August 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Struggling with Juggling

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Benchmark’s content management system is now able to create dynamic pages and images and pull information quickly and easily from back-end inventory management and product information databases. As a result, if an analytics report tells site managers that shoppers are reacting positively to a particular item or price point, they can use the content management system to instantly create or update text and pictures on the home page or change the featured product box on a specific product page. With easier ways to package and modify content, Benchmark Brands can also segment its customer base and send highly targeted e-mail promotions to shoppers featuring specific tips on foot care, images of top-selling brands and text and links that direct shoppers to featured merchandise. “We can quickly change, package and modify content in ways we couldn’t do before,” says Karen Stern, director of e-retail operations. “We can now use our content management system to apply more specific information to targeted promotions and let our customers see the merchandise in greater detail.”

Not an inside job today

In the early days of business-to-consumer e-commerce, many retailers thought of content management and delivery as primarily an internal job where only the merchant’s merchandising or IT staff would make any changes to information on the web site, says Kyle McNabb, analyst with Forrester Research Inc. Now, with even some small and medium-sized retailers stocking hundreds of thousands of SKUs, adding new items each week and constantly making text and image changes to the site, a growing number of merchants are adding a new dimension to their content management programs: web links that use XML applications to pull constantly updated product information and images from third-party content providers and consumer brand manufacturers directly to their home page or merchandise categories. “Content on an e-commerce site can’t just be static any more,” McNabb says. “Information has to be constantly changed and updated. A new option for getting the latest updated or new information is through direct feeds from manufacturers and others.”

Rather than manage the job internally, Biblio.com, an online book retailer that carries an inventory of more than 20 million used, rare and out-of-print books, is using Muze Inc. to supply new and ongoing content such as book descriptions, author biographies, book reviews and book cover images. With more content from an outside source, Biblio can make almost instant changes to content and is expanding its image library to hold more than 9 million new cover images. “We’ve always built and maintained our own content management system using free and available open source code,” says Kevin Donaldson, director of sales and marketing for Biblio. “But by using new content supplied by Muze we are increasing the size of our site content by nearly 30 million records and adding more new sources of information such as book reviews.”

Adding direct feeds that use XML and web service applications to provide a constant new stream of information is providing a new twist to how web merchants can deliver content, says Rick Fawcett, vice president of North American sales for WebCollage Inc., which provides application and delivery services that allow retailers to integrate content such as new product specifications directly to their site from consumer brand manufacturers. Among the chain retailers and online merchants using WebCollage for new forms of content are Circuit City Stores Inc., CompUSA Inc. and Sony Electronics eSolutions Co., which oversees SonyStyle.com, a consumer electronics site.

Creating an appealing package

In the very competitive and highly information-intensive consumer electronics space, more retailers are looking at third-party content providers and services to provide a constant stream of new product information, particularly as they look to close more online sales of bigger ticket items such as plasma screen TVs. Sony, for instance, uses WebCollage to expedite the release of new product information such as the debut of its new T7 digital camera. Rather than post the product image and text on its own e-commerce site and then send out batch electronic data interchange messages or individual e-mail messages with attachments, Sony posts the information simultaneously on its site and on sites operated by its affiliated retailers such as CompUSA. “When we have a new product launch, it gets to these sites almost instantly,” says Scot Pettit, web merchandise manager for Sony. “At the high end on a consumer electronics site, new and constantly updated sources of information can be a valuable sales tool.”

Syndicated content and speedier delivery can be differentiating factors in measuring how successful web retailers are in converting more site visits into sales. But equally important is using a content management system in ways that assemble content in appealing and informative packages. For instance, improved site search featuring guided navigation may lead shoppers more quickly to product pages, but from there it’s the quantity and quality of the information that’s presented that will determine a visitor’s purchasing intentions. “The core product information has to be there and it has to be presented with images, text and other content that make shoppers want to carry through on a transaction,” says Bill Rogers, CEO of Ektron, which in May launched CMS400.NET Version 5.0, a .NET content management system that includes enhanced search capabilities and easier integration with other publishing applications such as Macromedia Dreamweaver. “The content needs to ensure that the shopper has a great experience,” he says.

To package and deliver content more effectively, a recent study by Forrester reports that web retailers are placing top priority on zoom technology, more detailed shipping information, A/B testing of site design elements and publishing more customer ratings and expert reviews.

Closing sales

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