February 6, 2013, 1:18 PM

Top e-retailers put a greater focus on products and social sharing

More retailers put store locators on their sites and on Facebook, a new study says.

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Top online retailers in 2012 focused on product details and visibility, store information and connecting shoppers across channels, according to The E-tailing Group’s Annual Mystery Shopper Study, which examined the features and functions on the web and mobile properties of 100 top retailers in the fourth quarter of 2012.

More than half of the retailers in the study, 54%, include store locators with merchandizing details, such as a promotion, on their e-commerce sites and 51% include them on their Facebook pages, up from 41% and 44% in Q4 2011, respectively. Also helping to connect shopping channels, 42% of retailers in the study have in-store product locator tools, up from 34% last year; 86% offer mobile shopping, up from 78% last year; and 78% have mobile apps, up from 66% last year.

89% of retailers in the study allow consumers to share product pages with friends via social networks or e-mail, and 74% include a Facebook Like button, both compared with 71% that did last year. All merchants in the study have a Facebook page, compared with 98% last year, the study says. On their Facebook pages, 59% of the retailers also included calls for consumers to follow them on other social networks including YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, The E-tailing Group says. Just 44% of retailers in the study promoted those other social channels on Facebook last year.

For improved navigation, a third of retailers in the study now let visitors refine search results by top-rated items, compared with 27% last year, and 91% of them include consumer ratings and reviews on their product pages, up from 85% last year, the study says. 55% of retailers studied show shoppers “recently viewed” items on the site, up from 45% in Q4 2011. And while fewer retailers than last year include product recommendations in the shopping cart (79% versus 87%), the ones that do suggest more items, 5.74 products on average versus 3.79 on average in 2011, the study says.

Mystery shopping also revealed the ways in which retailers are drawing more attention to products on all channels. Videos are one increasingly popular tactic, with 79% of retailers in the study including them on product pages, up from 69% in Q4 2011, and 70% adding product-related videos to their Facebook pages, up from 56% last year, The E-tailing Group says.

On their home pages, 72% of retailers in the study feature products in slide shows that promote more than one product or sale, an increase from 53% last year. 86% use navigation flyouts—where  a subcategory, say the types of products under a “best sellers” tab, pops out on the page when a consumer hovers or clicks on the tab. That’s up from 81% that used navigation flyouts on their pages in last year’s study. Adding to that, 85% of retailers in the study include merchandising such as a product image or special offers in navigation flyouts, up from 77% that did last year, the E-tailing Group says.

For retailers, a main takeaway from the findings is that they must have the basics in place, starting with a search box on the site, says Lauren Freedman, president of The E-tailing Group. “They need to focus to effectively compete in an Amazon-driven world,” she says. To do that, retailers need to take their brand into account before selecting which merchandising tactics to use and make sure to test and adapt to consumers’ responses, she says. They must also connect their efforts on all channels and highlight products well on all key pages, she adds.

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