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Understand how shoppers find products online

Learn the most important elements of the digital shelf.
A person sat browsing online shops with a tablet in their living room.

There are two ‘shelves’ today when we shop – and the ‘digital shelf’ is where online shoppers find and discover products.

We all know the shelf in our local shop. On this shelf, this is where we look for what we want – whether it’s a tin of beans or a T-shirt, we pick them up, look at them, evaluate them and ultimately buy them. Within the wonderful world of eCommerce, there is now another shelf – a second shelf called the ‘digital shelf’.

The digital shelf is the precise place and time when our customer lands on our website and starts looking at our wares. We ‘virtually’ interact with it, look at it, examine it – and, hopefully, buy it!

And, just as the retail shelf in your local retail store has its own set of best practices and rules, so has the digital shelf.

When a potential customer visits a website to buy something, they typically browse through a website, discover products, engage with product content and product assortment, and check ratings and reviews.

Just like browsing in your local shop, the easier it is to navigate and find a desired product, the easier it will be for your customers to buy things. On the other hand, if the experience is confusing, customers just don’t buy – they move onto somewhere that is easier to purchase from.

This is why we need to understand the digital shelf and make shoppers pick our products.

Let’s look at each of the digital shelves our customers can engage with:

  • The homepage: the main ‘page’ of your eCommerce store – think of this as the shopfront of your local store; the gateway to help customers find the right product category.
  • The category page: the category pages are like store aisles – a range with lots of choice to choose from and discover.
  • The product page: the product page is the page where the customer is presented with the product they want. Just like when you pick up a product in a shop, the product page is where potential consumers make up their mind on whether they want to buy.
  • The search page: many potential customers start on an eCommerce store by typing in the brand name or product they are looking for into a search bar on a website. This is the start of the shopping journey for many shoppers and a way for them to discover new products and brands. This is like asking a store assistant for guidance in a ‘real’ store.
  • The shopping cart page: this is the page in an eCommerce store when the customer takes out their credit card and decides to buy. Even at this stage, potential customers can change their mind; it’s no different than when we are at a physical checkout – we might just change our minds!
  • Product content: the combination of words, pictures and videos used on an eCommerce site.
  • The ratings and reviews page: ratings and reviews are becoming increasingly important. In an online world, customers see authentic feedback from real people as a mark of trust.

A red circle with the words 'Ratings & reviews' written inside. Around the red circle in the middle are other circles surrounding. They each have a different colour and say the following homepage, category page, product page, product content (images, words), shopping cart page, assortment & availability. (Click to expand)

The good news is the fundamentals are pretty straightforward. To ensure your products make their way into shoppers’ online baskets, they need to be easily discoverable with great written and visual descriptions – they need to be good enough to get the customer to take out their credit card! This is why every image, picture, word, description and detail on an eCommerce store serves a purpose.

What we need to learn is how shoppers engage with the most important pages on our website – the homepage, product page, search page, category page, shopping cart pages and ratings and reviews – and then apply the right techniques and practices on every page. And that’s what the rest of this week is about!

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Research and Prepare: Understand eCommerce Customers, Products, and Propositions

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