March 24, 2006, 12:00 AM

Keeping up with the demands on web pages

With online sales continuing to outpace store sales, the way retailers manage their web content can make a big difference in how effectively they can capitalize on the web. In addition to increased sales through effective merchandising displays, content management can also produce improved customer relationships to keep customers coming back.

Poorly managed content, on the other hand, can alienate shoppers and result in government fines. Outdated product listings, descriptions, prices and photos can frustrate shoppers, laying to waste costly marketing and merchandising campaigns. Central deploymentAnd if content management systems don’t clearly state a retailer’s policies regarding its methods of fulfilling orders and protecting consumers’ privacy, including their personal account information, retailers can find themselves in violation of Federal Trade Commission rules.To get the most out of content management systems, retailers should deploy them as enterprise systems from a central server, allowing multiple parts of a retail organization to share in the most recent and accurate content, experts say. And with user-friendly systems designed to be used directly by business managers rather than just IT experts, retailers can let merchandise managers and marketing pros control web content to test and deploy merchandising displays that drive the most sales. Effective content management also provides for consistency across multiple web sites as well as shopping channels. As some retailers build multiple web sites to serve different market niches, they may need a content management system that will let them differentiate sites for each market while maintaining consistency in corporate branding and the appearance of online shopping features. At the same time, multi-channel retailers need a content management system that’s flexible enough to maintain site images consistent with images displayed in stores and catalogs. Creating even more demand for content management systems are such growing retail industry trends as developing web pages personalized to shoppers’ known interests, managing multiple language content, developing more effective landing pages for customers arriving from Internet search and managing branded content fed by manufacturers. Sony Corp., for instance, uses its web content management system as both a manufacturer sending content to retailers and as a recipient of product content at SonyStyle.com, the retail site of Sony Electronics. “This allows us to get information to our customers through retail sites a lot more quickly,” says Scot Pettit, web merchandise manager for Sony. “When we update content on our site, it’s automatically updated to all of our retail partners’ sites.”To be sure, the demands on content management will only increase, as customers participate in more web site features that improve the shopping experience. As shoppers come to expect a more personalized shopping experience, for instance, retailers will have to keep pace with content management systems that give them more options for arranging how and when particular displays and promotions appear on their web pages. Multiple languagesWith the sharpest growth in retail e-commerce outside the U.S., more retailers will be looking to content management systems to develop and maintain multi-lingual web sites. And as the Spanish-speaking market within the U.S. continues to grow, even retailers determined to remain domestic will need to go multi-lingual.Retailers are also deploying more enterprise systems on corporate intranets, using web technology to integrate both customer-serving and internal-use applications ranging in usage from product information management to human resources systems. And that’s helping to further drive up demand for web content management technology, Forrester Research says in a recent study. “We’re experiencing renewed interest in web content management as organizations look to consolidate web sites and support new web-based initiatives,” says senior analyst Kyle McNabb. While some small and mid-size retailers have held back on deploying corporate intranets and supplier-facing extranets in order to focus on other investments, the growing availability of hosted content management technology is giving retailers of all sizes more options for controlling the images on all of their sites and web pages. Web sites help to level the playing field among retailers of all sizes, but putting out effective content that customers want to interact with is no simple matter, regardless of a merchant’s market or size.
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