Sears Canada on the Do’s & Don’ts of Online vs. In-Store Merchandising

Online merchandising and traditional, in-store merchandising are two entirely different animals. If in-store is your bag, you might want to read up on how to translate your skills to your digital platforms. (Props to you pure-players out there who know all about this art form.)

TomMaryniarczyk pic

Tom Maryniarczyk

Tom Maryniarczyk, Associate VP of E-Commerce Analytics and Promotions at Sears Canada, spoke to us about his experience and how using data to back up decisions is really key to the success of online merchandising. He also points out how important it is to offer an easy guest checkout option and ask for as little info as possible from your customers, so as to get them through that purchase door.

What are some tips for merchandising your product lineup online vs. merchandising in store? What are some do’s and don’ts in the online space as compared to brick and mortar?

The key thing to keep in mind is that brick and mortar customers have made a significant commitment of time and effort (getting into the car, driving to the mall, entering the store, etc.) to shop, so they will put up with more clutter and work harder to find what they need. Also they have store associates available to help them.

Online customers have made a comparatively small commitment and are therefore much more likely to abandon their shopping trip if they are unable to find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently.

Online shoppers have a short attention span. Make it easy for them to get to your key categories, hot products, headline promotions by limiting distractions and making the destination reachable by as few clicks as possible. An effective internal search engine combined with logical and clear navigation and filtering options are also key to driving online conversion.

– DO: offer an easy, guest checkout option and ask for as little information as possible to complete the purchase. As retailers we naturally want to collect as much information about our customer base as possible but we must combat the urge to ask for all info from all customers (DON’T!)
– DO: offer clear and concise marketing messages and generate a sense of urgency, customers need to understand what you’re selling, why they should buy and why now in a 1 or 2 second glance. Ex: DO “30% off all lawn-mowers, today only!” DON’T “Make your outdoor space more livable and save on landscaping equipment!”
– DO curate your assortment by pushing well reviewed, best selling, well stocked products to the top of the search results and first pages of product thumbnail pages. Your customers have voted with their wallets and reviews and these products are winners. Make it easy for all your customers to see your best stuff.
– DON’T send your customers into an overwhelming sea of similar products. Too much choice makes people think too much and reduces conversion.

How do you differentiate between content and products that customers are looking for on your site vs. those you believe they are looking for?

For all products, provide the basic/table stakes information that customers would expect to have available if they had the product in-hand at a brick and mortar store (material content, technical specs, key features).
To push conversion, add information that would be provided by a well-versed store associate (“Looks great with a pair of jeans,” “Perfect for the do-it-yourself’er,” “Rated number one toy by Kid’s magazine,” “Only available at Sears,” etc.)

Customer reviews: Products with lots of customer reviews, especially if they are positive, convert at a higher rate than ones without. Encourage your customers to submit reviews of product they purchased.

Rich media: Provide added value to online shoppers by offering content they wouldn’t find in most brick and mortar stores, such as buying guides (how to find the right baby car seat, refrigerator, etc.), product videos, pdf’s of manuals, warranty information etc.

How do you balance merchandising your product assortments with providing enhanced content like videos, buying guides, etc.?

The key is to strike a balance between offering rich content like videos and buying guides without sacrificing the ease with which customers can surf the site and purchase. Most products that benefit from enhanced content are not an impulse purchase, meaning it’s likely that they are researched days or weeks in advance and often visited several times before being placed in the cart. Enhanced content needs to be easily accessible on the product or category page during the research phase, but easily purchasable when a decision is made.

A/B testing and web analytics on enhanced content assets (click rates, video view/completion rates, conversion rates of visitors using enhanced content vs. ones not using, etc.) can provide guidance to execution/success of this content. Also:

– Do not include content that takes visitors away from the site. Ex: don’t drive customers to view a video on YouTube, many will get distracted and not come back.
– Keep in mind the growing share of visits from mobile and tablets. Make sure these assets are viewable on each device, if they are not, do not present the option
– Simple stuff: make sure it’s clear to the customer they are clicking on a video (which they may not want to view due to time or slow mobile connection) so don’t hide it among various product shots. If they are clicking expecting photos, show them photos.

How can retailers best use data to understand how to provide the right type of content to customers?

The advantage of online is the availability of a wealth of data that can be used to learn about visitors’ behavior (click rates, conversion, time on page, bounce rates, return visits). A good web analyst can answer questions/design experiments to test/validate most content related hypotheses. Other avenues:

– Ask your customers: Include questions about content in your site surveys (ForeSee, Opinion Lab, etc.) What did you find helpful? What made you purchase? What info is missing? Send them a follow-up email (perhaps with a discount offer) and ask for feedback.
– Look at SEO ranking of your product pages vs. competitors showing the same or similar products. Why do they rate higher/lower? Is there content your site is missing?
– Talk to your buyers: Ask them what they look for when sourcing products. What questions do they ask the vendors? What features do they look for? All this info should be available to customers.
– Deep dive return rates: Return rates vary wildly by category – high in apparel, low in electronics – but you can flag outliers within a category and tie them back to content quality/quantity. Perhaps a certain brand of shoes fits tighter than normal? Tell your customers.

You previously worked as a mechanical engineer. Anything you learned from that experience that has helped you in the ecommerce/analytics space?

My engineering education and experience fits well with the wealth of analytics and data that are available to an ecommerce manager/marketer. The availability of data to back most decisions or initiatives brings me comfort and allows me to provide the right, defendable and quantifiable decision support I need to allocate funding and get buy-in from senior leaders that often lack ecommerce experience.

I find that I’m a marketer among my engineer friends, but an engineer when surrounded by marketers. I find this provides me with an objective view in many situations, and both roles suit me just fine.