Ecommerce Merchandising Guide

Chapter 1:  Organize your Merchandise for Easy Shopping


What is Ecommerce Merchandising?

Merchandising literally means any activity that promotes the sale of goods.  Traditionally this would be displaying products in-store or at a “brick and mortar” physical location for purchase.  Online, the process is similar to retail merchandising with some obvious differences because customers can not pick up and hold a tangible product.  In both cases, planning based on research and your selling experience is important for successful Ecommerce merchandising.


Ecommerce Merchandising vs Retail Merchandising

Initially, having a physical product on hand for shoppers to touch and interact with creates an emotional attachment to the product.  Putting the product in a shopper’s hands makes them more likely to buy.  Without that physical interaction, there are some key differences in the Ecommerce shopping experience online.


How do we encourage shoppers to buy online?

Step 1:  Be Found Easily on Search Engines

First, being able to find your online store is key.  If you walk into a physical store and can’t find what you are looking for then you’re more likely to walk out.  The same is true for online stores.  Landing on a website and then leaving immediately is called “bounce”.  Starting with a strong url and homepage content that let’s consumers know they have come to the right place reduces bounce.

  • URL (Universal Resource Locator):  The web address of your website includes the main domain name and the prefix (http://, https://, and www.)  An ideal domain name would include the name of your business or what you are selling in the shortest form possible.  The shorter and easier to remember it is the better.  For example, I have a client that uses “” instead of the longer domain “”.  Both could be used but is shorter and better for name recognition.
  • Homepage Content:  The homepage is the first place a potential customer will land in most cases.  I say ‘most’ because the other pages of your website can also be indexed by Google and it is entirely possible a user will land and enter from a different page.  That being said, the homepage is the page that Google gives the most weight to when determining if your website is an authority for whatever you sell. So you will want to make sure you give users a lot of queues to let them know they have come to the right place to get your product. If you sell super duper widgets, you should include at least 800 words of informative copy about super duper widgets on your homepage.

Step 2:  Setup your Online Catalog

Organize your Products into Groups

Second, group your products into categories to make them easy to search for and find.  Categorizing products is especially helpful if you have a wide variety of products.  Imagine walking into a store where all of the products are in one long aisle placed in no particular order on hundreds of shelves…how would you find what you are looking for? To avoid making potential customers look at every single product, grouping products into categories helps visitors shop faster.

Additionally, take time to look up similar products on a search engine to see how other stores label and talk about those products.  You as an industry insider may refer to products in one way, but consumers may refer to and search for them in differently.  Those “search terms” can also be localized, meaning one country has a different name for a set of products than another.  For example, in America we say “Sunglasses” but in Britain and Australia they call sunglasses “Sunnies”.


Example of Simple Product Categorization:
Clothing Shoes Accessories
T-Shirts Sneakers Belts
Long Sleeve Shirts Sandals Hats
Shorts Loafers Socks
Pants Scarves
Skirts Wallets
Dresses Headbands


Step 3:  Make a List of All Products

Third, make a list of all your products in a spreadsheet.  A spreadsheet is the easiest way to build a list of products and have them ready to use quickly.  Having products neatly arranged in rows and columns will allow you to extract that list in multiple formats or export them.  A Comma delimited file (.CSV) and a Tab delimited file (.TSV) are two of the most common files that an online store uses to organize products.  Programs like Microsoft Excel and Google Drive give users the option to export spreadsheets as either of these files.

The information (data) that represents each product should be arranged as 1 SKU = 1 Row.  Column Names should represent the fields that are used by the online store to create each product.  Fields will include info like Product Name, SKU, 12 Digit UPC, Product Description, Category(ies), and any other fields that make up the product, such as color, size, weight etc.  These unique characteristics are what make one SKU even slightly different from another SKU. In Ecommerce merchandising, these unique produc are called Attributes or Variations.

Tip:  Ecommerce programs can be picky about how columns are named.  They may not allow for extra spaces after the text or no capitals, so it is very important to be precise and consistent with your column headers.  The saying “garbage in = garbage out” applies here and sloppy data can cost you time in the long run.  Especially if you have to keep going back to clean up extra spaces and errors in capitalization.


