true that you don’t have physical shelves or end caps in an online retail setting, but there are virtual spaces that mimic these familiar offline experiences. Your home page, category pages, shopping cart, and product pages are examples of prime online real estate. Every inch of your website plays a role in showcasing products and moving people closer to completing a purchase.

Here are some online visual merchandising strategies for effective product placement:

  • Use your homepage wisely by showcasing your hottest products and sales.
  • Personalize home page content based on audience profiles (e.g., show sneakers to runners and sandals to beach goers).
  • Upsell and cross sell by featuring complimentary products beneath or beside what a shopper is looking at.
  • Use banners, buttons, and text to highlight sales and offers.
  • Provide clear navigational categories and cues so that shoppers can find the products they want.
  • Put your search function front and center on every page of your website.


4. Use Color and Design Elements to Motivate and Inspire

Color inspires emotion and using it wisely is the best way to mimic a physical shopping experience in an online space. Color is also crucial to brand identity and consistency – Target is red, Starbucks is green, Apple is black and white. 

Product color is also a key driver of purchases, with 85% of consumers saying that color alone is the primary reason for purchasing a product. This is why it’s important to have photos of every available color for a given product. Of course, color isn’t the only design element you can use for online visual merchandising – layout, space, and storytelling all play a part. 

Here are some ways to effectively use color and design in online visual merchandising:

  • Use colors that align with your brand.
  • Make artful use of contrasting colors to emphasize what you want shoppers to focus on.
  • Embrace whitespace – the area between design elements – to keep clutter at bay and avoid overwhelming shoppers.
  • Don’t go crazy with different font sizes and colors – less is more. Stick with consistent, brand-friendly fonts. 
  • Use font color and enhancements (bold, red, etc.) to highlight compelling elements like sale prices and hot items.
  • Images, text, and whitespace should play well together – use all three to showcase products, guide customers, and foster a connection with customers.


5. Incorporate Videos and 3D Models

Video is an effective online sales tool. 33% of respondents in a recent Wyzowl survey said they prefer to learn about products by watching a video. 3D models are also being used by retailers to give consumers a more realistic sense of a product’s physical qualities in a virtual space. 3D “digital twin” models of physical products allow consumers to see a product from every possible angle. 

You can incorporate 3D models and videos on your website by:

  • Including them in product pages.
  • Featuring them on your homepage.
  • Emailing them to customers who sign up to receive newsletters and information.
  • Adding them to category pages, particularly when you want to feature a new or hot item.
  • Including them in social media posts and campaigns since 92% of internet users, globally, consumed online video in the first quarter of 2023. 

The digital marketplace presents both challenges and opportunities for retailers. The absence of physical touch, the feel of products, and direct human interaction can appear as hurdles. However, with the right online visual merchandising strategies, you can create an immersive shopping experience that rivals – if not exceeds – the brick-and-mortar setting.

It’s all about creating a harmonious, engaging, and intuitive online environment. As the lines blur between physical and digital retail, it’s these strategies that will ensure your brand not only stands out but also fosters loyalty among its consumers.


Online visual merchandising vs. In-store visual merchandising

Online and in-store shopping experiences are obviously very different, but visual merchandising is as necessary in virtual spaces as it is in your local grocery store. Consumers respond to immersive online retail experiences just like they do when they’re shopping in a physical store. The tools retailers use to achieve this are somewhat different though.

Instead of physical displays and overt sensory mechanisms like smells and music, online visual merchandising uses page layout, color schemes, product images, video, graphic design elements like buttons and badges, and text to entice shoppers to buy. 

Technology further enhances online visual merchandising by incorporating elements like custom product recommendations, social proof, and product reviews used to humanize the overall experience and make it feel more personal


The Role of Personalization in Online Visual Merchandising

Online visual merchandising, alone, is already a powerful way to create immersive shopping experiences for your customers but pairing it with personalization takes it to an entirely new level. Personalization impacts shoppers’ decision making across the entire shopping journey by:

Improving product discovery 

A personalization engine like Monetate uses customer data and behavior to provide product recommendations, personalized search results, guided product discovery, social proof, and dynamic product bundles to match individual shoppers with the most relevant products.

Making experimentation (much) easier 

A/B/n split testing, dynamic testing, and feature experimentation help you test different merchandising approaches quickly. Platforms like Monetate include automated testing and analysis that provides real-time monitoring and adjustments, so there’s no need to guess what resonates with shoppers or hope a new feature or design element will work.

Automating audience segmentation & targeting 

As with physical spaces, online visual merchandising is only successful if it resonates with shoppers. Personalization engines make visual merchandising strategies much more relevant to customers by using data to help you fully understand different audience segments and personas. 

This allows you to build and target different types of content and products to different segments. And the best part is that it’s a largely automated process – the personalization engine does most of the heavy-lifting when it comes to analysis, targeting, and audience segmentation.


The Future of Online Visual Merchandising

In today’s rapidly evolving digital age, the line between in-store and online shopping is blurring. Visual merchandising, traditionally an in-store strategy, has seamlessly transitioned to the online world, proving its timeless relevance and importance in influencing shopping behaviors. The online landscape presents a plethora of opportunities for retailers to experiment, innovate, and reimagine how they present products to potential customers.

The infusion of personalization in online visual merchandising, as seen with platforms like Monetate, amplifies the potential to connect with individual customers on a deeper level. By understanding and catering to the unique preferences of each shopper, retailers can craft an online experience that resonates, engages, and converts.

If you’re ready to improve customer experience and up your online visual merchandising game, but aren’t sure where to start, our experts can help. Monetate is a personalization platform that online makes visual merchandising easy. Schedule a demo with one of our merchandising subject matter experts to learn more.