January 27, 2006, 12:00 AM

In online merchandising, the word is “more,” survey reveals

The E-Tailing Group’s 8th Annual Mystery Shopping Study shows that from cross-sells to zoom, merchandising features that were once exceptions on retail sites are becoming standard practice at top e-retailers.

Online shoppers keep cranking up their expectations of retail sites’ performance, functionality and ease of use-and online retailers keep cranking up capacities at their sites to stay on top of the game. As result, merchandising features that were once exceptions are becoming standard at retail sites, according to The E-Tailing Group’s Eighth Annual Mystery Shopping Study.

“As online merchandising evolved to meet the demands of the ever more sophisticated multi-channel customer, we are seeing merchants deploy more robust home pages and product pages, with feature sets that are more focused, more informative; coupled with more clear differentiation by category,” says Lauren Freedman, president.

Specifically, What’s New features, present on 64% of the retail web sites shopped for the survey in the fourth quarter of 2004, were on 82% of the sites shopped in Q4 2005. The presence of upsells and cross-sells on the home page rose to 88% of sites surveyed in 2005 from 80% in 2004, and upsells and cross-sells in the shopping cart rose to 62% of sites in 2005 from 56% in 2004. A Top Sellers feature showed up on 66% of the sites surveyed, though it appeared on 100% of the sites that sold books/music, mass merchandise, or were pet-related. Alternative selections, a new metric in the 2005 survey, appeared on 25% of the sties shopped.

In other findings, the survey discovered more efficiency throughout the shopping process, with features such as recently viewed products appearing on 16% of the sites, up from 8% in 2004; and multiple ship-to addresses on 41% of sites, up from 38% in 2004. One-click settings were present on 43% of sites, up from 38% in 2004; and a picture of products in the shopping cart was a feature of 57% of sites, up from 45%. More retailers also added product imaging enhancements such as zoom, now present on 70% of sites surveyed; and alternative view, present on 45% of sites.

Two other trends noted in the survey report are providing more comprehensive product information and buying guidance. Product comparisons were present on 27% of sites in 2005, up from 21% in 2004; and ratings and review are now on 32% of sites, up from 24%. In line with the same trends, the use of tips and glossaries is up significantly – they were present on 46% of the sites in 2005 versus only 15% in 2004.

One more trend is the tighter integration of channels, with outlet locator feature found on 73% of the sties in 2005, up from 62% in 2004; and catalog request features on 95% of the sites this year, up form 85%. However, Shop the Catalog functionality was present on only 51% of sites in 2005, down from 66% the previous year.

“As best-in-class merchants raise the bar, keeping up with requisite functionality will be just the beginning,” says Freedman, who is speaking at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition June 5-7 in Chicago. “More differentiation and more creative execution of merchandising, both onsite and via e-mail, will be the next initiatives to require resource commitments.”

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