For many small businesses—with a small team and a million things to get done—merchandising usually isn’t top of mind. But merchandising is essential to any business’s operations and crucial to getting your products into your customers’ hands.
Merchandising is the process of selecting, arranging, displaying, advertising, and selling products (merchandise) in a physical or online store. In this article, we’ll look at six essential strategies to easily increase your small business’s revenue from your merchandise sales:
- Consider Your Brand and Target Audience
- Track and Report on Sales Data in Real-Time
- Coordinate Your Team
- Make Navigation Easy
- Heighten the Sensory Experience
- Make Purchasing a Positive Act
As you get started, consider how each strategy fits into both your physical storefront and online store. In today’s global market, it’s crucial for businesses, big and small, to streamline their merchandising efforts and make products as widely available as possible.
1. Consider Your Brand and Target Audience
Take the first step in your small business merchandising journey: determine your target audience and market. Get as specific as possible! Who are they? What do they do? How much do they make? What do they do in their free time?
You’ll likely find you have more than one target market. That’s OK! Aim to have between three and five core audience profiles. Then, you’ll want to develop and adjust your in-store and online merchandising according to establish brand identities that target these audiences. This includes your brand:
- Visuals. Visuals create a first impression and can set the tone for how customers think of your products. For example, a combination pet store and dog daycare might want their brand aesthetic (from product displays and decor to website design) to follow a consistent design that highlights happy, well-behaved dogs in product images, signs, and marketing materials.
- Voice. How do you talk about products in your descriptions? What types of language do you use on store signage? Do you highlight handwritten staff recommendations or best selling items? Consider these brand voice questions in your merchandising decisions.
- Values. What are your business’s values? Sustainability? Safe and fair employee work conditions? Giving back to the community? (More on this below!) Develop a merchandising strategy that reflects an ethical brand that aligns with shoppers’ values and morals.
Track how your audience responds to the branding around your merchandise over time and adjust accordingly. Let’s look at the types of data you should collect to help make those adjustments.
2. Track and Report on Sales Data in Real-Time
When we’re talking about merchandising, our guts can be awfully wrong. If you’re not tracking each product’s sales history and communication and marketing metrics, you’ll have no idea if what you’re doing works—or how to improve it!
Make sure to regularly track:
- Sales data
- Product shelf and in-store locations
- Product locations in your website’s site map
- Associated ads and discounts
- Customer demographics and buying history
Luckily, you don’t have to do this by hand. Leverage comprehensive software that’s tailored to your industry to create in-depth, customized reports and update these in real-time. As a result of tracking and comparing your data, you’ll be able to predict customer behavior and buying practices, move products to be more visible and accessible, and keep your shelves stocked with in-demand products.
3. Coordinate Your Team
A well-oiled team is crucial to small business merchandising success. Helping customers find products, offering additional services, providing on-the-ground insight into shopper behavior, and implementing organizational changes are all ways your staff can elevate your merchandising efforts.
Whether you’re starting from scratch or already have a built-out managerial process, use the following best practices to take your team’s coordination to the next level:
- Scheduling. To keep your whole team on schedule and avoid conflicts or mistakes, Revelation Pets recommends using digital tools that sync online and allow for real-time collaboration. That way, staff members can check their schedules at any time and get notified as soon as a change is made.
- Team bonding opportunities. When team members feel connected to one another and your business, they’ll communicate more effectively, produce better work, and grow with your business. To facilitate these connections, offer bonding opportunities to build a sense of teamwork, such as a staff volunteer outing or team fundraising.
Not only will your team work more efficiently and effectively with these steps implemented, but they’ll also feel more satisfied and happy in their jobs. As a result, you’ll have less turnover, a more experienced staff, and, over time, consistently increased productivity.
4. Make Navigation Easy
Whether in-store or online, you want to make it as easy as possible for your customers to find the products they need. In general, navigation will vary from store to store and sector to sector. Moreover, how shoppers navigate an online store looks different (obviously!) from how they navigate a physical storefront.
When designing your various navigation systems, consider the following:
- Floor plan. Your floor plan determines how shoppers move through your store and the order in which they interact with your merchandise.
- Site map. Similarly, your site map will act as a kind of digital floor plan for your online shoppers.
- Signage. Use signs (physical and digital) to direct customers, promote sales, highlight product features and benefits, and showcase your brand’s personality.
For example, let’s return to our combination pet store and dog daycare example above. During the Halloween season, you might place holiday-specific products such as dog costumes and trick-or-treat dog treats at the front of the store. Then for your digital marketing, you could leverage your daycare software’s features to highlight these products whenever a customer pays for an appointment online.
5. Heighten the Sensory Experience
Whether online or in-person, adding an array of sensory experiences can help keep customers engaged and interested in your offerings. When designing your store’s sensory experiences, try to include as many of the five senses as possible. Consider how each of the five senses of sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound can play a role in your merchandising.
Ultimately, a sensory experience not only engages customers, but it also shows them what they’re buying. To leverage the range of senses in your merchandising strategy, try incorporating these engaging sensory experiences into both your physical and online storefronts.
- Host events with hands-on activities.
- Hold product and service demonstrations.
- Offer free product samples.
Whenever you host an event or offer additional sensory experiences, plan to take steps to maintain engagement. Use these moments as opportunities to convert new faces and move existing customers down the sales funnel.
6. Make Purchasing a Positive Act
All things equal, when given a choice between buying a product from a faceless organization and one that gives back to its community, shoppers will generally choose the one that gives back. In fact, according to Nonprofit Source’s Charitable Giving Statistics, in 2021 90% of businesses indicated that “partnering with reputable nonprofit organizations” bettered the public’s view of their brands.
There are a number of ways you can bake this type of giving into your small business merchandising strategy, including:
- Donate a percentage of each sale to each customer’s preferred nonprofit.
- Donate a portion of each sale you make to a predetermined nonprofit.
- Partner directly with a nonprofit to sell their branded items in your store.
- Pledge to donate one unit of your product for every purchase that’s made
Ideally, your shoppers should feel like making a purchase is directly supporting a positive cause. You can make this explicit in your marketing. For instance, remind shoppers that a portion of their spending will go back into their community. Be specific in how it will be donated and spent.
While it’s possible to accomplish these strategies manually, you might also consider leveraging software and digital tools to simplify the process and save time. Ultimately, scalable, customizable software will help you implement these merchandising essentials and grow your small business.
About the Author
Hi, I'm Casey! I'm the Sales Manager at Gingr software. Originally from Indianapolis, I now live in Colorado with my wife and dog, Dexter. Our hobbies include hiking, skiing, and visiting local breweries.