Discussions abound about how the slowing global economy will impact e-commerce. Whether you believe current economic conditions are good or bad for e-commerce (or will have no effect), you no doubt always want to maximize your sales on the Web. In working with a roster of great customers, we have gained a lot of insight into what works and what doesn't. Here we present five basic steps that all e-tailers should be taking to get the most out of their e-commerce Web sites.
1. Deploy product comparison tools. If shoppers are being drawn to the Web because they are looking for bargains, comparison tools can be especially useful-particularly in the case of products with many different specifications such as consumer electronics. At a time when people are watching their wallets, comparison tools can be vital in helping shoppers consider how much to spend and, ultimately, in justifying a purchase. Take a look at BestBuy.com. Its interactive product comparison tool enables shoppers to narrow and sort all kinds of products by price, capabilities and use. Digital cameras, for example, can be sorted by color, price, megapixels, camera size, and zoom capabilities. Making it easy for shoppers to find exactly what they are looking-within their price range-can make your site appealing to cost-conscious shoppers who want to understand all their options.
2. Create customer ratings and reviews facilities. Although it can take some time to get a reviews system furnished with a good amount of user-generated content, it is time extremely well spent. Any content created by your customers can help win over other shoppers who are likely to value the opinions and feedback of their fellow shoppers-often more than the opinions provided by your own "in-house" experts. Consider Cabelas.com, which is rich with product reviews, and helps shoppers connect with one another on the best product choice across a range of categories from hunting to fishing to boating, and more. A customer looking for a new fishing rod, for example, can sort through the dozens of available rods to find the right one by not only looking at the product details offered by the retailer, but also the feedback provided by other fishing enthusiasts.
3. Personalize. An old principle, but a vital one. As soon as a customer comes to a site, she wants to see highly relevant information. E-tailers need to embrace technology that will help them build up sophisticated consumer profiles so that they can match Web content and promotional offers to specific customer interests and previous spend thresholds. Consider the DirecTV Web site, for example. If a user visits DirecTV.com and then browses information about a premium channel such as HBO, that user will then see an offer for an HBO subscription on the homepage the next time she visits DirecTV.com. Similarly, Sephora.com captures information about the beauty products a customer browses; that browsing history is then used to send that customer targeted offers for products she has looked at in the past. By capturing even small bits of information during a visit, it is possible for retailers to build up an in-depth profile of a customer that can be effective in creating an experience that connects that customer to the product she is looking for-without making her sort through lots of irrelevant content along the way.
4. Link the online and offline experience. Retailers should coordinate the customer experience across channels so that customers have the option to buy in whatever way suits them best. For example, BestBuy allows customers to buy a product online but then pick it up at their nearest store. Meanwhile Casual Male enables in-store shoppers to find a wider array of apparel than is available on the store floor by linking in-store systems to the same inventory made available via the Web store. As a result, customers who see an item in-store, but would prefer it in a different size or color, can order it on the spot-ensuring that the customer gets exactly what he wants and that Casual Male gets the sale.
5. Searchandise. When looking for a good deal, consumers will make the most of a Web site's search function. Searchandising can deliver search results based on both a customer's personal profile and the merchandiser's strategy. Changes to the product catalogue can be automatically updated in the search function so shoppers are not offered items that are, frustratingly, out of stock. Searchandising can also suggest additional purchases that complement what a customer has searched for, presenting items the customer did not even realize he wanted. Web sites including VitaminShoppe, DSW, and CVS each serve up suggestions for customers through the use of searchandising. For example, a search for "black pumps" on DSW.com yields nearly 200 possible pairs of shoes. Using the site's searchandising features, the shopper can then narrow down the possible choices by brand, price, material, heel height, color family, size, and more. Shoppers can even drill down for the bargains by searching only within the site's clearance center.
About the Author
Bill Zujewski is the vice president of product marketing at ATG, where he is responsible for guiding existing and new products for the company's e-commerce suite. ATG (Art Technology Group, NASDAQ: ARTG) makes software and delivers on-demand solutions that power e-commerce Web sites and ensure customer satisfaction.
[For more on CRM amid the economic downturn, see the February 2009 edition of CRM magazine, The Recession Issue.]
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