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GUEST COMMENT Optimise your visual merchandising online

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Today’s omnichannel retailers need to attract highly talented visual merchandisers in order to stay ahead of the market. Visual merchandisers have an important role. They need to be creative, innovative and possess a vast skillset to analyse sales, data, predict seasonal trends and stay ahead of their competitors across a variety of online and offline channels. In order for them to do this, they need to unlock the power of technology.

Technology had drastically revolutionised the way in which we shop and interact with our favourite brands, and as it continues to evolve, transformative visual merchandising software applications are just as much a part of the training for the job, as graphics, layout and image-processing software. However in a constantly changing landscape where technology moves faster and faster every day, how can brands not only stay up to date but ahead of the game?

The first thing brands need to remember is that the customer is evolving at a rapid pace. Digital natives cannot remember a time before mobile devices, for them their tablet feels more familiar than a pen and paper. Consumers not only adopt new technologies every day, they maximise and manipulate the technology before brands have even considered utilising it. Today’s shoppers are knowledgeable about the industry, your products and competitors. If they don’t have the opportunity to get what they want, then they know enough about the market to simply go elsewhere. In order to lead the market, you need to ensure that your technology out evolves your customer.

To unify your shopping experience, pick a strategy and deliver it consistently across all channels. The omnichannel approach is accelerating, shoppers are now buying an item on their tablet, whilst browsing their next purchase on their smartphone. Therefore by creating a cohesive brand image, you are making it easier for the consumer to engage and identify with your brand. And if they understand and recognise your business, you are more likely to see a return visit.

There are no more ‘12 windows a year’, the world of eCommerce is 24/7, especially when you take into consideration the influence of social media. eCommerce and social media operate in real-time, meaning that they can reveal unexpected trends, which are difficult to predict. Therefore not only do retailers need to be able to move at a rapid pace, they also need to be agile to cope with unpredicted trends. If your brand fails to do so, then you will quickly find that you become yesterday’s news.

First impressions count both online and on the high street, and you will rarely get a second chance to make a good first impression. And for visual merchandising online this is the home page. Imagine the landing page to your site is actually your high-street shop window. Just as you would decorate it to attract and lure customers into your store, this should be replicated online. Your high-street store reflects your brand’s culture and provides the customer with a shopping experience – your online store should do the same. Throughout the entire customer journey your products should be properly merchandised.

Pay attention to every step of the purchasing process, make sure that there is a consistent branded and merchandised storefront. Exhibit the latest trends, entice them with seasonal related products and make your landing page look irresistible, with creative and imaginative displays. This will encourage your customer to stay on the site longer and give you more time to covert that temptation into a purchase.

Make the customer journey as simple as possible to navigate through – category pages are a key aspect of this. Once a category has been selected, the product pages need to have rich data in order to support upsells and related products. The payment page needs to be clear and easy to use with confirmation screens and customer support emails. For those who do abandon their shopping cart, emails prompting them to complete their order or suggesting alternatives, is an effective way to get them back.

Never forget to personalise the experience. Every customer wants to feel valued, unique and cared for when they enter an online or high street store, therefore give recommendations based on data from their previous visits and curate content specific to them. In doing so, not only will you expand your visual merchandising site to a personal shopping experience, but also you will position your brand as a trusted provider. Consumers turn to brands they trust first, those they have had a positive experience with, and over time this becomes a habit. They will automatically browse on your eCommerce site because their past history has told them to do so.

The last, but by no means least, thing to remember is your hosting. Optimising your visual merchandising will have a positive impact to your brand, however you won’t see any return if your site doesn’t have a robust infrastructure to handle the traffic! Therefore ensure that your hosting provider is made aware of your needs and that you have tech support 24/7 for any mishaps. Trust and loyalty are difficult to build and easy to lose. Therefore ensure that you have everything in place to build and maintain your customer relationships.

Dan Garner is director at On Tap

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