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Product searches: Online and on shelf compared.

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

Online catalogues, e-commerce, app stores and online checkouts. These are all common words in the time we live in. Access to the World Wide Web has provided an alternate channel for shopping, browsing and the way a shopper interacts with brands or products. Tedious drives to a mass grocer are no longer necessary; luxury items are delivered into your hand and easily ordered from your laptop at your desk, or from a mobile phone.

Online shopping does not follow all the rules of its older sibling. However it has a good few things in common with a conventional, old fashioned in store hard cash or card sale. From a shopper marketing point of view, what does core marketing element such as visibility, placement and target marketing look like and do they still apply across channels?

Visibility & placement in both online and physical channels

When searching for a product, whether online or offline, chances are that lack of visibility will manifest in poor and under performing sales. Therefore certain considerations can be taken in order to aid or simplify such a search.

When searching for a product in the retail environment, position on shelf for offline searches could be likened to position on page for online searches. From a shopper marketing point of view, physical product has the best chance of being found and selected when placed at “buy-level” ([i]). This means the product occupies a shelf space between the hip and chest, where the eye naturally falls. The online equivalent of “buy level” is a wide banner, above the product and heading. ([ii]). Additionally, an effective web graphic or paid for Adword advert may be seen to perform the same function as a product glorifier on shelf – highlighting a specific product or brand over other similar offerings on shelf.

Target market

Positioning and placement online and on shelf needs to be complimented by targeting a select audience in order for a search to yield results. An effective targeting strategy across channels could be to target a specific shopper profile. If this is done correctly, it could alleviate much of the strain of searching for a product. To aid in product searches, there are many types of targeting approaches but we want to specifically highlight targeting by shopper profile. The desired shopper is identified through segmenting various factors such as age, sex, price, convenience and other orientations and preferences that make up a shopper profile. Once this profile is identified – It can be talked to through shopper messaging.

Call to action through shopper messaging

Call to action through shopper messaging plays a critical role in product searches. Primarily, it helps the desired shopper profile identify a specific product in a search. In searching for products on shelf, the graphic artwork on a physical display stand and its shopper messaging is crucial to product visibility. When searching for a product online, carefully crafted key wording and SEO or search engine optimization could play exactly the same role as a piece of beautifully crafted, printed artwork.

Further, tools such as SEO can be likened to category management in store. It helps in placing the online product in the correct channel and category as determined by the shopper profile.


The intention of a successful product search is to convert the shopper into a consumer. In the book “The shopper marketing revolution” this is called the “Moment of truth” ([iii]). This is the moment when a shopper has successfully found and selected your product above that of another brand, and is converted into a consumer. Once a shopper pics up your product, he or she is converted. Online though, the conversion is when your advert is clicked, potentially taking you to a product checkout or the brands’ website.


When comparing the search for product on shelf with an online product search, it is worth mentioning that the channels are radically different. Therefore, they should be approached in radically different ways. However, it is not surprising to see that core marketing elements such as visibility, placement, target marketing and shopper messaging drive both product searches; online as well as offline.

Contact Angle Orange for strategic, channel and shopper specific solutions.

[i] The shopper marketing Revolution, Toby Desforges and Mike Anthony, 2013, Page 211

[ii] Most successful ad sizes,, Accessed 16 May 2015

[iii] The shopper marketing Revolution, Toby Desforges and Mike Anthony, 2013, Page 77

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