May 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Supplement: Technology investment for now and the future

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One strategy for improving guided navigation is to make the feature the mandatory starting point for any onsite product search. Americaneagle.com has developed just such a guided navigation system for Weathertech.com, a retailer of auto parts and accessories. After logging onto the site, shoppers are required to enter the make, model and year of the vehicle for which they are buying accessories, or they can enter the product type. In both cases shoppers select the required information from a pull-down menu.

Shoppers that enter the make, model and year of the vehicle are shown product categories specific to that vehicle and can drill down further from that point by clicking on a category. Shoppers selecting a product are shown that product. The change into guided navigation from open-ended search boosted the retailer’s conversion rates from less than 6% to 10%.

“The retailer wanted to improve the way shoppers search for products specific to a vehicle, as well as specific types of products, and decided that steering shoppers into guided navigation was the best way to eliminate the risk of having site search return unsatisfactory results,” says Americaneagle.com’s Svanascini. “In the current economy, guiding shoppers to the products they are looking for in as few steps as possible is going to create a more satisfying shopping experience and boost conversion rates.”

In addition to site design and development, Americaneagle.com provides site hosting, content management, search engine marketing, multimedia, and streaming audio and video services.

A powerful tool

Searched keywords are among the most powerful tools in marketing as they can provide clues as to what phase of the purchase cycle a shopper is in. A good content strategy will ensure that shoppers with more generic searches get exposed to a wider range of products.

Translating web analytics into useful insights is a significant challenge for most online marketers. That’s why establishing key performance indicators is critical to accurately gauge the performance of search marketing efforts. For example, the time spent on entry pages is a good KPI to measure search relevance, according to ARS’s Heavilon.

Getting shoppers to the desired product, however, is not enough to ensure a sale or prevent the item from being returned. Product descriptions are critical to putting the right product in the shopper’s hands.

“Without a detailed description and an image, shoppers may be less inclined to buy,” Heavilon says. “There is an ROI associated with content.”

Processing a return costs the retailer money and often leads to customer dissatisfaction. An incomplete product description is often one of the main reasons for returns. Effective content management is about proving the content’s validity so it delivers measurable gains in sales and eliminates unexpected surprises that can lead to returns or customer dissatisfaction.

“We had one client with return rates of more than 20% on a specific item because there was not enough data in the product description,” Heavilon says. “Customers would get the item, discover it was not what they were looking for and return it. After using analytics to identify the problem, then fixing it, return rates dropped below 5%.”

Retailers will find that a comprehensive strategy that encompasses effective content management, well-executed search marketing and accurate key performance indicators provides significant ROI and growth. “Content management is about proving the validity of the content so it delivers measurable gains in sales and eliminates unexpected surprises that can lead to returns or customer dissatisfaction,” Heavilon says.

Let’s get personal

The next level of content management is personalization.

“Shoppers expect to see a more personalized shopping experience in which they receive product suggestions just as they would from a sales associate in a store that knows their preferences and criteria for making a purchase,” says FitForCommerce’s Wu. “Personalization is quickly evolving past recognizing the customer when they return and flashing a personal greeting such as ‘Welcome back, John.’ Personalization has to be specific to a shopper’s order history and behavior patterns.”

Achieving that level of personalization requires paying attention to more than what the shopper buys. Instead, retailers ought to be looking for trends in their clickstream data such as price points, favored product categories, preferred colors and favored brands. Once these and other preferences are identified, values are assigned to them based on the role the preference is likely to play in the purchasing decision and a customer recommendation is made.

“This is the kind of information that gives retailers deep knowledge about their customers’ product preferences,” says MyBuy’s Cell. “Retailers who know what matters most to a customer are more likely to make product recommendations that convert into a sale, much like a suggestion from a personal shopper in a store.”

Retailers feed clickstream and customer data to MyBuys, which uses it to build individual customer profiles stored on its servers. Once the profile is built, the retailer implements a JavaScript applet that attaches a tracking cookie to the device the shopper uses to access the site so the shopper can be identified on return visits.

The applet also records each shopper’s behavior. Scoring algorithms are used to weight attributes within the profile based on customer behavior patterns and optimize recommendations for each customer.

By digging deeper into understanding a shopper’s product preferences, retailers can recommend new products to individual shoppers on their home page; suggest accessories for a previous purchase; and offer products within a customer’s preferred price range.

7x growth in conversion

“Most retailers only personalize at the category level, so with the strategy of personalization at the category level someone who frequently shops for sheets would be shown the bed and bath category, making it easier to find what they want,” Cell says. “You can’t pitch the same message to everyone or generic messages and call it personalization.”

Cell adds that shoppers receiving a personalized product recommendation are seven times more likely to convert than those that don’t receive such recommendations.

Personalization can be applied on a more macro level for retailers that sell regional products. Akamai applies this principle through its Content Targeting solution so that retailers can adjust web page content based on location, bandwidth connection or device type. By mapping IP address to location, Akamai can work with retailers to ensure the right content is provided to the shopper connecting to the retail site in a specific region.

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