August 01, 2007
By: Nancy Klosek
Its a rare customer these days who doesnt walk into your store armed with a sheaf of Web printouts. Not a problemunless the printouts are from a competitors site, leaving you the thankless task of defending your prices and policies against this research.
All the more reason to try to increase the odds that the research came from your site, rather than somewhere else. A sloppy, illogical, sluggish Web presence with a lot of informational holes is just as bad as a retail store with neglected, dusty displays and disinterested sales associates. Both scenarios work against conversionthe common bottom-line in both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce setups. And the same goes for those Web surfers who may never even pass through your front door. How can you seduce them away from the practice of site-hopping, turning them into stickers and ultimately into buyers? Whether you show and sell, or just tell your story online, an optimized Web site is a mandatory business tool these days.
Mirroring the In-Store
So this spring Abt initiated the most extensive overhaul in the sites nine-year history. We went through a big cleansing process, Abt said. We got away from clutter, upgraded our search functionality extensively, and added things like customer reviews, financingand lots of little things like bigger pictures, more buying guides and revamped installation guides. We started a free tech-support service. Were trying to mirror our retail presence better.
So far, the site has worked to attract floor traffic to the retail store. About 60 percent of customers polled said they visited the Web site before visiting the store.
How to Enrich Product
To help enrich its Web presence without radically altering the design, Abt partnered with WebCollage, a company that contracts with manufacturers and ports product information content to retail-channel partners. We go to the manufacturer site, extract content, host it on our servers and inject it into the retailer site, said Jed Alpert, the companys vice president of marketing. We even help customize the content-access experience for the retailers Web site look and feel.
The majority of consumers conduct their research on a retailers Web site, as opposed to a manufacturers site, and are more likely to purchase that product from the site or store, Alpert said. The challenge for retailers is in supporting the thousands of products they show and sell online with depth of information, he said. It is unsustainable for them to invest that amount of money to create detailed content on their own. There is a content gap between manufacturer and retail sites, and what we do is bridge that gap.
The service, Alpert said, works especially well for high-consideration, complicated or unfamiliar goods. With Abts site, for example, a customer who is looking into a Sony Portable Reader System can drill down for details by clicking a button that says, Learn More from Sony, which directs them to details without having to leave the retail page. The page that opens even carries Abts store logo at the top, reinforcing the surfers sense that he is still in the same place he started.
Through its research, WebCollage found that when customers have access to enhanced manufacturer content on retail Web pages, sales can increase from 6-to-20 percent. There is a wealth of information out there, and we allow retailers to tap into and leverage it rather than having to re-create it, Alpert said. This frees up their resources to focus on other parts of their Web site. And we dont focus on content creation; we focus on creating the infrastructure to allow retailers to leverage manufacturers investment.
Jon Abt recommends that retailers considering a site overhaul. Test with your own employees internally, then test with consumers, certainly A-B things where you serve up one thing to somebody and then serve up whatever youre testing to somebody else, he said. With the Web, you can really track things. Its like following a customer around the store to see what theyre looking at.
Focusing on the Parts
to Improve the Whole
We dont revamp the entire site. We look at different elements: the cart, the information pages that talk about our company, product information, and search, he said. Our greatest strength is in the ability to personalize our pages for the surfer. Solid Signal has a form on the site that recommends product to the customer. It came about because customers werent getting the personalized information they needed, so they were calling us, Chapman said. And as we were growing so quickly, it was getting harder to staff for that, so we added the form.
Solid Signals growth has also necessitated the outsourcing of some behind-the-scenes functions, such as tracking search data and, more recently, analytics data, the ability to analyze customer data. Analytics helps us find out where people go when they leave the purchasing funnel, Chapman said, adding that the data reduces late-stage abandon rates by the customer.
You can make lots of changes in your Web site, but if you dont know the benefits the changes make, whether theyve had a positive or negative impact, youre wasting money, time and energy, and youre not being effective, he said. Youre messing around with something that may not be broken.
Chapman said dealers should consider third-party alliances, such as Google analytics, to help sort Web-generated data, become certified for security seals such as those offered by HackerSafe, BBBOnLine and the TRUSTe Privacy Seal Program. Theyre good for gaining the confidence of the consumer and are also good for us, he said.
Finally, Chapman stresses that novices with limited financial resources focus their dollars on the search aspect of their sites. Once people figure out how they can find something, then they can buy it, he said. If they cant get to it, because they dont search like the person who developed the search, they cant buy it. If they do two clicks and cant find it, then theyre outta there.
Dot-Com, Sony Style
Its more than a commerce site; it is the online statement of Sony, said Brian Siegal, vice president. Our consumers expect Sony to continue to raise the bar for product presentation and information, and access to purchasing Sony products through any channel they prefer.
Changes in its functionality were driven directly from customer input and included a wish-list feature, a simplified single-page checkout, larger product images, speedier page loads and a better navigational system. The site also optimizes access to both the Sony Style retail store and to Sonys authorized Internet retail partners.
What stimulated the upgrade in part was that consumers sometimes take several days to weeks to make a final purchase decision, Siegal said. SonyStyle is designed to provide consumers with all of the appropriate information to help them make a fast, and educated, Sony purchase decision through any channel of their choicedirect or through our retail partners. The site also offers things like contests and promotes product bundles tailored to certain consumer demographics, grouping VAIO notebooks with extended service plans, and more accessories. Siegel adds that SonyStyle.com will continue to seek out opportunities to leverage the expectations of specific Sony target marketsstudents, women, families, as well as our traditional technology enthusiasts.
Siegel suggested that retailers strive to provide a consistent experience across all channels and offered this closing advice. Three things: the consumer, the consumer, the consumer, he said. A retailers Web experience is not for the retailer. It is for their customers. Listen, and they will guide you to success.
© 2007 Dealerscope, North American Publishing Company. All rights reserved.