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Connect consumers with relevant products

Martin Shaw, InternetRetailing’s senior researcher, interrogates the data we gathered.

GOOD MERCHANDISING EFFECTIVELY connects customers with the products they want to buy. Effective on-site search techniques, from relevant search results to clear navigation and filters, mean shoppers can find the items they’re looking for. Full product information, communicated through words and clear images, ensures they think they know enough to move towards a purchase. Social validation ensures browsers can share their buying plans with their friends, while cross-selling and upselling mean shoppers receive useful suggestions for other items that may complement the product they’re looking at. This mix is crucially important in a competitive trading environment where browsers can easily click away to another site.

“Retailers that stand out in on-site search are successfully creating a faster and more efficient customer experience” Martin Shaw, InternetRetailing

Our approach

In the Merchandising Performance Dimension Report, we’ve aimed to understand the actions that retailers take in order to ensure that they put the most relevant items before online customers. We’ve analysed websites operated by the IRUK Top500 multichannel and ecommerce retailers, in order to understand which most successfully combine strong visual appeal with making it easy for customers to search for and locate the products they want to buy.

We analysed the websites against metrics that included the effective use of images, judging their quality and the ability for shoppers to zoom in or otherwise examine details. We tested whether useful product information was provided and analysed the use of signposting through banners. We measured how relevant search results were, how a website responded when a ‘no results’ search was made, how efficiently navigation and filtering led shoppers to their desired products, and we also looked for social sharing functionality. We didn’t only consider the early, pre-selling part of a transaction. At the end of a transaction, we measured whether a website required a shopper to register before checking out, as well as how many pages shoppers had to complete as they concluded their transaction.

Through our metrics, we’ve aimed to take a snapshot of what techniques retailers are using to achieve effective merchandising. Over time, we’ll go further, mapping how Top500 retailers develop and change approaches over time.

Alongside this we’ve also worked with Knowledge Partner Edited to understand how fashion retailers handle their stock situation.

We look in further detail at this research in the future research feature on page 32.

What the Top500 do

Retailers are working hard to make it ever easier for the shoppers who use their sites to find the products they’re looking for. Those that stand out in this area are successfully creating a faster and more efficient customer experience that is more likely to satisfy the browsers who use the site. Those that scored well in search were more likely to finish higher in our rankings in this Performance Dimension.

A little more than half (52%) offered dropdown suggestions to complete part-typed searches. Some 44% of retailers offered shoppers the ability to filter by brand – that’s 20% more than in last year’s research – while 65% enabled filtering by price, and 78% by product type. We were also interested to see what retailers did when a search gave no results: we found that 64% showed a blank page, although 36%, or 178, of the Top500 had an alternative solution. This might vary from showing alternative products to flagging up information.

Other forms of signposting, beyond navigation, varied in popularity: while 19% of Top500 retailers used banner advertising on their landing page, 69% had an obvious promotion on the page. A small minority (6%) marked bestsellers.

Use of social sharing buttons, employed by 49% of retailers, enables browsers to run potential and actual purchases past friends and family, and third-party reviews and ratings are deemed still more important: 60% show product reviews, and 56% product ratings. A little more than a third (36%) enable browsers to Like a product, while a similar proportion (37%) offered social validation, where shoppers can see what other people think of a product. Saving a product to a wishlist can help to promote future sales: 46% (232) of Top500 retailers offer this solution.

Upselling and cross-selling were not as commonly employed as we would expect. Only 31% of the Top500 showed items that might upgrade the products that shoppers were looking at, but 75% do recommend similar items.

Once shoppers have found the products they are looking for, how easy do Top500 retailers make it to buy? Across the Top500, retailers used an average of 3.8 checkout pages. The experience could be as fast as one-click payment, offered by retailers including leading trader Amazon. Our analysis showed that 58% of traders require shoppers to register before they check out their purchases. Is this the correct approach, or do the 42% that don’t require registration offer a more nimble shopper experience? In our view, each approach has a different benefits – and costs. Registering might create a barrier to sale that puts some off buying. Conversely, collecting shoppers’ details gives the retailer data that can be used in personalising future messages and making relevant offers.

Leading the way

The retailers that stand out in the Merchandising Dimension have key characteristics in common. These retailers have clear navigation and predictive searches that make it easy to research a product. At Disney Store, for example, shoppers can learn in depth about the products that they are interested in, thanks to the use of strong images and detailed product information, andit’s easy to get around the website through the use of filtering, search suggestions and banners that act as signposts.

Amazon is highly rated for a combination of relevant search results, effective use of navigation and filtering that, taken together, make it easy for shoppers to find the items they want from a range of several million products. Recommendations, cross-selling and upselling are all personalised.

Littlewoods’ website loads quickly, scoring highly for search filtering and for searchandising. It provides filters to sort by product, brand and price, while extra filters include customer rating and delivery timeframe. Customer recommendations are clearly flagged up, and other products are offered at the checkout stage.

Littlewoods’ sister company, Very, offers a range of navigational filters, including colour, fit and material. On the product page, shoppers can see how many people are looking at that item, and when it was last bought. They can also share and Like products through social media, and save an item for later. A no results search shows promotional products, while misspelled search terms are corrected automatically.

Watch Shop stands out for the swift rendering of its home page. Products can be saved for later, shared via four social networks – with relevant recommendations appearing alongside. Two clicks are enough to pay on the site, which does not require registration. That’s 90% shorter than the average number of checkout pages for Top500 retailers.

Currys scores top marks for the relevance of the products that appear in search results. It offered navigational filters to sort product, brand and price, and added extra filters such as colour and kit variation, depending on the product category being searched. Product information won top marks based on the content, usefulness and the length of information provided. Social validation was available through four different social networks, while customers could also click to share products via email.

“At Disney Store, shoppers can learn in depth about products thanks to strong images and detailed product information.”

To see the full results, including the top performers in each dimension, download the free report here.

Merchandising Top50
AmazonAmerican Golf





The Brilliant Gift Shop




CycleSurgery Debenhams

Direct Golf

Disney Store

Dune London


Foot Locker




JD Williams


John Lewis


Karen Millen




Moss Bros.




Pets at Home

Post Office Shop

Roman Originals



Space NK


Topps Tiles

Toys Я Us




Watch Shop



Merchandising Top100
Andertons MusicAnthropologie

Appliances Direct


Bensons for Beds

Blacks Outdoor


The Body Shop


The Book People



Dorothy Perkins




Ernest Jones


The Fragrance Shop

George at Asda



Home Essentials

House of Fraser



JD Sports


Laptops Direct


Long Tall Sally


Miss Selfridge





Route One

Simply Be



Wex Photographic

White Stuff

Read More

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