June 1, 2006, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Creating the e-commerce platform of the future

(Page 7 of 8)

The logic of cross-sells

The ability to focus resources on the core aspects of the business, e.g. merchandising and marketing, is precisely what retailers want in today`s fast paced e-commerce economy. Thus retailers want e-commerce engines that allow merchandisers to inject logic into cross-selling and up-selling promotions.

"Why recommend a pair of pants to a customer who just bought a skirt if they aren`t in stock or not available in the customer`s size," asks Stephan Schambach, president and CEO of Demandware Inc. "Retailers need control over their e-commerce platforms so they remain relevant and don`t need to be periodically retrofitted, which can take up to a year to complete testing and rollout."

Demandware, which delivers e-commerce software as a service, offers a suite of menu-driven applications that can be accessed and implemented as needed by non-IT experts after a brief training period. These tools allow retailers to modify their web sites in real time providing a new found nimbleness allowing them to capitalize on fresh merchandising ideas that can deliver a substantial lift in sales sooner.

Creating loyalty

One of the primary tasks for any retailer is creating customer loyalty through marketing, merchandising and service. That`s a tall order, especially for retailers that make search engine marketing a main focus, because many consumers entering a retailer`s site through a search engine purchase on impulse.

"It`s hard to get a consumer to remember your brand under such circumstances," says Stephanie Leffler, president and general manger, MonsterCommerce. "Most retailers don`t take full advantage of their e-commerce platforms, especially when it comes to search, to help customers remember their brand."

MonsterCommerce provides a hosted end-to-end e-commerce solution that optimizes search engine results to help retailers drive conversion rates. One feature is Monster Marketplace a shopping portal that attracts more than 250,000 visitors daily to which retailers can direct potential shoppers through their search engine marketing strategy.

Written in ASP (active server page) language, a popular programming language for web-based administrative software, the MonsterCommerce platform provides customizable code, flexibility, and scalability. The company serves its clients in a consultative role throughout the life of the client relationship, making suggestions such as how to leverage the platform to increase sales and helping retailers determine which marketing and merchandising strategies work and which don`t.

Another part of platform utilization that relates to marketing and merchandising is optimizing internal and external search engine results. MarketLive Inc.`s MarketLive 5 optimizes search results within third-party search engines, such as Google, to improve retailers` organic search results.

One feature to improve organic search is an improved map feed to search engines that allows them to crawl all the data in a retailer`s site. Another is embedding category names and product names within the retailer`s URL, which is used to create organic rankings. Doing so can increase natural search rankings, which in an era of rising costs for keywords is an economical alternative for retailers.

Feeding the shopping sites

"There are some simple things retailers can do out of the box to make Google and other search engines very aware of their URL," says Ken Burke, president and CEO of MarketLive.

Retailers can also optimize their search engine marketing strategies by feeding their online catalog to comparison shopping sites. Central to this functionality is the ability to use the catalog as a source for keyword searches.

ChannelAdvisor, for instance, tags a retailer`s web and catalog pages so they are picked up more readily in organic searches. The process is particularly helpful when consumers are looking for a specific item and enter the style and make of the item into the search string.

Known as metatags, these identifiers go between the opening and closing head tags of a retailer`s web page. Metatags influence the description of a retailer`s page in the search engine crawlers that support the tag. Data within a metatag influences how a search engine ranks a retailer`s web page. "If retailers aren`t involved in this process they can`t optimize their search results," says Scot Wingo, president of ChannelAdvisor.

As part of the upgrades to its search functionality, ChannelAdvisor recently added a matrix inventory feature to its Premium Stores application that allows retailers more flexibility in customizing how their merchandise is displayed during keyword searches.

The feature ties in with the company`s support for eBay Express, a new site from eBay that provides shoppers access to fixed priced items on eBay for immediate purchase. As part of its compatibility with eBay Express, ChannelAdvisor also supports PayPal Website Payments Pro and manual payments automation. "E-commerce platforms need to be channel friendly," says Wingo.

Test, test, test

Another marketing feature retailers should make certain is included in their e-commerce platform is real-time A/B testing. The feature makes it possible for retailers to figure out how to price a product to maximize the return on marketing dollars spent to promote it. "Retailers don`t know how to maximize the price of their products because they don`t test their pricing," says Justin Rattigan, vice president of Solid Cactus Inc. "It`s not just knowing what price maximizes conversion rates and profits, but time sensitive pricing based on when certain demographic segments come to your site."

As retailers seek to maximize profits and their return on marketing and advertising dollars, the testing of marketing and merchandising strategies will take on greater importance. "Multi-variant A/B testing is going to become more important as retailers look to allocate resources to generate more business," says Demandware`s Schambach. "The e-commerce platform won`t do it by itself, retailers must have the tools provided to them."

Along with adding multi-variant testing to its platform, Demandware recently made its guided search application more user friendly. E-retailers can now refine their site`s search capabilities based on abandonment rates after a consumer conducts a search. "Unrestricted access to testing allows retailers to make adjustments to their site on their terms, not the terms of the IT department," says Schambach.

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