As online shopping matures, merchants must avoid the tendency to be complacent in their merchandising efforts. Here are five ways merchants can truly innovate in the coming year. In the end, there is one point all five recommendations have in common and that is “listening to the customer.” By creatively interpreting this feedback, merchants can set themselves up for a distinctive user experience that is sure to satisfy today’s demanding consumer from the shopping experience to customer service solutions.
Tools to help
Vendors like SLI Systems and Mercado can help your have products that can boost the merchandising functions at your site including “recommender” and product comparison functions while, at the same time, boosting your site’s search capabilities. These products also typically feature robust analytics packages to provide metrics to monitor your site, identify products that are selling well, etc. There are also a host of analytics packages in the marketplace that can provide helpful data from your site.
If you’re wanting to add more dynamic images to your site, there are various product display vendors that can help. Equilibrium, Scene7 and RichFX are three companies offering software to create a more visually appealing site. For instance, an auto parts site could give site visitors an opportunity to blend together certain tires and hubs on and virtually “put” them on a car to see how they look before buying them.
Live chat may not be the type of feature that works well for every ecommerce business, but if you want to add live chat to your site, some of the more popular providers include:
- BoldChat.com: priced at $25 to $79 per month per user.
- LivePerson.com: starts as low as $99 per month per user.
- PHPLive.com: from $19.95 per month per user or $90 for full-source code.
- HelponClick.com: from $19.95 per month per user.
Start with the Numbers
We have recently completed a study on metrics-driven merchandising. My experience in researching the numbers is that they are an excellent starting point where merchants can learn what has worked, what has not, where shoppers click and when they abandon one’s site. Armed with this knowledge, savvy merchants should be inspired, and subsequently get creative, about how they approach the customer experience to engage today’s seasoned shoppers.
Allow Shoppers to Manipulate Product Their Way
Our consumer research during the holiday season finds that customers tend to be control freaks; they like to take advantage of on-site tools that put them in charge of their shopping destiny. When asked, “Which content tools were most important to you when buying gifts online,” 62 percent cited product comparison as very to most important, surpassing even customer reviews (54 percent). Guides and how-to’s had a 40 percent showing.
These tools have long been standard in consumer electronics and technology, but have value in other categories as well. I recently happened upon an excellent example in the intimate apparel world where Macy’s allows shoppers to compare bras by style. The option to see available colors made the experience efficient, as knowing you can find what you’re looking for in the color you need is a starting point for many shoppers.
Customize and Personalize
Along the same lines, today’s shoppers are truly individuals, enjoying the chance to create products for themselves and as gifts. The explosion of “design your own” items can be seen across the web, but footwear has taken the lead of late with significant innovation.
Puma stands out as an example. Shoppers start with a menu where they select their gender and size and then move on to a buffet of options that extends as far as their own creativity. Customers develop a vested interest in the experience, and I must believe that an enhanced level of brand loyalty results from such an interactive experience.
With the explosion of broadband, merchants are increasingly using video to more effectively tell product and category stories. Our 4Q06 Mystery Shopping indicates that the presence of streaming video on the 100 sites surveyed rose from 20 percent to 37 percent in a year.
Take Service to a More Satisfactory Level
Many shoppers feel a sense of urgency when they make their first visit to a site. They want to be able to complete their shopping then and there, without any roadblocks. In our consumer survey, 72 percent of shoppers found live chat “very important” to “most important” when purchasing gifts online, just behind the tried-and-true 800 number.
It may be interesting for merchants to A/B test this functionality in 2007 as our mystery shopping only saw 30 percent of the merchants employing this tactic. If deployed, we caution that customer service representatives must be trained and responsive. Our tests of service levels were disappointing when product knowledge was poor. Conversely, we had several experiences where merchants were proactively prompting their live chat functionality, as was experienced at Lands’ End.