June 28, 2007, 12:00 AM

Content technology continues to grow more sophisticated

Content management systems that don’t ensure accuracy and consistency among channels can create frustration for shoppers.

In the early days of online retailing, content management entailed little more than writing descriptions of merchandise and teaming them with the right photos. But with growing evidence that web site content plays a major role in customers’ purchasing decisions-whether online or in store-content management is taking on an increasingly important role.

With customers jumping back and forth between retailers’ multiple channels-web sites, stores, kiosks, e-mail and call centers-content systems that don’t ensure consistency among channels can create frustration for shoppers. Customers who find conflicting information between a web site and store, for example, may give up and turn to another retailer.

Outdated product listings, descriptions, prices or photos also can turn off shoppers, blunting the impact of expensive marketing and merchandising promotions. And if content management systems don’t clearly outline a retailer’s policies on fulfillment, refunds and protecting a customer’s privacy, the retailer can run afoul of Federal Trade Commission regulations or other consumer laws.

Antiquing

“People are realizing their old web content management systems are antiquated,” says Stephen Powers, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s people put them in place without really understanding what the business goals were. Now they want to be able to do things like create a personalized experience for their customers, or maybe they need to manage multiple sites.”

A good content management system enables a retailer to respond quickly in all channels to changes in market conditions, such as a competitor launching a new product. Systems that deploy content into channel-specific silos slow the process, making it difficult to update content in a timely fashion across all channels.

“Marketing wants to provide that kind of consistent customer experience through all channels, whether it’s web, e-mail, wireless or integration with print,” Powers says. “They want a system that manages that experience for all those channels.”

For retailers operating multiple web sites serving different market niches, there’s a need for content management systems that enable them to differentiate sites for each market while maintaining consistency in the appearance of online shopping features and corporate branding. And multi-channel retailers want a system that enables them to maintain site images consistent with images displayed in stores and catalogs.

“E-retailers want to have one high-quality original asset in a centralized repository that can be repurposed and delivered anywhere on demand,” says Sean Barger, CEO of Equilibrium Co., a vendor of automated media production.

Dynamic, interactive content

Moreover, with consumers increasingly accustomed to the dynamic, interactive content found on industry leading sites such as Amazon.com and Yahoo, straight text and photos just aren’t enough. Content management systems must be able to handle industry trends such as developing web pages customized to shoppers’ known interests, managing multiple language content, developing more effective landing pages for customers arriving via Internet search and managing brand content fed by manufacturers.

Online retailers, for example, are asking for scalable video preparation solutions so their vendors can supply them with advertising to promote their products. They also want to insert video advertising into user-generated content, Barger says. “Almost everybody we’re talking to in e-retailing is interested in empowering their next-generation streaming content options,” he says.

Online retailers also are seeking user-friendly content management systems that don’t require the involvement of I.T. staff for every change. “Marketing wants to be able to build personalization rules themselves to manage campaigns, and they want to be able to do A/B testing where they can test content changes on certain parts of the site and deliver it to certain audience segments,” Powers says.

Content management technology will continue to grow increasingly more sophisticated. And that’s good news for retailers seeking to meet the growing demand from customers for dynamic and interactive web sites.

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