June 8, 2007, 12:00 AM

Keyword search, store locator top tools for buying decisions, study says

Keyword search and store locator functions are the top decision-making tools consumers use when visiting e-retailers’ web sites, says J.C. Williams Group consultant Maris Daugherty. She also cites product comparison and zoom/rotate features.

Keyword search and store locator functions are the top decision-making tools consumers use when visiting e-retailers’ web sites, according to a recent study by online market research company J.C. Williams Group. Next on the list: Product comparison and zoom/rotate features.

The study, “Transforming the Multi-channel Shopper,” found that such basic tools are essential to providing a positive online shopping experience, J.C. Williams consultant Maris Daugherty said in an educational session at this week’s Internet Retailer 2007 Conference & Exhibition in San Jose, Calif. The study was done in partnership with Start Sampling, a marketing and promotions company specializing in web-based consumer product sampling, and The e-Tailing Group Inc., an online marketing research and consulting company.

Basic tools drive basic actions. For example, Daugherty said the store locator function is “probably the most under-utilized by multi-channel retailers on a web site. A customer who goes there is probably going to walk into your store.” She urged attendees to get a marketing message on that page.

The study also found that even the least-often named web site features-gift suggestions and discussion boards/blogs-offer e-retailers guidance about tools consumers use frequently. “35% say gift suggestions help their product selection,” Daugherty said. “I challenge retailers to do that year-round; make a certain proportion of products gift-able.”

Discussion boards and blogs are here to stay and retailers need to consider different ways to use them so people of like mind can talk. “With blogs there are no secrets anymore. Consumers are talking about you out there. You can’t stop it so you have to think about it,” she added.

Hosting and monitoring blog conversation is a good way to learn about customer preferences and how well web sites are serving their needs. Similarly, customer review features enable shoppers to gain feedback on products.

The study was conducted April 10-17, 2006, with U.S. on- and offline shoppers. Of 2,472 individuals surveyed, 1,972 were online shoppers and 500 offline.

Daugherty noted the study identified three web-shopper categories, and what e-retailers need to offer them. One category is the “information-driven” shopper, who seeks content and lots of it. In the second category, the “conqueror” needs robust search functions and clear messaging. The third grouping is “browse2buy,” and is the most susceptible to suggestive selling.

The latter group offers e-retailers a “tremendous opportunity. You can influence them with the tools mentioned,” she added.

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