The process of merchandising is one that takes place – or rather, should take place – on every page a customer might reach. The homepage, the category pages, the product pages, the cart summary page and checkout form, the post-sales messaging – each page can influence either how likely a customer is to make a purchase, or how positive their experience is after doing so (which, in turn, influences their likelihood of buying/visiting again in the future.)
In this series, we’re going to examine the kinds of decisions an entrepreneur might make at each phase of this process. But, since merchandising influences literally every decision a seller makes, we’re going to limit it in scope to just the decisions made on the homepage and category pages, the product details pages, and post-checkout merchandising, just so as not to totally hijack the company blog.
First Introductions Are Complicated
As users have become more adept with – and reliant on – search engines, more traffic is landing on deeper, query-specific pages. Social has had the same effect: if someone is sharing a link to a page, it’s likely to be a specific category or product they want to show you, or a specific article they think you should read. For this reason, we’re going to talk categories first, and we’ll revisit the homepage in a further write-up.
Categories as Merchandising
The example we’re going to be following here is that of a site selling higher-end coffee. There’s several ways we could approach categorizing our merchandise: we could organize it by the region of origin, or by flavor profile. But assuming most of our users either have a coffee grinder or don’t, or use a Keurig or don’t, we assume that most of them will be browsing for a particular use, and then finding a blend that sounds appetizing. So for main categories we can use something like the architecture below.
Note the use of both the brew method and coarseness as part of the category name.
Beyond that, does it make sense to have subcategories, or just the single level? For this site, this offers an opportunity to brand ourselves exotically.
We can assume the effect of this: users will mouse over the “Fine Grind” category, and then click in succession on the different regions within it, since the “popout” style submenu seems to imply that “Fine Grind” itself is not able to be visited. (It is).
So, we're displaying the information shoppers need to be told about our products, a little bit about the flavors they can expect from each region, and we're helping to guide them to specific products, or away from this category if they're interested in something else.
We have a few tools at our disposal to help with this. We can use the product description short field to quickly inform customers what they can expect from a particular brew. Similarly, utilize the category description to summarize the flavor profile of the region. You can also change how your products are displayed by using the Default Sort By: Most Popular feature, which allows you to manually set the order in which your products will be displayed. This is a good idea because we want the products that best represent the subcategory show up at the top.
Here’s what our subcategory for “Coarse Grind/French Press->Ethiopia & Kenya” looks like before implementing these techniques:
Note also the use of badging on the products to make certain items – those ranked at the top – stand out to the viewer.
There are dozens of other improvements that you could make to a page like this, like including a secondary category description at the bottom, to link users to region subcategories that are markedly different in flavor. We could also make more extensive use of sale prices and sale messaging, or banner images to reestablish the user’s location on the site.
And, of course, so many of the decisions you’ll make in merchandising your own category pages depends on things which can’t be predicted (or prescribed for) in this post: the industry you operate, the products you sell, the number of products you sell, and whether you offer any discounting. There’s a lot of factors at play, in other words, that are specific only to your store and your industry. But here’s a few extra features you can check out that you may not have tried before:
- Using “Default Sort By: Manufacturer” – the “Manufacturer” field of products can be configured to really be anything, not just the actual manufacturer’s name.
- Create special categories which contain products that are on temporary sale, or are in “closeout” status. These categories can even be outside the normal navigation menus.
- For categories which only have a single product as a member – such as “Build Your Own” kit-style products – consider redirecting those categories towards the product directly using Alternate URL.
If you think you’d benefit from some advice on how better to handle the merchandising on your category pages, feel free to respond in the comments! We're happy to offer some perspective. If you’re enrolled in one of our Premium plans and have been assigned an Account Manager, see if they have some feedback too, as they're more intimately knowledgeable of your site.