July 31, 2007, 12:00 AM

IRCE 2007: Report from the Conference

(Page 4 of 6)

Due Maternity, an apparel and accessories retailer for mothers-to-be, expects to do about $3 million in sales this year through five boutiques and DueMaternity.com. It`s growing online sales by using a variety of tools and strategies to better understand its customers and give them what they want, vice president and co-founder Albert diPadova said at IRCE 2007.

Running on a Yahoo Merchant Solutions e-commerce platform, Due Maternity uses HitsLink.com from Net Applications to analyze the source of online customer traffic and shopping behavior, and Zoomerang software to survey customers about their interests. POS IM point-of-sale software from Ensign Systems, which handles and integrates e-commerce and store sales data, provides reports on customer purchases including lists of their preferred items. The POS IM system also contains modules for running loyalty programs, gift cards and web site promotions. The retailer also uses VerticalResponse e-mail marketing software to send out personalized offers, diPadova added.

Letting customers talk up products
Using Customer Product Reviews to Attract Loyal Shoppers
Patti Freeman Evans, retail analyst, JupiterResearch
Geoffrey Robertson, vice president, e-commerce, J.C. Whitney

When consumer-generated product reviews show four or five stars out of a maximum of five, sales of that product on auto parts and accessories site JCWhitney.com increase 8-16%, vice president of e-commerce Geoffrey Robertson said at IRCE 2007.

Robertson said the reviews increase customer loyalty through interaction among shoppers, and create pertinent online content that helps increase natural Internet search rankings. "It helps to provide a comfortable and efficient shopping experience," he said, noting that J.C. Whitney uses the Bazaarvoice reviews program. He added that J.C. Whitney uses e-mail marketing and sweepstakes to encourage customers to write reviews, and cautioned that reviews with two stars have led to a decrease in sales.

Patricia Freeman Evans, retail analyst with JupiterResearch, noted that 48% of online shoppers find customer-generated reviews or ratings helpful when deciding whether to purchase products, and that 60% look to other customers to get a sense of a product`s quality and reliability.

Watching the web
The New Must-Have Content: Online Video
Michael Hong, director of marketing, LG USA

Online video is one of today`s must-have features for a web site, but it comes with risks, Michael Hong, director of marketing for electronics manufacturer LG USA, told conference attendees. "People who watch video content on the Internet are engaged," he said. The reason is simple: Viewers choose the content they want. "Internet video is more active than TV," Hong said.

LG uses web video to give shoppers more detail about products and is looking at ways to expand not only the number of videos but also the content to make them entertaining as well as informative, Hong said. But video comes with risks, Hong noted. Video content is not search friendly; downloadable videos are subject to manipulation, not always positive, by consumers; getting viewer`s attention is becoming harder; and maintaining quality is difficult.

Nonetheless, the pluses outweigh the minuses: "Everyone should have video in some form or fashion," Hong said.

What customers want
Mining the Big Portal Sites for Rich Data Nuggets
Alexander Tabibi, president, Pets United
Amy Vener, retail category director, Yahoo Search Marketing

To know what customers want, watch what they do on a web site. "The data is there for the picking," Alexander Tabibi, president of Pets United, told attendees. And usually, the information is unbiased. "What you get is not affected by the questions you ask," Tabibi said.

For instance, Pets United added "horse tack" to its product descriptions when it found shoppers weren`t using Pets United`s terminology "horse supplies." In addition, the data a retailer learns from online users often contradicts offline experience. "Thirty years of data said doghouses never sell through catalogs," Tabibi said. But the company found a market for doghouses at dog.com. "Every day thousands of people look for doghouses," he said. "It`s hard to get to them with a catalog, but they`ll find you online."

Amy Vener of Yahoo said retailers should pay attention to shoppers` Internet searches as a way to understand their market and product mixes.

Building Web Sites with
Better Marketing & Richer Content
June 6, 2007: Track E

What works, what doesn`t
E-Commerce Blogs: Finding Their Long-Term Value
Ted Demopoulos, consultant, Demopoulos Associates
Jeanie Bunker, vice president, sales and marketing, Alibris

Business blogs provide communication with a market, add personality to a corporate image and establish the blogger as an expert, said Ted Demopoulos. For e-commerce, blogs can drive traffic to a site. And, because they are frequently updated, blogs rate high in search spiders` estimation of relevancy.

But blogs have their own rules, Demopoulos cautioned. Writing endlessly about products and taking a hard sell don`t work, he said. What does work is "providing valuable information to your marketplace," he said.

Alibris expected its blog to generate repeat traffic and sales, leveraging existing content and content contributed by sellers and buyers, said Jeanie Bunker. However, it didn`t generate traffic hoped for.

But valuable learnings from the blog were that customers wanted ideas on what to read and the ability to comment on books. That led to the launch of customer reviews on the site. Based on insights gained from its first blog, Alibris will likely relaunch a blog with a different look and feel, Bunker added.

Strong integration, strong stores
Back to the Future: Going Offline to Drive Sales Online
Zhennaa Gallagher, senior director of offline marketing and advertising, VistaPrint

Many online companies realize that offline marketing can bring in customers and drive volume more quickly. The challenge is quantifying its effects.

VistaPrint measures the success of offline efforts at driving online sales by using short URLs and coupon codes in print material intended to drive customers to its site, Zhennaa Gallagher said. It looks for address matchbacks between direct mail pieces and online orders, conducts web site surveys, and trains call center agents to ask for referral sources.

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