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Blogging Live: Shop.org Merchandising Workshop--The State of Retailing Online

Posted on July 16, 2008 by Vanessa

The presenters for this session were Carrie Johnson, VP and Research Director and Brian Walker, Senior Analyst both of Forrester Research
(Paraphrased)


Carrie spoke first and let us know that it would be brief because she was going to "throw up numbers from her mouth" (funnier when she said it, and the rest of the crowd laughed too).  She explained that she was going to share the numbers from the recent Forrester study on The State of Retailing Online and what we could do with the findings.  This study is in its 11th year and here are some of their findings (the study will be published soon, so I didn't get them all, but I got some):

Although there is talk of recession Forrester still believes that online retailing will see a 17% increase over last year.  This is attributed to domestic issues like the rising gas prices and the increase in the number of people purchasing online. International purchases also play a part in this projection as they are attributing things like the falling dollar, to a list of incentives that other countries would want to purchase from U.S. retailers.

  • Online merchandising is becoming an increasingly important role that is getting more attention and may move it away from just a marketing task.
  • Conversion rates continue to be mediocre
  • Content is hard but you have to get better at it
  • There is a lack of focus on real optimization
  • The online merchandiser is under-valued as a discipline
  • Cart abandonment has increased and this is most likely due to the research done by savvy shoppers before they make a purchase
  • Over 80% of the online retail industry is going to be investing in shopping carts and checkout over the next 12 months
  • eCommerce sites are failing to meet the needs, only 4% pass and the average score is a 5.4 out of 25


Brian Walker takes the lead of the presentation and urgently states "Get better content now!"  He then reminds us that this is not a new idea, he quotes Jakob Nielsen that said "content is the focus of a web user’s attention", and then tells us that this quote is from a book published in 1999.  (The silence tells me that a lot of the crowd is thinking what I am thinking, which was, I think we are doing a pretty good job at content.  I guess we will need to evaluate some of our product detail pages).  He like the last speaker lets us know that there are things that we can do to set ourselves apart from the pack, one of the things being free returns for items.  He explains that he knows this is costly but it may be an increasingly important tactic.  (My thought here was that this tactic would just drive prices up, but maybe that is negative).  

He wants to get back to the subject of having good content so he explains that it is important to have the content itself, he adds "80% of retailers are going to the manufacturers sites for content".  He gives us a list of things that he thinks we can improve on, even if we think we are doing a pretty good job at creating quality content.  The list key tactics went something like:

  • Focus on the product
  • Go deep into information the customer would need
  • Leverage product expertise and assets
  • Optimize internal processes
  • Focus on the customer
  • Ensure legibility and information digestibility
    • He went in to further explanation about this point.  He used shopping for a camera as an example (apparently retailers of digital cameras have some improving to do).  He showed us a screen shot of a camera he was interested in buying, but all of the information was written for someone that is an avid photographer or knows a lot about cameras, for the average shopper it wasn't useful.  This example can be used for other areas and is why he listed digestibility as a key tactic to successful content
  • Focus on discoverability
  • Fix site search indexing and binning (in our case categorization)
  • Cross populate product so the consumer has more ways to shop
  • Practice SEO basics like improving urls, titles, JavaScript, etc.
  • Be a merchant don't over assort, but instead be a guide


Q and A

Q: Do you think fuel prices will affect online purchasing?

A: I think this is an area that we can capitalize on and an opportunity for the industry to grow.

 

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