June 1, 2011, 10:15 AM

Sponsored Supplement - June 2011

(Page 6 of 9)

By testing tweaks to site design, visitor flow across a web site and page layout, retailers can learn first-hand from consumers which changes work and which ones don't. Nevertheless, randomly testing hundreds of combinations of changes is not a cost-effective strategy. Worse, it can diminish enthusiasm for the project if initial results are less than satisfactory.

"Boosting conversion rates requires using a structured framework when evaluating site design, business processes and visitor flow," says Invesp's Saleh. "Any hypothesis on what to change first needs to be run through analytics to determine its validity, then the changes need to be prioritized."

The starting point for any conversion rate strategy begins with analysis. Invesp sits down with its clients to understand the retailer's goals when it comes to conversion optimization. Next, the company uses its Pii conversion software to data mine the retailer's analytics to determine weak points within a site. The data mining process includes determining the conversion rate for different classes of pages, such as product and category pages, and the checkout page, as well as evaluating how effectively site layout, navigation, and copy persuade visitors to take an action and click the Buy button. The data mining process creates a conversion roadmap for the retailer's web site.

Next, Invesp uses Pii to analyze each page on the conversion roadmap using the Conversion Framework process, which combines customer demographic information, behavior patterns and usability principles to determine what changes need to be made on each page that appears on the roadmap.

Finally, proposed changes are tested using A/B or multivariate testing to ensure that the retailer gets the best possible results. "By following a consistent framework for increasing conversion rates, retailers can achieve consistent and repeatable results," says Saleh. "Those results are fed back into Pii to determine how well the test results matched up against the original assumptions about why changes to the system are needed."

Retailers can expect an average uplift in conversion of 65% over 12 months. "One customer we worked with had a conversion rate of 1% and boosted it to 14.5% in that time span," says Saleh. "One thing retailers need to keep in mind is that some of the changes tested may reduce conversion rates or produce no change in the conversion rate. That is all part of the learning process to determine what works and what doesn't."

Because conversion optimization strategies are more likely to generate steady incremental gains, Saleh cautions retailers not to become too focused on near-term increases. "It's not uncommon for retailers to be excited about the project for the first couple of months, then have their enthusiasm wane. Successful testing strategies require a long-term view."

The long haul

Indeed, before implementing any new application, experts recommend that retailers step back and evaluate whether the technology can help them increase sales and site traffic over the long term.

"There are a lot technologies out there that offer a lot of flash and dazzle in the short-term, but don't really impact long-term performance," says OrderDynamics' Turcsanyi. "Retailers should be looking at technology that enhances the core selling capabilities of their platform."

Ultimately, persuading consumers to buy—and buy more—comes down to how well retailers make use of their technology across all sales channels and customer touch points. Successful retailing is, after all, about creating a relationship with each consumer and servicing her particular needs and wants.

Retailers that can connect with consumers on a one-to-one basis across every consumer touch point can realize much greater lifetime value from their customers and bring them back to their e-commerce sites again and again.

"Consumers expect cohesive, personalized relationships with retailers across all sales channels," says MyBuys' Cell. "Retailers that properly coordinate their cross-channel marketing efforts will give consumers the kind of relationship they want and increase sales."

Delighting, informing, helping and luring back the online shopper
A lot goes in to creating a satisfying online shopping experience. Not only do retailers need to create visually pleasing sites that download quickly, they also need tools in place to help consumers accomplish their goals and find ways to attract consumers that have left a site to return.

Making all these pieces seamlessly fit together means focusing on new technology that makes it easier for online shoppers to achieve their objectives—while adding to a retailer's profits. Whether the consumer is looking to make a purchase, research a product, compare prices or contact customer service, she wants to get it done quickly and successfully.

"Creating a satisfying online shopping experience is paramount for e-retailers," says Pedro Santos, chief strategist, e-commerce, for Akamai Technologies Inc., provider of content and application delivery services. "Even though retailers are pouring more and money into their online stores, online shoppers have been trained to expect high performance in all aspects of the shopping experience and retailers can't underestimate the impact that has on consumer's perception of their brand."

At the same time, retailers must keep in mind that many consumers will come to an e-commerce site for a reason other than to buy right at that moment. They may want to gather information about a product, browse the retailer's selection, read reviews or compare prices.

Among the hot areas of e-commerce technology is behavioral commerce: marketing techniques that enable retailers to draw on what they've learned about each site visitor to reach out to consumers as they navigate to other web sites. Bringing those consumers back not only gives the web merchant another chance to make a sale, it also affords the possibility of establishing long-term relationships that keep those consumers returning to the site again and again.

Please come back

One behavioral commerce technique is to show a shopper who has viewed certain items and moved to another site online display banner ads offering incentives on the items she previously considered. Retailers can also create e-mail retargeting campaigns for existing customers that opted into the mailing list but have not visited the site in a while.

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