4 Merchandising Essentials to Meet Your Small Business Needs

4 Merchandising Essentials to Meet Your Small Business Needs

In 2022, 7.47 million small businesses sold goods through the e-commerce platform Etsy, just a fraction of the more than 30 million small businesses in the US. Whether you want to offer high-quality products to your most loyal customers or venture into a new market, it’s critical to take advantage of this opportunity to boost your revenue.

Merchandising is the process of selecting, arranging, displaying, advertising, and selling products (merchandise) in a physical or online store. Selling merchandise is a great way to bolster your income, improve financial stability, and even give customers a way to shop for a worthy cause through charity partnerships.

In this guide, we’ll explore how you can get started with merchandising to take your business to new heights.

1. Consider Your Brand and Target Audience

The first step in your small business merchandising journey is identifying your target audience and market. Answer questions like:

  • Who are they?
  • Where do they work?
  • What is their income?
  • What do they do in their free time?
  • What problems do they have?
  • How can your merchandise solve those problems (e.g., a dog grooming business helping out busy customers by conveniently selling brushes, shampoo, and other products they can use at home in-store)?

You may find that you have more than one target market. Aim to outline and understand between three and five core audience profiles. Then, develop and adjust your in-store and online merchandising to align with your brand identity and target those audiences. Incorporate these elements to instill your branding into each product offered:

  • Visuals. Visuals create a first impression that sets the tone for how customers think of your products. For example, consider a dog daycare selling leashes, toys, and calming supplements. They want their product displays, decor, and website design to use consistent brand colors and logos, and showcase happy, well-behaved dogs in product images, signs, and marketing materials.
  • Voice. Brand voice concerns how you talk about products on store signage, online product descriptions, and social media promotions. The language, tone, and core benefits you use should be consistent across all of these communications. This is particularly important to keep in mind if you’re working with influencers or other third parties to promote your merchandise.
  • Values. What are your business’s values? For example, do they include sustainability, safe and fair employee work conditions, and giving back to the community? Develop a merchandising strategy that reflects your brand ethics and aligns with shoppers’ own values and morals.

Committing to thorough planning and data analysis at this stage will make the more “fun” parts of merchandising, like displaying and selling your products, go much more smoothly. Additionally, you’ll see the positive impact of cohesive, compelling branding that appeals to your target audience once you start crunching your sales numbers.

2. Leverage Visual Merchandising

Visual merchandising is a strategy your business can use to sell more products through strategic floor layouts, color, engaging displays, and other eye-catching tactics. This marketing strategy helps communicate your brand, catch customers’ attention, and boost sales by quickly directing them to the products they need—or even new ones they aren’t aware of yet.

For example, the clothing brand Anthropologie is well known for its elaborate, ever-changing window displays, decor, and product staging. Not only do these beautiful works entice customers and build a cohesive environment, but their use of recycled and sustainable materials also reinforces the business’s top value: to be mindful of its environmental impact.

Take inspiration from brands like Anthropologie as well as the top companies in your niche, and apply these tips:

  • Choose a focal point. In each display, identify a primary focal point—ideally, your product. Use signage, decor, color, lighting, and even technology like screens to direct customers’ attention to that focal point.
  • Consider product placement. Place the products you want to sell the most, typically your high-margin or popular items, at customers’ eye level. Encourage impulse purchases by placing low-cost but useful items near the checkout area.
  • Keep things simple. Avoid overloading your store and merchandise displays with clutter. This can make it difficult for customers to absorb and navigate all of the items on sale. After all, the goal is to direct attention to the merchandise, not the decorations around them.

For example, let’s say you run a pet business that offers basic pet supplies, food, and dog grooming and daycare services. During the Halloween season, you place holiday-specific products such as dog costumes and trick-or-treat dog treats at the front of the store with colorful, themed signage to draw attention to them. To keep everything streamlined and track the outcomes of these seasonal trends, you leverage specialized software like Gingr to reserve items, track inventory, and analyze profits.

3. Provide Interactive Experiences

Adding an array of sensory experiences keeps customers engaged and interested in your merchandise. When selecting your store’s sensory experiences, try to include as many of the five senses as possible. Consider how sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound play a role in your merchandising.

A sensory experience also shows customers what they’re buying. Try incorporating these engaging sensory experiences both in-person and online:

  • Host events with hands-on activities. Give customers the chance to interact with the products through engaging activities. For example, if your spa sells face masks or other skincare products, you might hold a workshop to show them how to do their own facials at home using your merchandise.
  • Offer free product samples. Similarly, offer samples of your products to your customers. For a bakery or ice cream shop, this may result in instant purchases if the customer enjoys the treat. But if you’re handing out makeup samples, for example, customers will likely return to your store after they’ve tried the product at home to make the purchase. If you have an online shop, consider including free samples in customers’ orders.
  • Provide personalized recommendations. While customers can easily get a recommendation from your employees when shopping in person, it’s harder to do so as an online shopper. Consider setting up an AI chatbot to assist your online customers or even creating a product quiz. For example, Living Proof’s haircare quiz helps customers find the best products for their unique hair needs.
  • Ask for feedback. Have customers weigh in on what their favorite products are. Allow them to vote and then create a list of top sellers based on their responses. You might even set up a dedicated display highlighting these items for future customers to peruse.

To create a truly immersive experience, foster excellent employee engagement and make sure each of your team members is an expert in the merchandise. They should be able to direct customers to the products they are looking for, answer questions, and recommend products based on customers’ needs. Combined with a positive shopping experience, this will make customers feel satisfied and want to return.

4. Make Purchasing a Positive Act

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. As Double the Donation’s roundup of corporate social responsibility (CSR) statistics explains, 77% of consumers want to purchase from companies that have CSR initiatives.

There are many ways you can bake this type of giving into your small business merchandising strategy, including:

  • Donating a percentage of each sale to each customer’s preferred nonprofit.
  • Connecting with and supporting nonprofits through a charity affiliate program.
  • Donating a portion of each sale you make to a predetermined nonprofit.
  • Partnering directly with a nonprofit to sell their branded items in your store.
  • Pledging to donate one unit of your product for every purchase made.

Ideally, your shoppers should feel like purchasing your merchandise directly supports a positive cause. Make your customer-facing CSR initiatives explicit in your marketing. For instance, remind shoppers that a portion of their spending will go back into their community, and be specific in how it will be donated and spent.

Wrapping Up

These merchandising strategies will help you get your ideas off the ground, reach the right customers, and inspire them to try your products. However, you shouldn’t have to go it alone.

Leveraging the right business management software and digital tools will simplify the merchandising process and save you time. Ultimately, scalable, customizable software will help you implement these merchandising essentials and grow your small business.

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