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Four approaches to merchandising

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Explaining to the customer just how products are relevant to them and will meet their needs helps them to buy with confidence. That’s key to merchandising in a digital world. Chloe Rigby brings together practical approaches that Top500 retailers are taking in this area.

1. Picture it!

Clear images help shoppers to understand what they’re getting. When they can zoom in and see an item from 360 degrees they understand whether it has all the features they’re looking for.  Research carried out by Opinium for Barclaycard suggested that that images, along with good product details, videos and more, can help to reduce the rate of returns. That’s particularly important for clothing retailers, where communicating how things fit helps shoppers to be more confident about their purchases.

RetailX research shows that in 2018, retailers used a median of four product images on desktop websites and three on the mobile app. Almost half (48%) gave viewers a choice of image on the mobile app – but the remaining 52% did not. 

2. Mind the gap

For digital shoppers there’s often a gap between what they see on screen and what they get when they order.

In the recent research mentioned above, Barclaycard suggested that shoppers are sending back almost half of the fashion items they buy online. Often that’s because they find the item doesn’t fit – or they buy multiple sizes in order to find the one that does. Fashion retailers have tried a variety of approaches to help shoppers understand how that brand will fit them, from size guides to virtual wardrobes. Warehouse collects vital statistics to deliver a verdict on how a given product will fit, using Fit Match from Rakuten Fits Me, while Asos collects that information as well as the size that shoppers take in its Fit Assistant in order to deliver a verdict on how an item would fit, and what most ‘people like you’ bought – and didn’t return. 

Furniture and make up retailers are among the 3% of IRUK Top500 retailers that use augmented reality to show shoppers how goods would look on them, or in their home. DFS enables shoppers to see how a sofa would look in their living space, FeelUnique lets users see what makeup would look like on them, while the Tiffany ring finder shows customers how a ring would look on their finger.

3. Use visual search to help customers find the right item…

Visual search gives shoppers another way to identify the item they want to buy. Matching an item to a photograph becomes easier using this functionality, available via the mobile apps of retailers including and, more recently, Asos. Asos, which has a range of more than 85,000 items, said at the time it launched visual search back in August 2017, that the functionality reflects its customers’ shopping behaviour. At the time it said that 80% of Asos’ UK traffic came from a mobile device, along with almost 70% of UK orders. “We know this is where our customers are and it’s how they interact with us every day, so we are always looking for ways that are mobile native to make their experience even better,” said Andy Berks, Asos’ digital product director. He added: “Inspiration can strike you anywhere and at any time, whether it’s a photo in a magazine, scrolling through an Instagram feed or even on a local street corner. Now, with just a couple of taps of their mobile device,  Asos customers can capture that fleeting moment and instantly search our 85,000 product lines to find the item that’s inspired them – or similar – at just the right time.” The research finding that this isn’t yet a commonly found feature – at 2% of retailers – means adding this in can help retailers differentiate themselves.

4. …and think about how your target audience would use voice search

Voice assistants are growing their audience quickly and all the signs are that they’re set to be widely used within a few years. So far it seems that department stores, such as Amazon, and grocery – the technology is now in use by Ocado and Tesco – are relatively easily able to interpret commands for standard items and to use insights from customers’ shopping history to understand exactly which product they are likely to want. But as shoppers start to use voice commerce more widely in their lives, it’s likely they’ll start to expect to buy from other retailers as well.

This is a sneak peak of the IRUK Top500 Merchandising report, due to be published in September 2018, when it will be available on IRUK Top500 research page. Click here for more. 

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