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Online shopping is quick, convenient and smart. Yet despite the draws of shopping sans commute, in PJs, and being able to comparison shop with the click of a mouse to find the best price, consumers still can’t touch, feel or try on the products they are interested in when shopping on the web. That fact used to be a big hurdle in e-commerce.
Today, that hurdle is not quite as steep. Retailers are merchandising online better than they ever have before. They are paying attention to their customer base and thinking about information their shoppers would find helpful. The result? More satisfied customers and more online sales for retailers.
Take a small player like SprinklerWarehouse.com. The retailer had been having a difficult time finding images that showed exact details of the thousands of irrigation supply products it offers. Steve Okelberry, who launched the company out of his garage in 1996, had been using images from manufacturers, but those weren’t cutting it—and often were misleading shoppers. For example, a manufacturer might use the same image for an indoor and outdoor version of a sprinkler head. And so, if a shopper ordered the indoor version of the sprinkler, she wouldn’t get a hood that was shown in the picture. Or a manufacturer might provide only images of sprinklers with a screw-in valve, even though some of its products still had valves that needed to be glued in.
To solve the problem, SprinklerWarehouse.com found an affordable way to add 360-degree Flash sequences to better show product details. That helped the retailer decrease returns from 1.9% of all sales to .6% and the dollar value of returns from 3.4% of sales to 1.2%.
Beyond taking every step to show accurate images, retailers are factoring convenience into merchandising. At teen apparel retailer Rampage.com, if a shopper is coveting a pink babydoll dress, and finds it’s out of stock, she can click a pop-up window to request an e-mail about when it or a similar product will arrive. The pop-up is already printed with a photo as well as the name, color and size of the desired product; the shopper just enters her name and e-mail address and hits "send."
Outdoors retailer Patagonia.com adds merchandising touches that show it thinks about its customer base. Product pages include details that would matter to an outdoor adventure-seeker like an item’s weight—important for campers who may have to haul it up a Colordao peak—and other important features, such as the fact a coat comes with Patagonia’s Deluge water-repellent finish.
And then there are those retailers taking merchandising to new customization extremes—offering systems designed to show shoppers only what they will love and what will fit. MyShape.com is built around such a system. It has a shopper take 11 measurements and answer questions about her style preferences, and then assigns her one of seven body shapes. MyShape then creates a personal store for her, featuring styles designed to fit, look good and jive with her style.
If that doesn’t entice a shopper to buy, it’s difficult to know what will.