Product Merchandizing and Marketing for Your Online Business

By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

A stellar storefront solution should provide a host of tools that assist you in promoting products (offering ideas based on past purchase histories, for example), and marketing them (by offering promotion codes, for example) to your customer base. After all, these features ultimately help you move more products and bump up your sales revenue:

  • Product images: Ideally, customers should be able to view multiple images of a product, including an up close or enhanced view, before making a purchase. To make several images of a product available on your site, the store’s product gallery has to allow for more than one image to be uploaded and viewed per product.

  • Customization component: One major online trend is letting customers customize products. You can customize a product by adding a monogram, engraving a message, or modifying a color or style, for example. Because customizing is potentially a persuasive purchasing feature, your storefront’s shopping-cart program should allow customers to add customizing instructions.

  • Cross-selling (or upselling): This feature allows you to promote similar products on a single page. In other words, when customers add one product to the cart, you can then recommend or suggest another product. Also referred to as suggestive selling, cross-selling occurs during the checkout process, where you recommend additional products or services to the customer, based on the existing purchase.

    Cross-selling is a standard technique to raise the amount a customer spends in one visit to your store.

  • Discount pricing: You may want to be able to set up special groups that can be assigned different prices. For example, you may want to offer a 10 percent discount in February to active military members and their families. Or you may want to allow certain resellers to receive a different price than your public customers. This feature lets you distinguish among types of customers and charge them different prices.

  • Promotions: Coupon codes, gift certificates, loyalty and reward programs, and any other special offers can be set up as incentives for your customers. The complexities of this feature vary, so take a close look at what each storefront solution can and can’t do. As an example, some storefronts allow you to deduct only a certain percentage rate or a flat dollar amount. Other programs allow promotions such buy-one-get-one-free (or half price).

  • E-mail marketing: Staying in touch with your customer base is a surefire way to drive up sales. Storefronts seem to offer wide variations of this feature. Some storefronts may offer their own e-mail function, while others may integrate with a third-party solution, such as MailChimp or iContact.

  • Search engine friendly: Search engine optimization (SEO) is being continuously integrated into storefront features. Having your individual product pages (or the images) tagged or optimized with special meta descriptions is an increasingly important element to helping your pages show up in search engine results.

  • Shopping feeds: Similar to search engine marketing, your e-commerce store needs a way to hook into Google Product Search (Google’s shopping comparison site) and other popular shopping sites. You use something called an XML-data feed to pull results from these types of sites into your own in the blink of an eye.

  • Mobile commerce ready: Increasingly, online customers want to shop for and buy your products by using a smartphone or tablet, so your storefront should be accessible by mobile devices and optimized for (easily viewed on) an iPhone, an Android phone, and any type of tablet.

    This functionality is growing in popularity, but not all e-commerce solutions offer this level of functionality — or it may cost more for you to have access to this type of feature.

  • Social marketing: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn are among some of the popular social media sites today. Your customers want to interact with your brand using these sites; but how they do this is rapidly changing.

    Online customers now use social media to communicate with and about your business, receive special promotions and coupons, make purchases from your business, and even help sell your products to friends in their networks. Often customers want the opportunity to “like” a company on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or add the company to a Google+ circle.

    An e-commerce solution should offer the functionality necessary to make most, if not all, these interactions possible. The types of social media sites and the ways in which they’re used to reach different customers constantly evolve. For example, SnapChat and Vine videos have each been used by companies to engage teenager customers, in particular. Although social marketing changes quickly, this type of marketing can also have a big pay-off.