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What is guided selling and should retailers use it?

Jun 2, 2021


  • Guided selling creates a more personalized online shopping experience
  • It can increase shopper conversion rates by reducing choice paralysis
  • Combine guided selling with inspirational product storytelling 

07_What is guided selling

Consider walking into a typical retail store. A staff member will greet you and offer help. They’d listen to your needs, and guide you towards products that match your buying persona. They'd explain any product features, and provide further alternative options if needed. They'd assist you with completing the sale, and wish you goodbye with a smile. Unfortunately, many ecommerce shopping experiences don’t match this level of service.

What is guided selling post

Navigating the online shopping grid

Most online retail stores are built using the same structure. A homepage, search functionality and a grid of products. All displayed on a white background. Shoppers browse through the products to try and find what they’re looking for. 

The challenge for shoppers is grids don’t present products in context. There’s no sense of the retailers' opinion of the product, its importance, or why it’s ranked the way it is in the results. Browsing the grid is like walking through a huge warehouse. The grid offers too much choice, which can reduce conversion. For industries such as groceries or fashion, this structure may be effective. But not for other industries such as home furniture or consumer electronics.

How guided selling works

Guided selling creates an engaging shopper experience online. Helping shoppers discover different products that match their buyer persona. Personal shopping experiences are very important in retail ecommerce. A huge 46% of the visitors to online stores begin as shoppers. They’re browsing, they don't know what they want to buy. 

Inspiration is the key to converting shoppers into buyers. Retailers are missing the opportunity to make their brand stand out by focusing their marketing efforts on buyers. Guided selling can benefit retailers by creating a smooth user experience for their retail ecommerce stores. 

Here are three key benefits of using guided selling for your online store.

1. Taking the in-store personal shopping experience online

Guided selling creates digital versions of the in-store customer assistant. When visiting an online store for the first time the shopper could answer targeted questions to build a profile. 

Such questions should be conversational, like in-store, and could include:

  • What challenges do you have?
  • What type of product are you looking for?
  • What do you need this product to do?

This conversational approach helps retailers create a more personal connection with the shopper. This strategy is especially important for fashion, cosmetics and jewelry brands as their products must match the shoppers personal identity. Guided selling helps shoppers choose by presenting themes, current trends and styles. It offers expert recommendations for different shopper personas.

Fashion giant Levi Strauss & Co uses a virtual stylist on their ecommerce store. It combines the wisdom of their in-store fashion experts with AI technology. Levi's places particular emphasis on helping shoppers find a pair of jeans that fit.

We are on the leading edge of a challenge that all retail companies face today – how to create a seamless and personalized shopping experience for consumers, and new technologies like our Virtual Stylist are integral to that evolution at LS&Co. No matter where the consumer chooses to shop, we want to give them a personalized experience that leverages our expertise in fit and style to address the biggest challenge of finding the pair of perfect-fitting jeans."

Marc Rosen, executive vice president and president of global ecommerce at LS&Co.



2. Focus on only the most relevant products

Guided selling helps the shopper narrow their focus on the most relevant products. This will increase the likelihood of converting shoppers into buyers. This approach is the most effective for larger retailers such as hypermarkets. For example, a typical US grocery store carries between 30,000 to 50,000 products. This variety causes shoppers to suffer from the paradox of choice

The Californian online grocery store Thrive Market uses guided selling to simplify shopping. It’s a membership-based online supermarket that provides sustainable food to encourage healthy eating. It only offers about 5,000 selected items. Updating this based on their members' personal preferences and buying history. 

Members create their own virtual grocery store based on specific dietary needs and preferences. First time shoppers answer a questionnaire about their individual and family shopping needs. They’re then shown a selection of products that match the results. 

Although guided selling is only one feature of the business model, Thrive Market is well, thriving. The business recently reported a 90% increase in sales during 2020. 

Thrive Market

3. Helping shoppers choose 

Guided selling is especially important for retailers who sell larger and more expensive products. Such as consumer electronics, bikes or home furniture. It works well when shoppers are in doubt about exactly what they want to buy. Or when choosing between two similar products. Here the main benefit of guided selling is to educate customers about the finer details of products. 

Anyone who has bought a new bed knows how tricky it can be to make the right choice without actually sleeping in it. Now imagine not even being able to lie down in the bed in-store! New Zealand homeware brand McKenzie & Willis uses the Shop Assistant enabled Bed Selector to help fix this challenge. Online shoppers answer detailed questions about their weight, sleeping preferences and any allergies. The Bed Selector then narrows down the available choices to present the best bed for the shopper.

How ecommerce managers can benefit from using guided selling

Guided selling can help ecommerce brands in many ways. Revenuegrid offers three tips on best practice in using guided selling for ecommerce brands.

1. Environmental context
Display larger and more expensive products such as home furniture and consumer electronics in context. This makes it easier for shoppers to visualize the products in their own home.

2. Expert recommendations
For consumer fashion brands, use tips from stylists to guide the shopper and make them more comfortable with a product. This can also help build brand loyalty.

3. Education
Help shoppers choose between similar products by explaining technical terminology. Use technology to help shoppers compare various products and reduce choice paralysis.

Should retailers already be using guided selling?

Guided selling has the potential to add great value for ecommerce retailers and build brand loyalty. But it’s one of many tools for optimizing ecommerce. The technology is still in its early stages. Combining guided selling with chatbots and conversational AI will increase its value as a salesperson. But it’s clear that as more and more people are shopping online, retailers should use any advantage they can to provide the best possible customer experience. 

Remember a winning strategy in retail ecommerce targets both shoppers and buyers. Guided selling should not rush shoppers to convert by crowding them with too much information. To succeed retailers should combine guided selling with innovative product storytelling. Strike the right balance between inspiration and education. Ensure an immersive user experience journey. Retailers will not realize any lasting value from guided selling if it’s not correctly implemented. The functional benefits of guided selling should not be offset by a poorer shopper experience. It needs to be done right, or not at all. 

Matt Whitby

Matt Whitby