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Eric Deschambault
Nov 19, 2021
(8 votes)

eCommerce merchandising series: categories product sequencing

Helping top retailers transitioning to eCommerce has proven to be very challenging. As we are helping them navigate through all the difficulties of bringing their brand online, we have developed quite a few tools to help retailers to merchandise their products online efficiently. 

This is the first post of a series where I'll share some strategies we have put in place, as well as customizations we have made to the Optimizely B2C platform, to help merchandisers improving their eCommerce experience and conversions.

As defined by Apptus, "'commerce merchandising is both a science and an art. Its goal is to boost sales, by connecting shoppers with the right products. The most important function of eCommerce merchandising is to guide users through their customer journeys. Compared to physical stores, the customer journey is more complex when it comes to eCommerce. Nearly every visitor in brick-and mortar shops will interact with the same visuals, smells and associates while they walk into the stores. At the same time, there are many different paths that a customer can take to end up on your eCommerce site. Ecommerce merchandising can help you ensure that every customer who visits your site has a similar experience, no matter how they arrive on your site and how they navigate once they get there."

When it comes to category merchandising, the goal is to optimize the sequence (order) of your product in a category or product listing page, to get the most clicks and conversions, and to allow customers to discover products that will be the most relevant to them. The initial sort order of the products in the category is therefore essential in achieving this objective. 

However, every retailer will want to adopt a strategy that is tailored to their industry, customer needs, product catalogue depth and type of products. For example, fast fashion retailers - where catalogues and collections change every few months - may want to put more emphasis on the sequencing of products based on clothing attributes that are the most popular, such as the color, or boost newest items/collections first.

Every customer has different taste, and different shopping habits. While creating personas may have help to identify the different types of customers, those are only very broad. When it comes to category merchandising and default sorting option, one of the most effective strategy is to use personalization and A/I machine learning, with a service such as Optimizely Personalized Search & Navigation, to sequence the products differently for every customer, based on their search, discovery and purchasing patterns. 

Product sequencing manual rules

While A/I and machine learning is a great way to get higher conversions at a low maintenance cost, some retailers may want to interfere and have much more control on the order in which the products are displayed in the catalogues, so that it's alligned with the overall website merchandising strategy. For example, in the fashion industry, retailers will definitely release a new winter or Christmas collection early November, and will want most of their top categories to reflect the winter/Christmas spirit of the overall website. It also reflects what their customers are looking for at this time of the year: Christmas gifts, winter clothes, etc. To acheive this objective, retailers will want to be able to showcase automatically the newest Christmas collections and, on Black Friday weekend, to boost the items that are on sale.

When there's thousands of items in the product catalogue, manually sorting and boosting items may not be a viable option, therefore we have created new tools in Episerver Commerce that allow contributors to configure automated rules for the sequencing of products within a category.

At the category level, merchandisers do have access to a new tab "Product Sequencing" where they can drag and drop product sequencing rules inside a content area in order to stack them.

The "product sequencing rules" is simply a new type of block that allow contributor to configure rules by (1) selecting any product attribute, (2) selecting an operator (such as equal), (3) input a value, and (4) choosing a sort by option to sort the search result set (based on stock, or latest arrivals). We are obviously using Optimizely Search & Nav here.

By stacking multiple "product sequencing" blocks, the merchandisers can control dynamically the order sequencing of products within a category, and this sequence will always be up to date even when new products and collections are sync to the platform.

Ex: of rules that they could create and stack:

  1. Display Chrstimas collection items first, order by price
  2. From the remaining items, display in this sequence:
    1. Display Bundles items
    2. Display white items with a special feature 'X'
    3. Display red items with a special feature 'Y'

Obviously, the attributes and rules will depend on your catalogue and business logic, therefore it's important to understand how the retailer merchnadise and operate.

As you can see in this example, eCommerce merchanidising is somewhat similar to brick and mortal store merchandising. As customer are walking into a store, sales, best sellers, and seasonal products are presented upfront.

Note that a Scheduled Job runs periodically to update the default sorting based on the rules.

Traditional approaches

Obviously, traditional approaches may still be what works the best with your customers. For example, in some industries, customers are still looking mostly for the "best sellers" items, and that highly influence what they buy. In this case, boosting the best sellers makes more sense. In other industries, customers are hunting for deals, therefore displaying the "on sale" items first may be the way go get the highest conversions. Which brings me to my last point...


Not sure what works the best for your customers yet? The idea will be to experiment with different features - different type of default sorting in your categories, to choose the sequencing that converts the most!

There are many other ways to improve category merchandising, I would love to hear from the community what type of strategies you have put in place with your clients!

Come back in 2 weeks for a new blog post in this e-merchandising series.

>> Don't miss out my other blog posts in this serie:

Nov 19, 2021


Thomas Merlin
Thomas Merlin Nov 19, 2021 03:16 PM

Great article!

Josie Nov 19, 2021 03:19 PM

Great blog post!

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