The Merchandising Workshop is the National Retail Federation’s annual conference for ecommerce merchandising professionals. This gathering brings together ecommerce leaders to share knowledge about the industry and set the tone for the state of the business. This year’s conference was held at the breathtaking Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verde, California.

While a wealth of knowledge was exchanged, some highlights are below.

  • Mobile was the hot topic that ran through nearly every presentation. 40% – 60% of online traffic now comes through a mobile device, yet the conversion rate is only a third of the desktop rate. The reason is twofold. First, customers are using their phones to research either before or during their in-store shopping experience and then purchasing in-store. Second, many mobile sites are more or less shrunken versions of the desktop site, making them difficult to navigate and shop from. Tactics to address both were covered and I’ve written about many of them in my post Improving the Mobile Shopping Experience. (Fun Fact: Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact.)
  • Omni continues to hold relevance: The need for online and brick-and-mortar stores to support one another is as strong as ever. A third of in-store purchases are now influenced by a mobile device. As mentioned, customers are using mobile devices to research products before or during their in-store visit. Malls and department stores are offering GPS-driven maps to assist customers into getting to their destinations faster. Augmented reality technologies are being developed to allow for an “in-store” shopping experience within the comforts of one’s own home. Physical stores are leveraging social media rankings such as “most-pinned” to bring attention to key items in-store. The creative ways in which stores and sites are working together continues to grow as this new territory is explored.
  • Don’t Ignore the Basics: Reviews, recommendations and search are all standard website features. But don’t take a set-it-and-forget approach with these valuable tools. As customer shopping habits change, these tools are evolving to keep up. Reviews including photos and videos are now becoming standard. A new approach to reviews is asking customers to comment on why they purchased an item at checkout, allowing for earlier feedback on new products. The future state of reviews is to be able to filter down reviews to view those from others who are like you. Recommendations are now showing up in more places and becoming even more personalized, such as recommendations that take into account external search terms that drove a customer to the site.
  • Sites to Check Out: While many sites were reviewed, two in particular stood out for innovation. The first is ThredUP which plays in the growing “re-commerce” space, meaning they re-sell used merchandise. ThredUP focuses on gently worn designer children’s and women’s apparel. Customers request a bag, send in their goods, and ThredUP staff price, photograph, describe and sell your product. The challenge comes in being able to effectively merchandise thousands of unique products, which they accomplish by leveraging a database with historical pricing and details of major fashion labels. The second is Photojojo which is a start-up (staff of 10, but growing!) that sells quirky photograph gadgets. Think instant cameras and fisheye lenses for your iPhone. They take a fun, fresh approach to presenting their products, such as animated thumbnails. They don’t have search or categories so that customers are invited to explore and be wowed by their merchandise. And the fun continues beyond the site as they include zany surprises in their orders including cookie scents and toy dinosaurs, which are quickly catching a cult following.
  • Keep in Mind for Next Year: In years past, discussions around online merchandising focused around products, presentation, and search/navigation. Today, the discussions revolve more around the user experience and how to leverage new technologies into the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. So while online merchants, who are involved in the many facets of an online store, should continue to attend, smart companies should also send user experience and store merchants in order to fully gain from the experience. And if the venue is as astonishing as it was this year, be sure to book an extra day for pleasure!

A recap of the event, including presentation decks, can be found at