Example of Simple Product List:
SKU UPC Product_Name Product_Description Category Color Size Weight (lbs.) Price
111-111 123456789101 V-Neck T-Shirt Unique Product Description about awesome V-Neck T-Shirt that will make you forsake all other T-Shirts T-Shirts Black Small 0.2 20.00
111-112 123456789102 V-Neck T-Shirt Unique Product Description about awesome V-Neck T-Shirt that will make you forsake all other T-Shirts T-Shirts Black Medium 0.21 20.00
111-113 123456789103 V-Neck T-Shirt Unique Product Description about awesome V-Neck T-Shirt that will make you forsake all other T-Shirts T-Shirts Black Large 0.22 20.00
111-114 123456789104 V-Neck T-Shirt Unique Product Description about awesome V-Neck T-Shirt that will make you forsake all other T-Shirts T-Shirts Black X-Large 0.23 20.00


Simple Product Example Import

In the above Simple Product Spreadsheet example we can see a simple V-Neck T-Shirt product taking shape.  Each size has a unique SKU, UPC and Weight.  However, this spreadsheet as it stands alone does have some issues which I will tackle next.  Those Product_Descriptions are not unique and each size would display as an individual product on the website.  1:1 product listing would mean that a user would have to click into each size of this V-Neck T-Shirt in order to purchase the size they wanted.  But a typical experience that the user is expecting would be for those sizes to be available in a drop-down for easier shopping.

Simple Products vs. Complex Products

Ecommerce programs label simple products differently, some call them Simple and Configurable.  Others call them Child and Parent products.  For ease of use, I’m going to define each one and outline how the data will be arranged to create each one.

Parent Product:  The product you see when shopping, in our T-Shirt example you would see “Black V-Neck T-Shirt” when you went to the T-Shirt category of our website.  When you clicked into the Parent product you  would see each SKU associated with it under a drop down for Size from which you could select S, M, L or XL.

When you select size small, this product is put into your shopping cart as “Black V-Neck T-Shirt – Size: Small” with the SKU for the small product listed which is 111-111.  *A Parent product may or may not require a SKU, if it does this would need to be a SKU that doesn’t exist in the actual product inventory.

Simple:  1 SKU = 1 Product or 1:1.  Each SKU represents 1 variation of that product.  A simple product can be a stand-alone product, IE there is only one of that type of product and there are no other variations of it.  A good example of this is something that is one-size fits all like a pair of sunglasses or a yoga mat.

Child Product:  A Simple product that represents 1 product variation and has a unique SKU.  A Simple product can stand-alone as in our sunglasses example, 1 parent product = 1 child product.  Or a Simple SKU can be part of a group under a Parent product as in our V-Neck T-Shirt example.

Complex/Configurable:  Simple products that can be grouped to make up a configurable product  So for our T-Shirt Example, if I were to group the V-Neck T-Shirt so that it would appear as one product in black but you could select S, M, L and XL then that would be considered a complex or “configurable” product.

To use the Child/Parent Terminology, there is 1 parent to 4 children representing the different sizes (1:4).  Another way to look at this relationship is that the Parent product acts like a “folder” that holds all the “child” products together to make them easier to shop.


Example of Configurable Product List:
Product_Type SKU UPC Product_Name Product_Description Category Color Size Weight Price
Configurable 000-001 keep empty Black V-Neck T-Shirt Black V-Neck T-Shirt in super soft pima cotton. Our V-Neck comes in Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large sizes. T-Shirts Black keep empty 0.23 keep empty
Simple 111-111 123456789101 V-Neck T-Shirt empty or not visible T-Shirts Black Small 0.2 20.00
Simple 111-111 123456789101 V-Neck T-Shirt empty or not visible T-Shirts Black Small 0.2 20.00
Simple 111-112 123456789102 V-Neck T-Shirt empty or not visible T-Shirts Black Medium 0.21 20.00
Simple 111-113 123456789103 V-Neck T-Shirt empty or not visible T-Shirts Black Large 0.22 20.00
Simple 111-114 123456789104 V-Neck T-Shirt empty or not visible T-Shirts Black X-Large 0.23 20.00

Configurable / Variable Product Import

In this Configurable Product Example, there are more items to note.  Because a Configurable or Parent product acts like a folder, it doesn’t have all of the fields that a Simple or Child product does.  It is not going to have any of the unique variations filled in because as a folder it holds ALL of the variations, in this example “Size” and “Price”.  The Configurable product inherits the sizes and pricing from the Simple products it contains.

I’ve also added a column for Product_Type here, because we need to tell the program what type of product it is, Simple/Configurable or Parent/Child.

Product_Description is also treated differently for a Configurable product.  Duplicating content can hurt your search results and cause pages and your site to be ranked lower.  That is why I stress ‘unique’ content, especially product descriptions, as much of the data across similar products may be the same.  Different programs handle product descriptions in two ways.  Some Ecommerce systems may ignore or hide the product descriptions of the simple/child products and only display the configurable/parent description.


Ecommerce Merchandising Guide:  Chapter 1 Summary

Some Key Takeaways:

  1. Categories are groups of similar Products
  2. One SKU = One Item is a Simple Product
  3. A Product made up of multiple Simple Products is a Configurable or Variable Product
  4. Use a Spreadsheet to keep your Categories and Products organized
  5. Keep your Product content (especially descriptions) Unique!

Next Post:  Chapter 2:  Adding Product Attributes for Filtering – Coming Soon!