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ONLINE BUSINESS

Merchandising On-line

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Marketing success means merchandising the right items at the right time to the right people, and determining the best items in your inventory to cross-sell to your customers.

Here's how you can do it online.

Web-based merchandising is at its core the same practice used by mail-order companies when they emblazon their catalogs with large images of their best-selling items, or when off-line stores tempt shoppers with window displays of their hottest merchandise.

Simply put, your goal is to increase sales by prominently displaying, in an appealing manner, the items customers are most likely to want.

Display With Appeal
A growing number of vendors sell software packages and hosted services that help online retailers make their products more appealing. Providers include RichFX and MGI Software.

But this still-evolving technology is often too expensive for most small businesses. The good news: Fancy interactive 3D technologies and interactive product displays are not necessary for making items visible, accessible and appealing. Simple merchandising tactics can help you make the sale.

Show off your best-selling items on your home page. A large image of your hottest product, placed somewhere near the top of your main page, will catch buyers' eyes and prompt viewers to learn more. If you've cut the price on the product, include your sale price with the image.

Link product images to a page that gives a full product description and, if possible, a more detailed image. This page can in turn be linked directly to your checkout page, making it possible for impulse buyers to see the product, learn about it, and buy it in a total of three or four clicks.

Make Goods Accessible
Merchandising the bulk of your inventory is as important as promoting the big sellers. On the Web, the key to merchandising your full inventory is to make it possible for shoppers to find what they want in the fewest number of clicks. Otherwise, shoppers might become frustrated and jump your site for the competition's.

Clothing and accessories retailer Eddie Bauer provides a great model for effective merchandising with a minimum of site navigation.

Every page on the Eddie Bauer site -- even the virtual shopping cart -- lists text links to the retailer's main product categories across the top of the page in a banner-like format. Shoppers are never more than two or three clicks from any item in the company's inventory.

Another example is Eziba.com, which includes links to product categories and an internal search engine at the bottom of most pages.

Try the Old Cross-Sell
Cross-selling is the promotion of other items that consumers are likely to want based on the initial products in which they have shown interest. Cross-selling can be as simple as displaying related goods together.

For instance, if a visitor to REI.com, pulls up a page with details on a particular performance snowboard, that page might include links to weatherproof snowboard jackets or pants.

Another place to consider cross-selling is on the checkout page. Just as grocery stores position candy bars and other "impulse" items at the checkout line, Web retailers can place "add-on" items to their checkout pages.

Check Out Checkout Action
Many retail sites dynamically display products on the checkout page based on the goods already in the shopping cart.

In the snowboard example, an effective checkout page merchandising might be to display wax -- along with a link to the product -- as the buyer completes the transaction for the snowboard.

More important than the page you choose for displaying your cross-sell items is how well you target the right item to the right person. Pitch items to individuals who have shown an interest in similar items.

An April 2000 study by Forrester Research found that targeting is more important than any other factor in determining whether promotions succeed or fail.

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