E-Commerce Design Trends: Merchandising over Cataloging
Roughly a year ago, I walked into the retail store of a client. We were kicking off the design of their new Shopify website and I figured it would make sense to spend an afternoon at one of their physical locations. What struck me almost immediately was the emphasis on themed displays, located at the entrance of the store. There were several tables set up with products all inspired by similar themes, whether movie-related, season-related, meme-related, etc.
This client certainly was not the first to set up these sort of displays, in fact, it’s an age-old retail technique known as merchandising. Companies such as Macy’s became famous for their themed window displays, spawning an entire industry of agencies that specialized in creating highly-decorative displays. In thinking how we could apply elements of our client’s in-store experience, we gave more thought to this concept of merchandising and its role in ecommerce. Specifically, we started with thinking through their site structure and navigation.
When discussing strategies for site navigation with our clients, the bulk of folks focus on a catalog approach to their structure. This entails attribute-driven navigation, which allows users to browse and filter products by basic attributes, such as gender, type, color, and size. Attribute-driven navigation is effective for users who want an experience focused on finding a specific product, but leaves something to be desired for customers interested in a discovery-driven experience. It doesn’t provide a curated display table that might inspire a wandering customer to dig a little deeper. This is where we saw an opportunity to apply merchandising to the ecommerce world.
Using Shopify’s Collection feature, it’s easy to manually curate groups of products based on any sort of shared theme. Paired with unique imagery and content related to that collection’s theme as a whole, we can create our own online display table. The key is to use this additional imagery and content to build as much of a story around the theme as possible. Customers often purchase products for the story they tell, rather than for its attributes or features. Merchandising allows you to craft this story around products and provide a unique means for customers to discover products they might not have initially searched for.