September 20, 2007, 12:00 AM

Merchandising to win higher conversion rates

Best-in-class merchants are improving the customer experience with rich media, community features and customized shopping pages, says a new study from The E-Tailing Group presented at this week.

Best-in-class merchants are improving the customer experience with rich media, community features and customized shopping pages, Lauren Freedman, president of Chicago-based The E-Tailing Group Inc., said while moderating a panel of executives from eBags, Orvis and Quill on “Merchandising for Conversion” at the conference this week.

Although online merchants surveyed by The E-Tailing Group cited an increase in targeted e-mail marketing programs as the most popular initiative for improving e-commerce, merchants also rated highly efforts such as adding or improving site search, enhancing merchandising features, site redesigns/upgrades, content development and cross-selling features.

Indeed, 77% of consumers surveyed by The E-Tailing Group said they were “somewhat to very” significantly influenced in online purchasing decisions by the quality of online content. Among the online features ranked highest by shoppers in making purchasing decisions, in descending order of importance: Customer reviews and ratings on products, lists of top consumer-rated products; Customer-supplied photos of products; retailer-supplied list of top-selling products; customer-supplied videos of products in use; blogs including news or commentary about a retailer.

It’s also important, however, to keep products pages attractive and easy to use, members of the panel said. EBags, which features more than 450 brands on, caters to the styling preferences of its brand partners (such as the luxury bag brand Tumi, which prefers to have white space around its products) while also making sure that shoppers find it easy to find information on product details such as available colors and customer ratings regarding durability and value.

Taking steps to make shopping simple and time-consuming is also important, retailers said. “We keep going back to the drawing boards to make things tighter,” said Brad Wolansky, director of e-commerce, The Orvis Co. Inc., an online retailer of outdoor sports gear and apparel. “Do new functionality only where it will increase conversion,” he said. Projects that have increased conversion, he added, are like-item substitutions, preview of personalized products, a streamlined catalog quick-order feature, and information on special sale events.

Dan Spellman, merchandising director, Quill Corp., a unit of Staples Inc., said Quill has learned to improve service to its mostly b2b customers by providing features such as strong free-shipping messages, cross-selling options and a feature for quickly re-ordering from lists of past purchases.

Peter Cobb, co-founder and senior vice president of eBags, said it’s important to watch how shoppers are spending their time with interactive features and whether such features are cutting into purchasing activity. “Customers can get so excited about interactivity that they get caught up in rating products and then leave the site,” he said.

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