February 7, 2007, 12:00 AM

E-retailers bullish on rich media, coupons, themed merchandising

Rich media, coupons and themed merchandising areas lead a broad range of customer-focused improvements on retail web sites, The E-Tailing Group says in an annual study.

Rich media, coupons and themed merchandising areas lead a broad range of customer-focused improvements on retail web sites, research and consulting firm The E-Tailing Group Inc. says in its 9th Annual Mystery Shopping Study.

“The state of merchandising online is all about the customer,” says Lauren Freedman, president of the E-Tailing Group, Chicago. “With the customer in control of the shopping experience, merchant initiatives are focused on control, convenience, creativity, convergence, and community. From the shopper’s perspective, the issues are making it easy and saving time while merchants strive to meet their customers` demands and make a profit.”

The study is based on a survey of 100 retail web sites during the fourth quarter of 2006. Among rich media features showing the largest increases in usage were online audio files, found on 41% of sites, up from 15% in Q4 2005; streaming video, found on 38% of sites, up from 20%; color change, 46%, up from 34%; and alternate views, 57%, up from 45%.

Freedman will speak at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, June 4-7 in San Jose in a session entitled Assessing the Real E-Commerce Opportunity.

Areas of web sites set aside for themed collections of merchandise appeared on 59% of sites, up from 28% a year ago, and areas designated for clearance items appeared on 73% of sites, up from 51%.

Online retailers are offering site search-and-sort options in place of an advanced site search feature, which declined to 17% of sites, down from 23% a year ago and 27% two years ago.

The study notes that landing-page sorting options, a new measurement in the current study, appeared on 78% of sites. The study identifies 11 sorting options: price-low/high, on 88% of sites; price-high/low, 76%; best seller/top seller, 54%; brand, 45%; new arrivals, 37%; product name/alphabetical, 27%; best match/relevancy, 27%; category, 15%; ratings, 14%; color, 14%; and sales & specials, 12%.

25% of sites in the study offer features that let customers pre-order products, up from 16% a year ago. 88% provide a catalog quick-order feature, which lets catalog shoppers enter a product code online to order a product featured in the catalog, up from 78%. 27% provide a feature to see a shopper’s recently viewed products, up from 16%. And 81% allow online customers to return products to stores, up from 72%.

90% of retailers in the study offer cross-sell and up-sell features on product pages, up from 88% a year ago; 39% offer alternative products on product pages, up from 28%.

89% of retailers offer Internet-only promotions, down from 91% a year ago; 32% offer rebates, up from 20%; and 20% offer coupons, up from 5%.

One feature that has remained static is in-store pickup of online orders, offered by 18% of sites in the study, the same percentage as a year ago. Also unchanged is a size-finder feature, offered on about one-third of sites.

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