Today’s consumers are growing more savvy and accustomed to comparing prices and researching products across online platforms and in stores. Merchants must meet shoppers at their channel of choice and deliver relevant, compelling messages as well as item recommendations.
The continual growth of smartphone and tablet technology among consumers specifically has reinforced retailers’ need to increase investment in e-Commerce marketing and engagement strategies. In fact, 44% of retailers are investing more in e-Commerce initiatives during 2012, while 27% of merchants plan to spend significantly more time and money on their online storefronts and marketing tactics, according to research from the e-tailing group.
To provide more in-depth insight regarding the current focus and future investments of multichannel and online-only retailers, the e-tailing group has released its 11th Annual Merchant Survey, titled: “Making the Right Choices In A Connected World: Customer Experience Escalation.” Conducted during Q1 2012, the research firm gathered responses and commentary from 147 senior retail executives responsible for e-Commerce initiatives.
Multiple hot topics in the retail space were addressed throughout the 55-question survey, including merchandising features, cross-sell/up-sell strategies, email performance and usage, and cross-channel programs. Participants were active across verticals, such as apparel, home and garden, accessories and shoes, and sporting goods. These merchants sell through multiple channels, including the web (99%), email (86%), mobile (61%), brick-and-mortar (54%), catalog (48%) and social media (27%).
The study revealed that keyword search, sales and specials, seasonal promotions and using email as a merchandising platform remain top-of-mind for multichannel and online-only retailers. However, emerging strategies — especially within mobile and social — are coming to the forefront.
A vast majority of merchants (91%) said product ratings/reviews published via social networks were vital. Moreover, 87% of retailers cited being top-rated on Facebook a top-three concern during 2012, and 81% of merchants found being “Liked” on the social networking site to be important. The study showed mobile becoming more strategic in the online marketing mix, with mobile commerce (85%) and applications (68%) gaining more favor.
“Savvy retailers are fully embracing mobile in particular, since traffic and revenue are increasing steadily in that channel,” said Lauren Freedman, Owner and President of the e-tailing group. “They also are looking at social channels, and are testing different techniques to understand how the social consumer engages. In addition, they’re going to explore various commerce opportunities, whether those are via Facebook directly or through a site redirect.”
Overall, 25% of retailers indicated that 5% to 9.9% of their online traffic derives from mobile browsers and applications, while 26% claimed that more than 10% derives from these devices. Additionally, retailers are noting increased traffic and conversion rates via tablets, which are becoming more commonplace among today’s tech-savvy shoppers. Thirty-four percent (34%) of retailers claimed that they’re seeing increased traffic from tablets versus their traditional e-Commerce web sites. Since tablets create a more media-rich, detailed experience than smartphones, it is imperative for retailers to provide brand- and product-rich information that can be relayed to users effectively, Freedman explained.
“Based on survey results, merchants are tackling cross-channel elements in which product locators are enabling shoppers to access inventory prior to store visits,” Freedman said. “We also see evolving content in support of the tablet’s research power in particular, so information counts more than ever. Retailers follow the money, and shoppers are embracing tablets in record numbers. Despite many scenarios where sites aren’t optimized for tablets, retailers still are seeing bottom-line results, which are driven from tablet shoppers.”
Building Shopper Relationships With Content
While many retailers are seeing tangible outcomes from optimizing engagement and commerce via tablets, 2012 will present an opportunity for brands to test and learn about content and messaging strategies, according to Freedman. As a result, shoppers will receive a more compelling and memorable brand experience.
Whether it’s blogging, videos, or other rich media elements, the e-tailing group study found that 87% of retailers plan to invest more in category content, as well as product comparisons (66%) and interactive tools (65%). On average, 62% of merchants currently are positioning themselves as “go-to” experts in their category by publishing editorial-style content, expert reviews, user-generated content and other tactics.
“An effective content strategy starts with the product page,” Freedman explained. “Here, creative how-to guides, video, alternative views and interactive tools all support a more sophisticated, content-rich experience. Video in particular is on every merchant’s radar screen because it helps give customers more confidence in the buying process.”
These branding-focused strategies are expected to flourish throughout the year, according to survey results. A majority (68%) of merchants are honing in on content development during 2012 to improve web site performance, while 54% plan to add more customer-generated content such as ratings and reviews.
Top 10 Tips For Optimizing The Cross-Channel Experience
As part of the report, the e-tailing group provided top strategies to help escalate the online customer experience during 2012 and beyond. These strategies include:
1. Prioritize based on profit: Analyze the bottom line potential of specific tactics then position them across web sites and other channels.
2. Roadmap customer experiences: Ensure that a set of standards is in place while leveraging category-centricity as a brand differentiator.
3. Maintain a robust blueprint: Always assess and align priorities to meet internal goals and exceed customer expectations.
4. Test for excellence: Consistently trial a series of merchandising tactics to ensure that the brand is delivering a superior shopping experience, regardless of channel.
5. Monitor emerging marketing techniques: Consider testing and implementing an array of strategies, such as mobile and social, while maintaining a competitive edge on essential channels, including email and online storefronts.
6. Tap personalization: Tailor messages, recommended items and photographs on e-Commerce sites, and extend them into mobile, social and other channels.
7. Optimize mobile strategies: Meet customers in their new channels of choice by utilizing mobile commerce, apps, SMS, and other marketing and communication strategies.
8. Empower marketing with social media: Explore social networking sites as a new way to reach your customers, initiate one-to-one conversations and increase purchase urgency via special offers and access to inventory/information.
9. Invest in data: By utilizing data collection and analysis best practices, retailers can better understand their customer behaviors, and in turn, tailor future marketing initiatives more effectively.