Thinking Beyond Distribution to Merchandising

Visual Merchandising Lessons from a Successful Online Retailer

An interesting point is made in the TravelCom 2009 Keynote – “There’s No Room for Maybe”: “cross-selling isn’t merchandising” and for too long, the travel industry has been thinking of distribution as putting inventory into channels and NOT about merchandising. Stating that the travel industry could benefit from observing what is going on in other industries, citing examples of successful online retailers, particularly J.Crew.

When you explore the J.Crew website, you will see how they effectively merchandise even the simplest items. Take a men’s white dress shirt, for example. Click here to see how they provide multiple images showing specific details with the option to zoom in alongside a detailed written description that speaks to the differentiating details that cannot be conveyed visually.

J.Crew takes what seems like an average white dress shirt and merchandises it with visual and written content that helps the shopper understand what makes it better than the comparables and why it’s worth the price.

According to Forrester, 38% of US online hotel guests — 47.5 million people — avoid staying at hotels that they can afford because they don’t see photos, video, or written content that would make them feel comfortable. This is a testament to the need for the travel industry to shift its mindset from distribution to visual merchandising.

Your hotels may seem like the ‘average men’s white dress shirt,’ but to discerning, hesitant online travel shoppers they need to be much more than that. Travel shoppers need to understand what makes your hotel rooms worth the price through multiple images with zooms on specific differentiators, virtual tours and videos and written descriptions that provide context.

Hotels Need to Take Merchandising One Step Further

Visual merchandising on is an important activity, but because of the way travel shoppers behave, it’s not enough. Hotels need to be merchandised equally across multiple channels because most travel shoppers don’t go directly to to book a room – they research and compare their options on multiple sites first. According to a study by Google, the average holiday booked online takes 29 days and 12 searches on 22 different travel sites.

One brand that is doing a good job of merchandising their hotels on multiple channels is IHG’s InterContinental Hotels and Resorts. Check out one of their properties, the InterContinental Suites Cleveland on, Travelocity, Yahoo! Travel and Priceline to see how their merchandising across multiple electronic channels aligns with the successful merchandising practices used by J.Crew.

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