September 23, 2008, 12:00 AM

Retailers can take tips from physical stores to e-commerce, study says

Consumers find better information about products in a physical store than they do from an online shop, according to a new study from E-tailing Group, a consulting firm that specializes in e-commerce.

The E-tailing Group’s 4th Annual Cross-channel Shopping study compared the experience of finding product information at multi-channel retailers’ bricks-and-mortar locations vs. their online shops. Physical stores scored a 3.98 out of 5 across the 50 items evaluated, while online stores averaged 3.05.

“Our mystery shoppers have concluded that the in-store experience is still far more robust than what one finds comparably online when stellar store associates are part of the equation,” says Lauren Freedman, president of the research group and author of the study. Specifically, in-store associates were found to be knowledgeable, courteous, and friendly. Their sales knowledge ranked 4.18 out of 5. 88% of store associates at bricks-and-mortar stores were easily accessible. Only at one mass merchant were mystery shoppers unable to find an associate.

Online stores have more room for improvement, Freedman says. For example, mystery shoppers looked at the search function on each of the retailers’ e-commerce sites. Of the sites offering search, 64% included options to refine search criteria for a more efficient search experience, Freedman notes. 70% of merchants in the study provided information on product pages, such as guides and ratings and reviews. But less than one-third of merchants with search functionality allowed shoppers to drill deeper for product information, such as quick tips or product demos. Search relevancy scored a 4.03 out of 5.

The study also found that while store locators now appear on many retailers’ sites, many don’t provide all the basic information consumers need to make a store visit, such as hours, directions and maps. Nor are consumers being enticed on store locator pages with promotions or conveniences such as saving a preferred store or checking inventory.

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