E-Merchandising Framework

Applying the 4 Es for Customer Ease

January 19, 2006

Patricia Seybold Group’s framework for emerchandising rests on the four Es: environment, education, emphasis, and excitement. Highly successful ecommerce sites in B2B and B2C effectively employ the four Es we’ve identified. These key factors should be your organizing principles for your product marketing efforts and investments.


Investments in search engine marketing (SEM) will drive visitors to your site. What happens when they arrive? Are you doing the best you can to connect buyers with your products? Do you make sure they can swiftly find all that they’ll need in order to be successful? The Patricia Seybold Group has developed a results-oriented, theoretical framework for emerchandising.

The “four Es” of emerchandising:

  • Environment: Setting the mood 
  • Emphasis: Prioritizing products
  • Education: Assisting with decisions
  • Excitement: Changing customer behavior

Emerchandising is the art and science of displaying products and related detailed information on the Web and via email. This Web discipline builds on traditional product marketing and merchandising. Merchandising on the Web takes the form of product presentations, product packaging, and product offers. Ideally, online merchandising is consistent with marketing in all channels. It requires coordination from marketing, product management, creative services, and IT technologists.

Filling the Cart. Often

One of the greatest challenges facing marketing and merchandising professionals is encouraging Web site visitors to become customers, new customers to become repeat customers, and repeat customers to buy more.

In the United States, two-thirds of the population is online, and two-thirds of the online population buys online. Online sales have been increasing by roughly 25 percent per year. In the B2B realm, nine out of 10 buyers start their sourcing and selection on the Internet, according to a study performed by ThomasNet and Google. A small improvement in your site merchandising can have a big impact on revenues and customer retention.

The solution to serving a variety of customer types and converting them into buyers is to invest in emerchandising resources. Merchandising on the Web is the responsibility of merchandising, marketing, product management, and creative services in collaboration with technologists.

Merchandising has come a long way from the early days of ecommerce, and since our introduction of the four Es in 2000. Today, the best sites provide a seamless search and navigation experience, tie offers to the buyer’s immediate context as well as his profile, and help buyers through the selection process. The best companies aim at a consistent cross-channel, cross-lifecycle customer experience.

The technologies to support a great customer experience are here today. What’s the gating factor for most sites? Poor merchandising, inadequate search, and cumbersome navigation.

Emerchants Miss Key Customer Scenarios

A growing cadre of sites offer a great customer experience, which effectively raises customers’ expectations. The sites that have been mediocre must keep investing just to remain in the middle of the pack. In our observation, all but the best emerchants miss the boat in three areas:

  • Designing the customer experience around key Customer Scenarios. The most successful ecommerce businesses identify their customers’ key scenarios, and design the information, the search and the navigation to meet those scenarios. The least successful design creates sites that reflect the company’s organization structure.
  • Investing resources in constant attention to the customer experience. The most successful sites pay attention to search activity, success of searches, effectiveness of promotions, and impact of search engine advertising. The least successful regard search and navigation as a project that IT completes, and have a marketing team that doesn’t “own” the Web product pages.
  • Ensuring consistency and completeness of information and brand experience across channels. Nothing stops a sale like offering conflicting information, leaving the customer unable to figure out what the real story is. The second worst roadblock is not offering enough information to make a decision.

What are the most common ecommerce scenarios?

* Browsing. Do you have a product that intrigues me? I am browsing. I’m looking for a solution to a need I have or I’m just window shopping and getting ideas. Help me understand my options, including how products are used.

* Selecting. Can you help me narrow down my product options? I have a general idea what I am looking for. I need to know what’s best for me, in my current situation. If this is an urgent need, I must know how soon I can get this product delivered--guaranteed.

* Buying. Do you have the product I am looking for? I know what I want. I want to be sure it’s the right one for me, that I can get it in time, that the price is competitive and I can pay the way I need to.

* Using and Resolving. Can you help me figure out what I’m doing wrong? Can you help me fix this? Can you tell me who can fix it for me? Can you tell me if I should replace it? What should I buy instead?

You’ll notice the fourth scenario leads right back to the selecting and buying scenarios. Therefore, all four scenarios are important to merchandisers.

In 2000, we observed that most sites were merchandised for the buying customer, but few offered a smart search engine, the Web equivalent of a well-run information desk, to authoritatively answer the “do you have” questions.

Today, are these four scenarios the focus of your emerchandising efforts? My observation is that browsing and buying scenarios are the first focus of the marketing team, selection scenarios are the next hurdle, and very few marketers have taken effective steps to tie the using-resolving scenario into selling appropriate products and services.

Merchandising = Product Marketing

Just what is merchandising? In the B2C realm, it is unarguably the key to success. In the B2B realm, it has been regarded as frivolous or faintly smarmy, a means to trick customers into buying things. But this attitude is changing, as suppliers increasingly recognize that their customers value ...


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