September 1, 2009, 12:00 AM

Content is King

Retailers are making information more prominent on their e-commerce sites, recognizing it can often clinch a sale.

Having well-developed site content detailing products and categories can turn pages of an e-commerce site into a presence akin to the most knowledgeable of salespersons, say experts and merchants, thus making consumers more comfortable with online shopping-and more apt to buy.

Jason Friedman, vice president of e-commerce at J&R; Electronics Inc., says when customers are asked why they come from near and far in New York to buy consumer electronics and other products at the company`s store instead of walking a few blocks to Best Buy, the No. 1 answer always is expert salespeople.

This is why J&R; recently redesigned its e-commerce site to consolidate, add to and highlight vast areas for educating and entertaining its online shoppers. Today, the top navigation bar includes not just tabs for selling. Some selling tabs have been pushed aside in favor of tabs for Learn, Blogs, Events and Help sections.

Beefed up
"We have 12 experts on staff who create our content. We beefed it up because you have to find a way to differentiate yourself, and for us it`s emulating our store. Now we are seeing increasing online conversion," Friedman says. "It`s this wealth of excellent content and customer service that differentiates us from other retailers that may have products for a slightly lower price."

The content pays off in increased sales online and in-store, Friedman says. And he routinely gets feedback via e-mail from online customers about how content turned them into buyers, such as this from a woman in Maryland: "Your digital camera guide was extremely useful to me. My last hurdles had to do with batteries and memory cards and this explained them, their usage and considerations very well. I`m now ready to purchase!"

Whether it`s through well-written, in-depth product descriptions with multiple images or large sections of a web site, like J&R;`s Learn section, devoted to education through articles, videos and more, experts say, retailers must have good content to clinch a sale online.

And online content doesn`t just affect online buying. Forrester Research Inc. estimates this year $757.4 billion of in-store sales-28% of total retail sales-will be directly influenced by the web as consumers research products online and purchase them offline. That makes online content even more crucial for retailers.

Launched in April, Parentgiving.com`s strategy is to become the go-to online destination for people faced with caring for elderly parents. This is why the web-only retailer devotes 40% of its time and effort to creating and managing content.

Parentgiving executives knew they were dealing with many products that are commodities, and as such competition focuses on price. "Which is why you have to offer a great web experience that includes excellent content, so people researching products online will come to know you as an authority and become repeat customers," says Keith Maddox, CEO of Parentgiving Inc.

Content supports shopping
Customer service staff members-all required to have college degrees-and executive staff along with expert senior care managers from the field write the content. The company hired a professional journalist, who also writes content, to serve as managing editor.

The e-retailer divides its site into five sections: Learn With Parentgiving, Elder Care News, Blogs and Forums, Care Manager Services, and Shop Parentgiving.

In the four months since Parentgiving.com launched, 90% of visitors enter through the shopping section; 10% through one of the four content sections. The numbers for now skew toward shopping because the start-up is being found in these early days primarily through paid search ads, Maddox explains. As time goes on, if Parentgiving.com can make a name for itself in elder care management, more people will be turning to it for content as well as products, he says.

Today, of visitors who enter the site through a content section, one-third spend time shopping the store. If Parentgiving.com becomes more well known as a destination site for content and an authority on the subject, the authoritative nature of the content will translate into even more readers becoming shoppers-and buyers, he adds.

When it comes to products, Parentgiving.com finds product descriptions provided by manufacturers lacking, and typically beefs up the descriptions to make customers feel comfortable making a purchase, Maddox says.

Competitive edge
"For example, we sell a lot of adult diapers and a big challenge for folks is sizing. A lot of online stores that sell diapers don`t tell you what size you need if your waist is, for instance, 38 inches," he says. "This was the most common question we were getting on the phone. We went back and put into every adult diaper description a size chart. And then the number of calls on the subject dropped to zero. It`s a really simple thing in content that nonetheless sets us apart from competitors."

Friedman of J&R; Electronics feels similarly about manufacturers` product descriptions.

"Sporting goods is notorious for this online. It doesn`t matter who you go to. You`re comparing products across sites. You`re like, `Wait a second, I read this description already,`" he says. "You quickly realize all these sites are all pulling information from the same source. Where`s the competitive angle there?"

A motherload of content
It`s one thing to use content to convince a consumer to buy electronics-it`s a whole other matter to comfort a mom with web content when it comes to the safety of her infant.

"Parents have nine months to determine which car seat or stroller to choose," says Charity Stevens, e-marketing communications manager at manufacturer and e-retailer BritaxUSA.com. "Even though we know it`s heavily influenced by `word of mom,` they still come to our site hunting for all the reliable information they can get, and we want to make sure we have everything they could ever ask for."

BritaxUSA.com includes a plethora of descriptive text, images, videos and more with each of its products. Click on Britax Chaperone Infant Carrier, for instance, and up pops a large image of the product along with seven tabs for different kinds of content.

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