January 28, 2004, 12:00 AM

How to keep online surgical shoppers happy

To profit from the shift to online retailing, merchants need to emphasize easy-to-use sites and excel in customer service, experts said today during a webinar presented by The E-Tailing Group, Internet Retailer and sponsor iPhrase Technologies.

With retail experiencing a shift in shopping from stores to the web, merchants need to emphasize easy-to-use sites that leverage their brands and excel in customer service, industry experts said today during a webinar presented by The E-Tailing Group, Internet Retailer and sponsor iPhrase Technologies, a provider of search engine marketing systems.

"Simplicity is the order of the day," said E-Tailing president Lauren Freedman, the main speaker during the "Satisfying the Surgical Web Shopper" webinar. "Retail sites should be crisp and clear as possible, with limited bells and whistles." Merchants should think in terms of holistic selling, she added, meaning that a web site should be able to satisfy all of its customers.

Kurt Peters, editor of Internet Retailer, noted that online retail spending rose to $12.5 billion during the recent holiday season, a year-over-year rise of 29%, while total retail spending rose only 5%. "The shift to the web is remarkable," he said. But he noted that retailers need to produce high levels of online shopping experience and customer service in order to maximize their participation in the growth of online sales. "The challenge is to maintain a high level of satisfaction as product offerings on the web broaden," he said.

Freedman cautioned that retailers should use imaging tools like zoom in situations where they can enhance the customers’ shopping experience; for example, in online apparel merchandising to show multiple sides of a garment. She also noted that merchants should take advantage of cross-selling and up-selling opportunities, but in ways that complement the products shoppers initially sought. "Make sure it’s highly relevant to what the shopper selected," she said.

Freedman cited Patagonia, eBags and Staples as three online retailers that have excelled in designing profitable web sites that produce experiences that satisfy customers. Patagonia and Staples are among the best at producing product information and pertinent cross-selling opportunities that help customers shop better, she said, adding that eBags excels in merchandising products with changing color and other details while also offering ratings and reviews from customer feedback sessions.

Noting that site search has become more important as a shopping tool, iPhrase senior vice president Tony Frazier noted that retailers can vastly improve sales conversion rates resulting from search by making the function more consistent in ease-of-use and production of pertinent results. He noted that Neiman-Marcus worked with iPhrase to improve its search interface in a project that resulted in a 300% first-year improvement in its search-driven conversion rates.

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