Etailing vs. Retailing

    October 10, 2006

While much is known about retail store displays for physical stores, what about your ecommerce storefront?

The consumer shopping experience is entirely different online that it is in a retail store, so we are going to examine some good practices for the visual merchandising of your products on the web.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Internet shopping as compared to shopping in a retail store is the fact that the product is not physically available for the customer to examine when it is presented online. Customer behavior, therefore, is notably different.

Products in your physical retail store speak for themselves. It is often sufficient to present the product in an attractive retail store display and simply allow the customer to touch, feel, even try on the product. None of these options are available on the web.

Therefore, it is necessary to provide more information to consumers within your ecommerce storefront. While you would probably never think of including extended product descriptions within your physical store, such descriptions are an absolute must in ecommerce. While it has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, pictures are not enough. You must include a text description of each product. It is usually not sufficent to keep it simple in this case. A description that provided no more information than “large red shirt” would not be likely to entice many customers to purchase the product. A more effective description would be along the lines of “This attractive red pullover is made of 100% cotton and breathes easily. It is machine washable and comfortable to wear. It is perfect for a business casual environment or a day at the lake.”

I’m sure that a marketing professional could write a better description, but you get the idea.

Additionally, it is important to include clickable thumbnail images, which enlarge when clicked, so as to give the customer a better view. It is also a good idea to provide several views of the product from different angles, so the customer gets the entire picture (no pun intended).

Finally, as it is important in your physical storefront, the architectural layout of your ecommerce storefront should be clean, appealing, intuitive, and easy to navigate. It should include your logo for branding purposes, and it should be easy for the customer to check out, edit his or her shopping cart, read store policies such as terms and conditions and refund policies, and individual pages should not require excessive load time. Customer support contacts such as toll free numbers and email addresses should be readily and easily identifiable and not hidden in some obscure portion of the web site. And, as is also the case in physical store layout, your online store should be organized into logical categories, allowing the customer to easily navigate to a desired product. For purposes of upselling, an ecommerce system that supports a suggested product feature is desirable. Such functionality would take the form of additional, related products appearing on individual product pages, with easy linking to each of the suggested items.

An excellent ecommerce software that is search engine friendly is available at


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Ron Maier is the Vice President of S & L Store Fixtures, a leading online provider of retail store displays and store fixtures. For more information, please visit