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Blogging Live: Shop.org Merchandising Workshop—Customer Focused Multi-Channel Merchandising

Posted on July 22, 2008 by Vanessa

The presenter for this session was Raul Vazquez, President and CEO of Walmart.com
(Paraphrased)

Raul was one of the most engaging speakers I have seen at a conference.  I wasn't able to post this right away because thanks to California traffic I missed the beginning of the session.  Through some contacts that I was able to make I gathered others notes and combined them with mine to bring our readers the nuggets of wisdom that Raul was able to impress upon the crowd.

The main focus of Raul's presentation was the 4 things that can be done to improve our websites.  

  • Invest in a Key Performance Indicator 
  • Be true to your brand and what you have promised your public 
  • Be true to your vision 
  • Invest in platforms that will support the brand and the vision

Walmart.com

The walmart.com team consists of 700 people stationed in Brisbane, CA.  Of the 700 employees 12 are dedicated to merchandising the websites over 100 categories.  The content created for the site is based and centered on site merchandising.  Raul reminds the crowd that “there are no shortcuts”.  The team focuses on improving the site by following a process similar to that of the scientific method.  The process is: Hypothesis, test, measure, optimize and repeat.  This is important because Raul states that continuous improvements will yield results that are not always immediate.

Invest in a Key Performance Indicator

According to Raul and his experience the people that seem to get the most accomplished with the best results get their KPI/KPM score card every day.  KPM refers to dashboards designed to track Key Performance Metrics.  Raul reminds the crowd that when looking at this data it is important to look at it from three different perspectives: Absolute values, relative values, and trends.  He shares that walmart.com tracks a few key metrics: 

  • Revenue 
  • CTR 
  • Conversion 
  • Revenue/Page views

Under his direction and the direction of the merchandising team leader Mike Simas, he believes that his team is efficient, but admits that they can't do all of the things they want to do, they have to be selective.  He notes that in order to eliminate noise that can skew the KPI data it's important to look at the comps separately.  Some of the comps that walmart.com looks at are: Sales comps, traffic comps, and conversion comps.

Be True to Your Brand and What You have Promised Your Public 

This will be different by retailer, for walmart.com it is “Save money. Live better”.  He uses an example of how they pay attention to this by their use of “from pricing”.  They have to be careful not to violate the trust of the customer, which can happen when using this tactic; it is referred to as bait and switch.  He reiterates this point by giving the example “we don't show a picture of a Rolex and say priced from $119.00, then send the customer to the Seiko section when they click on the ad”.  They also try to bring the store experience online.  They replicate best practices seen in the store like showing more product features, multiple images, plus price and content.  He admits that they are tinkering with going back to single images for certain products, but he believes that if you can show an image that highlights the product features, or the product in use that it makes the online experience more like that of the store.   

Be True to your Vision 

Like the brand promise this will be different for retailers.  For them it is “to be the most visited and valued online retail site”.  He admits that this isn't easy to measure, because value itself is defined by the customer's use of the website features or frequency of returns.  He also reveals that this plays in to his recurring fear of not being able to measure.  He adds that he likes the quote “In God we trust.  Everyone else bring data”.  

Invest in Platforms that will Support the Brand and the Vision 

A key component of this is the ability to “highlight the best and make it easy to find the rest”.  He explains this by explaining the “long tail” side.  The products with the highest velocity and mass appeal fall at the head of the curve with their assortment at the tail end of the curve.  Some of the things that they are currently working on and planning on implementing in the near future support this claim.  They are rolling out a digital asset management system that is linked with in store assets, in order to guide the customer throughout the decision “tree” what we call the buying cycle.  This will also help with access to the “rest” and improve additional browse and search capabilities.  Next they will be investing in a more personalized shopping experience, but doesn't jump on every new technology as he is apprehensive about being able to operationalize the technology.  One of the barriers they have seen to adding this technology and others because of the limited amount of team members.  This is true of MVT testing for this team, they found that it turned out to be too complex to utilize in mass with their over 2-3 million visits per day, hence it has been dumped for A/B testing.  To support the brand promise and vision they invest in rich content which ensures information needed for purchases, ratings, reviews, and product availability for both online and in store purchases.  One of the key values they believe needs to be featured on the product detail page is the value to the customer for them it is the price in big red letters.  In order to be the most valuable and visited store assortment is essential, this is where the “Highlight the best.  Make it easy to find the rest”, he adds “if easy to find it will be easy to buy”.

Visual Examples 

Raul showed the audience screen shots of the site to further illustrate the points he has made throughout the presentation.  They use a POV approach; this is what they call the largest product placement on the screen, or the point of view.  The “site to store” function is featured across the site, not only highlighting ease to the customer but the ability to have products shipped for free.  He values consistency in navigation from page to page but explains that it is important to separate attributes by category.  Some interesting attributes that they use by category are: Shop by age for toys, shop by attributes for electronics, shop by ratings, and shop using the television product advisor.  Features like comparison shopping for customers, the top 50 in any category are highlighted and promoted, and savings all play a part in the walmart.com shopping experience.  In addition to the up and coming improvements they plan to improve checkout, localize, personalize, and creating an in store experience that is equaled online. 

 

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