Merchandising is a form of marketing that focuses on presenting the product itself when and where customers are most likely to buy. Marketing is a broader effort that includes all possible kinds of promotion, including longer-term brand awareness. In a well-crafted marketing plan, marketing and merchandising interface gracefully, with marketing laying the groundwork for the merchandising that leads customers to their final purchasing decisions.
Marketing starts with building your brand and crafting a product that will meet customers' needs. It includes the marketing research that starts before your product is even engineered and manufactured, identifying the target market and building in features that will appeal to your prospective audience. A thoughtful and effective marketing plan extends to branding strategies, which use the product's packaging and message to reinforce and clearly communicate its appeal to the most likely prospective customers. Packaging and advertising are opportunities to build on the branding foundation that started with the product's concept and design. Once these pieces are in place, a marketing strategy can follow through at the merchandising stage, presenting the product in ways that will make customers choose and buy it.
Point of Purchase Merchandising
Point of purchase marketing uses merchandising in subtle and also overt ways. This phase of a marketing strategy includes all the ways you can entice customers to choose your offerings at a retail level, especially in a brick and mortar location. Product merchandising strategies include increasing product appeal by stocking items in noticeable locations such as eye-level shelf space, end-aisle displays and close to cash registers, where customers are biding their time while waiting in line. It can also include window displays that show how a product can be used, and cross-marketing such as stocking lemons next to fish and corkscrews next to bottles of wine. In-store sampling is another effective type of merchandising, giving customers a hands-on experience of your product as they're shopping and getting ready to make purchasing decisions. Marketing materials such as shelf talkers and recipes for food products are also effective merchandising strategies that call attention to products.
Web-based merchandising doesn't have the advantage of tactile strategies such as sampling, but photos can make suitable stand-ins, especially if they're professionally executed and truly show off your product's appeal. Write strong product descriptions that are informative without being unnecessarily wordy. Use product recommendations based on past purchases and viewing history, and solicit reviews that give information about your products from customers' perspectives. The layout of your site is an important merchandising tool as well: if customers can easily find what they're looking for, they're more likely to buy rather than looking for other online options.
Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.