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That said, who’s winning the stickiness derby among retailers? In May figures from MediaMetrix, for example, Coldwatercreek.com ranked tops among apparel sites, with the average visitor spending 18 minutes per usage month. JCPenney.com followed closely with visitors spending an average 17.2 minutes, and iTurf.com sites came in third at an average 15.7 minutes.
In looking at what kills stickiness even at a content-rich site, many consultants say speed, or lack of it, ranks at the top. “The reason people leave sites is primarily because they’re slow,” says Alan Benick, an analyst with the Boston-based Yankee Group.
Yet until recently, Akamai and other content distributors such as I-beam, Adero, Digital River and others have been serving up speed to support entertainment sites more than retail sites, where the use of rich media isn’t yet as widely established. But that will change as broadband access spreads out to home shoppers. “If things were to go on exactly as they are now there’d be little need for it,” Kaldor says. “We’d all be delivering very small streams, which could be handled effectively out of a central server. The content distributors are getting ready for when everyone has high speed access.”
Take a bite out of bytes
But already, as the experience of eBags demonstrates, page download speed is being viewed as key in an increasingly image-heavy shopping environment. In a recent report, “The Need for Speed,” Redwood City, Calif.-based Zona Research cited bail-out rates of more than 50% on slow-loading pages of more than 70Kb; and about 30% for 40Kb pages.
“That might not be an issue for me if I’m at work with a high-speed connection, but if I’m on a dial-up modem from home, that’s significant,” says Benick. In fact, with about two-thirds of home users connecting to the Internet at modem speeds of either 28.8 or 56Kb, it’s an issue for most home shoppers, which makes it a problem for e-merchants as well. Zona has estimated that e-commerce sites lose as much as $362 million in sales per month due to slow page downloads and shopper bail outs. If that number is correct, recovering all those lost carts might increase Internet retailers’ sales by 10%.
Page design-specifically, limiting byte budgets-is one way to speed up download times, as is spreading content distribution to other servers. But speed and its technological underpinning are only one peg of site stickiness’ three-legged stool. Leg Two? Navigability; which includes the increasingly popular personalization features that mine information about users’ preferences to present a customized face to each regular visitor. “You’re going to go back to a site if every time you’re there, they seem to know exactly what you want, regardless of the fact that you may be really irritated that they’re collecting information on you,” says Jilani Zerebi, principal analyst at Current Analysis, a Sterling, Va.-based market research firm.
The third leg is content, and lots of it. For retail sites, that means not only product assortment, pricing and shipping, but also other features meaningful to the customer that go way beyond shopping. A Jupiter Communications survey of 50 most-visited sites-including retail and others-found that most of them employed features to increase stickiness, giving visitors reasons to stay at the site longer and to visit several times a day. Some 60% of the top sites offered chat, for example, while half offered email and more than a third offered games.
But again, retailers should tread carefully-browsing is good, but it depends on what kind. If shoppers spend 10 minutes in a brick-and-mortar store, they’ll be exposed to merchandise and sales, and the chance that they’ll make an impulse purchase goes up. The same principle can work on the web-browsing a site can lead to purchasing-but not if visitors are spending their time at the site browsing free email.
So how do e-retailers pick content that promotes the kind of stickiness that can lead to sales? The key for retail sites, say industry consultants, is to select content that always keeps visitors in an engaged, potential shopping mode, and e-retailers are finding some creative ways to do it.
“Our research shows people will spend more than twice as much time in a shopping environment when there’s more information there for them to use in making their decision,” says Kaldor. Specifically, he adds, “We’ve seen significant increased usage when you offer the ability for people to talk to other people about products.”
It’s about time
That’s community, and here’s a sample of how it works for retail sites: Watches rule at Ashford.com, which offers among other luxury goods some 10,000 new and vintage-model timepieces. The Houston-based e-retailer knew that community could ultimately boost commerce-so it bought a community. Last October, it acquired the world’s largest online community site for high-end watch enthusiasts, TimeZone.com, and linked it directly to the watch area of Ashford.com. “We’re always looking for ways to incorporate more content into our site that will add to our customers’ experience-in a way that will make them want to purchase from Ashford,” says Mary Lou Kelley, Ashford’s vice president of marketing. TimeZone got souped-up technology and support from Ashford to speed and streamline site navigation, thus helping the community grow. Ashford got an entrée into TimeZone’s community of some 80,000 watch collectors, including prominent placement on the community’s front page of a “Cool Click” icon that links back to featured items at Ashford.
Kelley won’t disclose numbers, but says that giving Ashford watch shoppers click-through access to community members at TimeZone who will swap unedited information and opinions with those weighing expensive watch purchases increases shopper confidence. “We believe that has an impact on conversion,” says Kelly. “Giving people the opportunity to get more involved and giving them more content that directly relates to the purchase they’re considering become a major point of stickiness for the Ashford site.”