Study Shows Educating Consumers Drives Online Sales And Enhances Customer Engagement

Online retailers know that to drive traffic to their web sites, they must provide a seamless shopping experience. One of the keys to success for eTailers planning to invest in the customer experience is educating and informing shoppers. The 14thAnnual Mystery Shopping Study conducted in Q4 2011 by the e-tailing group, a Chicago-based consultancy, revealed that merchants are refining online tactics to find, inform, personalize and connect with customers, and with improved speed and efficiency.

Etailers leading the pack use several common tools and tactics: “Smart retailers are integrating and highlighting features that inspire, inform and educate,” Lauren Freedman, President of the e-tailing group, told Retail TouchPoints. She noted the following tactics:

  • Brand-centric merchandising
  • Look books that spotlight the latest trends
  • Targeted product page recommendations and enhancements such as video content, guides and alternative views
  • Information-rich retail locators
  • Social and mobile initiatives
  • Checkout efficiencies
  • Responsive customer service

The Mystery Shopping Study was released  in conjunction with results from the e-tailing group’s Customer Experience Index. The Index is calculated through qualitative analysis of metrics estimated from the study. Its objective is to gain a unique understanding of how merchants “stack-up” against the e-tailing 100 web sites, as well as direct competitors and their categories. These web sites are scored on a 100-point scale based on an assessment of metrics from five key pages, presence, and execution of vital merchandising tactics and exemplary customer service.


The Index showed that in 2011, eTailers experienced a boost in total index score, rising from approximately 69 points in 2010 to 71 points. “Investments in the customer experience pay dividends for retailers, so those merchants with a finger on the pulse of their customers will continue to curate a compelling customer experience,” said Freedman. “In the process of evaluating merchant performance, it was clear that vigilance and perseverance are paramount as each year new dynamics add to the complexity of the experience and must be embraced while simultaneously maintaining robust key pages, exemplary merchandising and superior customer service.”

Sears was the highest scoring merchant in 2011, exceeding other retailers based on its key page execution ― defined by the e-tailing group as presentation of its home, category and product pages, shopping cart and customer service area. In addition, Freedman said Sears embraced these four evolving trends in the following ways:

  1. Fast Pass Efficiencies integrating a plethora of search-centric refinements.
  2. Pre-Buy Prowess ― engaging shoppers with features such as guides and video which inform and educate consumers.
  3. Tactical Differentiators using brand boutiques, brand-centric search options and a frequent buyer rewards program.
  4. Personalization Polish ― enhancing the product page and shopping cart with recommendations that encourage shoppers to buy more.

3 Vital Strategies For Guiding Customers Through Browsing And Buying

Savvy retailers will continue to meet shoppers’ demands for fast, efficient experiences, noted Freedman. For eTailers in search of best practices to create a compelling e-Commerce experience, Freedman suggests three vital strategies for guiding customers through the browsing and buying journey:

  1. Employ sophisticated search tactics (refinements and sorts) as shoppers gravitate to tools that find products of interest quickly and accurately.
  2. Inform shoppers with comprehensive product information delivered through clear and compelling content, rich visual imagery and meaningful video.
  3. Construct a shopping cart that includes all branding and product information that steps shoppers confidently through the process.

Based on category evaluation, merchants are continuing to invest in the optimal customer experience this year, said Freedman. Particularly notable, mass merchants and pet supply retailers attained the 80-plus level.

Substantial year-over-year improvements also are noted in a number of categories, including double-digit increases for the following:

  • Home/Garden (17.13%);
  • Office Supplies (13.70%);
  • Books/Music/Media (12.84);
  • Baby/Toys/Games (12.44%);
  • Accessories/Shoes (11.30%); and
  • Pets (10.08%).

Targeting The Omni-Channel Consumer

In addition to refining online tactics to find, inform, personalize and connect, the Mystery Shopping study confirmed that merchants also are increasing the development of mobile and social initiatives.

With a focus on refining existing e-Commerce strategies, merchants are linking both mCommerce and mobile apps on e-Commerce web sites to help create a consistent omni-channel experience. For merchants, the goal is to deliver a “channel-agnostic” shopping experience, allowing consumers the opportunity to migrate from the physical store to their preferred channels.

According to the e-tailing group blog, links to social networking and the presence of the ‘like’ button are less prevalent, as are social features in post order emails. The study benchmarked 37 features on merchant Facebook pages, and highlighted primary onsite tactics.

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