How Online Retailers Can Become Virtual Personal Shopping Assistants – Part 2

How Online Retailers Can Become Virtual Personal Shopping Assistants – Part 2
Posted by Attraqt | 7 December 2018

Guide your ecommerce customers to their favourite products like a personal shopper.

Why Astute Merchandising Will Set You Apart

Retailers naturally wish to showcase their products as well as possible. A good instore merchandiser will monitor sales and adapt displays in response to sales patterns, emerging trends and seasonal changes to inspire customers and optimise sales opportunities. Technology allows online merchandisers to manage their catalogue in the same way.


Can’t Ecommerce Platforms Just Do the Job?

Certainly they typically offer some element of merchandising functionality, but generally do not have the same richness of control as specialised software.

Currently, ecommerce platforms are fairly standard solutions – one size fits all. They could also be described as passive, as all merchandising solutions require the customer to go to the website and actively search for items. Retailers simply present the results, with the merchandising rules applied.

And so, a standard ecommerce platform isn’t capable of giving the sophisticated results retailers really want to achieve. Therefore, a plug-in to enhance the retailer’s chosen ecommerce platform will allow them to fine tune merchandising strategies. This makes sense. If you have a better-than-average merchandising system in place you should expect to see better-than-average results.


Merchandising Solutions

There are three preferred technology options that will improve merchandising online for retailers – automation, manual and active merchandising.



Let’s look at the automated online merchandising solution. This is aimed at retailers wanting something quick and easy, either smaller businesses or those that sell from a catalogue where products don’t change much. They also tend not to be fashion-orientated, and so aren’t dictated by seasonal trends – which an automated system would struggle with.

Once set up, retailers can let an automated solution run without much fine tuning. This will produce a reasonable result and has the advantage of not requiring staff to manage it. It comes without the associated cost of training and salaries too.

However, automation limits the retailer’s control over their merchandising strategy. For example, what happens when the automation goes wrong? How can a human step in and take control? An alternative could be to implement a merchandising strategy which doesn’t limit the ecommerce team’s options.



This is where the retailer is entirely in control of its online merchandising. It means a retailer can curate their site exactly how they want and create highly relevant experiences. However, it is very time consuming, repetitive and not scalable.

As such it would only be suitable for businesses with small catalogues, such as a boutique type online shop, and the resource to spend time managing their sites regularly and effectively.


Automation and Control & Creativity

The best of both worlds is where automation is combined with the option for control and creativity, enabling online retailers to guide shoppers to precisely the products they most want customers to see.

Automation takes care of the heavy lifting. It allows retailers to create standard online retail merchandising strategies that bundle the logic together and make it consistent across categories, regions or countries, leaving the merchandiser free to create visually appealing pages that will draw customers in.

This agile form of merchandising is appropriate for all retailers and particularly those that focus on setting trends and creating a following. These are businesses which are dictating what people will be buying in the next weeks, months and years. The chemistry between the merchandiser and purchaser in this retail environment is paramount.

In these instances, retailers need to be able manage their merchandising system manually. Detailed control requires more resources and time to do this plus a bigger team of skilled, experienced staff to manage the system. As well as merely managing the system, they need to understand the customer’s behaviour and adapt merchandising functions accordingly.

For instance, an online merchandising system with more functionality can allow the retailer to customise categories and pages and apply different weighting and rankings to the type of strategies they are setting. But it also means they will spend more time on working out what’s successful and what is not, and then tweaking the system regularly to achieve desired results. The retailer will need a solid, skilled team to reap the best out of the platform.

For fast fashion retailer PrettyLittleThing, immediate control over curating pages is essential. It aims to constantly provide an exciting and relevant experience to a young audience and make sure the hottest trends and seasonal styles take center stage. To achieve this, the retailer uses responsive merchandising technology, which allows it to manually rank products appropriately and keep the site fresh and interesting for its customers.

According to James McDougall, Head of IT at PrettyLittleThing, “Our global operation has many complexities and Attraqt’s technology is able to cope with these demands. Search functionality has improved considerably, while merchandisers working on international sites now have the freedom to style the pages as they wish, based on seasonality. These improvements together with an overall increase in performance of our sites have contributed to recent uplift in order value and conversion.”

Having looked at how onsite search and online merchandising technology can help give customers the level of service they would expect instore, our final blog will assess the key considerations retailers should look out for when choosing a solution.

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