April 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Spending technology dollars wisely

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A more advanced form of site navigation is guided navigation, which provides an intelligent search capability which leverages such tools as drop-down menus, buttons and site search to assist the shopper to find appropriate products with the fewest clicks possible. Once shoppers are at the desired page within the site, retailers can program their guided navigation technology to help shoppers drill down further into product or information categories.

Profit Center Software’s guided navigation application asks shoppers questions about the product for which they are searching after they have clicked on a product category. A retailer of gardening products, for instance, can serve up a series of progressive questions to shoppers who clicked on flower seeds, such as their ZIP code, the type of sunlight conditions in their garden, and whether they want flowers that bloom continually during the growing season or only once.

“Asking questions via a survey engine helps the retailer guide the shopper to the desired product using the shortest navigation path, rather than having to click through multiple subcategories,” Marrah says. “Additional questions can be asked the deeper the shopper drills into the site, but the goal is to guide the shopper to the right product and accessories that go with it without making it a complex process.”

Retailers can also use site search to guide shoppers to alternative brands with higher margins or to clearance items of similar quality. For example, customers entering a search query for black Prada pumps can also be shown results for other high-end brands in the retailer’s catalog, such as black Christian Louboutin pumps.

Relevant-and profitable

“Site search accounts for about 20% of sales, so retailers want to deliver the most relevant results possible, but also profitable or cheaper alternatives, depending on what they know about their customers’ preferences and their marketing and merchandising strategy for those products,” Svanascini says. “It’s simply a matter of creating rules within the site search engine.”

Guiding shoppers to the desired product and suggesting viable alternatives can significantly reduce site abandonment. “The more quickly and easily a shopper can navigate, the more enjoyable the shopping experience and the less likely they will be to abandon the site,” says SpeedFC’s Zisk. “Any upgrade that can increase speed and ease is going to provide a measurable return-and is usually not expensive to implement.”

When directing shoppers to specific products it is best to support those efforts with unique product content, such as customer-generated product reviews. “Shoppers now expect user reviews, especially from retailers with the best-known brands because that information reflects the quality of the brand,” Svanascini says. “High-end retailers that lack this kind of unique content can actually diminish the value of their brand.”

Marketing and merchandising applications are not the only areas where retailers make low-cost enhancements to their site that deliver a fast ROI. Adding one page checkout improves convenience by getting shoppers through a critical phase of the purchasing process faster. Just as shoppers look for the shortest checkout line in a store, they want an online checkout process that involves as few steps as possible.

Streamlining is easy

Steps such as registration; creating accounts for first-time customers; requiring customers to enter state, city and ZIP code into data fields separately for shipping and billing addresses; and gathering of other personal information make the checkout process cumbersome. Making checkout difficult to navigate can drive shoppers to abandon the shopping cart, especially if there is more than one page to the checkout process.

Features such as guest checkout that allow shoppers to skip creating accounts and automatically populate data fields for city and state by entering a ZIP code create a more user-friendly experience. “Streamlining the checkout process is an easy way to improve conversions, but many retailers haven’t evolved to a one-page checkout yet,” says SpeedFC’s Zisk.

Proactive click-to-call and live chat are another way that retailers on limited budgets can improve the user friendliness of web sites. Merely offering the option of live chat is not enough as shoppers can overlook it or choose not to initiate it when they need help. “Click-to-call or chat needs to be offered up at the first sign a shopper is struggling with navigation, filling out a form or any other situation that may require the assistance of a service representative,” Zujewski says. “Not being proactive in these situations can lead to cart or site abandonment.”

Retailers that add proactive click-to-call and live chat can reduce cart abandonment up to 20% versus shoppers who receive no live help. Retailers can program their platforms to offer live help if a shopper receives an error code when filling out a form, toggles between product pages multiple times or spends several minutes searching the site for unique product information, such as customer reviews.

“Retailers want their service representatives to proactively offer assistance to shoppers that appear to be in need of help, just as they want sales associates to do so in a physical store,” Zujewski says.

Getting the right tools

When implementing any upgrade to the e-commerce platform, retailers want to be certain they have access to the tools to get the most out of the application. This is especially important when it comes to creating and implementing promotions, which may change hourly, daily or weekly based on consumer response.

ProfitCenter Software allows retailers to establish promotion stacking rules that govern the order of precedence of processing promotions that run simultaneously, a level of technological sophistication that many retailers don’t possess in house or that they will pay dearly to have.

For example, a retailer may be running a promotion for free shipping on orders of more than $100 and one for 10% off select items. The retailer would want the 10% off promotion applied first, reducing the order value before evaluating to see if the order meets the $100 threshold for free shipping.

Retailers can also enhance their promotional strategies by setting rules that rotate the frequency of a promotion. If a shopper has taken advantage of a buy-one-get-one-at-half-price promotion, for instance, then returns while the offer is still valid, the retailer may want to push another offer. “This kind of control over promotions can have a big impact on profits and allow for more creative promotional strategies,” Marrah says.

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