Finding the right product amidst today’s “choice overload” can be a frustrating process for consumers, and being found can be just as difficult for brands. When I walk into a store, I see an overwhelming number of brands, models, and marketing messages. Shopper choice overload is what every consumer product brand competes with at the point of purchase – standing out on a shelf full of like items.

Much of the merchandising content on these shelves is the brand telling the consumer why it’s the best. If every brand is “the best,” how can we choose? As consumers ourselves, we know the answer: we listen to what our peers, friends, and fellow shoppers say about the products to make our decisions.

Brands have a number of in-store merchandising tools in their arsenal: endcaps and signage to draw attention to products, sales staff to answer customer questions and guide purchases, etc. So how can manufacturers leverage consumer-to-consumer conversations (that we know are happening) at the point of purchase? By supplying online shoppers with their fellow consumers’ opinions and timely answers to product questions. Now we’re “Social Merchandising”, a strategy that directly impacts sales and returns.

Endcaps and signage

Say I’m looking for a scanner. Like most consumers (66% of consumers research products online before they buy online or in-store), I head to my favorite consumer electronics retail website to research choices. The scanner category page – the online equivalent of a shelf – displays several scanners with similar types of product information: features, pricing, and in this case, customer reviews. And just like in a brick-and-mortar store, I’m faced with choice overload.

Ratings and reviews act as endcaps and signage, differentiating like products.

As I compare one scanner to another, my eyes are naturally drawn to a key difference. Scanner A has 183 reviews, while Scanner B has only five. Based on the 4.5 star average rating, , most of the 183 reviewers were more than satisfied with Scanner A. Which scanner gets more of my attention? That’s really a rhetorical question; you know the answer. A survey of 26,000+ found that consumer recommendations are the most credible form of advertising.

Much like endcaps and special signage in a retail store, customer reviews and ratings differentiate similar products at the point of purchase. Manufacturers can capitalize on this fact by collecting reviews from end customers and syndicating these authentic opinions to retailer sites. More reviews equals more visibility equals more clicks… you get the idea. And it works – three manufacturers saw a 26% increase in sales after syndicating reviews to a retailer site. That’s just online sales – eMarketer found that the internet influences $3.45 of in-store sales for every dollar spent online.

Your best sales team

Say I click Scanner A (the one with more reviews)to learn more. Once on the product page, I have related questions and I can’t find answers. For example, “Can this scan, resize, and print without being connected to a PC?”

Who better to answer my question than the manufacturing brand? Traditionally, brands haven’t had access to customers at this point in the purchase funnel. I could ask my question in-store, where brands spend significant resources continuously training retailer reps and updating product information – an expensive and resource-intensive endeavor. Or, my hunt for information could take me elsewhere – another retailer, or even another brand.

But what if brands could answer customer questions while they shop – making merchandising social, and directly engaging consumers to affect purchases? We already know customer Q&A boosts sales and reduces returns. User-generated answers reduced returns 23% for one client, and doubled online sales for PETCO. But what if manufacturing brands got involved? It’d be like having your brand’s best sales team on every sale. In our example, I’d ask my question directly on the product page. Scanner A’s manufacturer, “ManufacturerSite,” could then provided a timely, branded answer that lives on the product page, for every customer to see.

Manufacturers provide branded answers on retail sites. Click to enlarge.

These branded answers give manufacturers a strengthened presence on retailer sites, and let brands give shoppers all of the information they need to buy confidently. Samsung began answering questions on retailer sites under the persona “Mr. Samsung”, and found that for the questions they received, 91% were not already covered by the product information. Additionally, answers from Mr. Samsung were voted the most helpful on the retailer site.

As commerce becomes increasingly social, so must manufacturer’s merchandising efforts. Syndicated consumer reviews are the endcaps and signage that make your products stand out online. Branded answers at the point-of-purchase are your in-store sales team ready to answer any customer questions. This concept is a paradigm shift in how merchandising and distribution networks fit together. With planning season just around the corner, how will you make your merchandising social?

Manufacturers, connect with consumers at the point of purchase.

Reviews are your online endcaps. Branded answers are your online sales staff. See how Social Merchandising tools can boost your sales and reduce your returns.

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