February 27, 2009, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: The future of e-retailing technology

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“Using a single hub, retailers can manage their affiliate sites more efficiently, which directly impacts customer satisfaction with those sales channels,” says Americaneagle.com’s Methling. “Consumers are shopping more frequently through these types of sites and retailers can’t afford to treat them as anything less than a full-fledged sales channel.”

Easier widgets

Further pushing the bounds of technological innovation, retailers can also take advantage of management dashboards to branch off technologies from their web sites to social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. Retailers can use the dashboard to build widgets that automatically notify customers of upcoming events, sales or the arrival of new products.

The widget can be attached to the retailer’s profile page and downloaded by the retailer’s friends within the social networking community to their profile page where it can be shared with their friends. “Viral marketing strategies through social networking sites are gaining a lot of momentum because they are a way for retailers to extend the reach of their brand and catalog beyond their web site,” Methling says.

Retailers can also use the dashboard to add videos to their profile page and create more traditional marketing plays, such as adding a link to their web site on their profile page, adds Methling.

Another example of viral marketing on social networking sites is for retailers to invite other members of the community to join their network of friends and offer a promotional code as an inducement.

ShopVisible’s platform allows retailers to attach tracking codes to each viral promotion that details such information as conversions, items purchased and dollar value of each purchase. Results can be accessed through the dashboard, which retailers can instruct to display side-by-side with results from other social networking sites where the promotion ran.

“Creating an integrated, single order management system reduces the amount of staff and time needed to analyze the data,” says Josh Lloyd, chief technology officer for ShopVisible.

Before launching any viral marketing campaign or establishing a presence on a social networking site, retailers ought to ask if the platform provider has the tools to enact such strategies.

Some key questions

Some questions retailers need to ask a platform provider before launching a marketing campaign or a social networking effort include: What control will the retailer have over managing the campaign or profile page? Can changes be made in real time and will the vendor be responsible for making changes or will the vendor provide tools to the retailer to do so? What experience does the vendor have with such projects?

“Retailers want to avoid implementing any new technology that leaves their web site and web presence in a lurch,” Methling says.

Checkout is another area where developers are upgrading the technological capabilities to help retailers remain competitive. While adding alternative payments such as Bill Me Later and eBillme can improve conversions by providing consumers with more options to pay for a purchase, retailers also need to be looking at mobile payments.

“Mobile payments are the next generation of payment technology in e-retailing and retailers will eventually have to provide it,” says ClearCommerce/Certegy’s Hazama.

Payments from web-enabled mobile devices are projected to grow to $8.6 billion in 2014, up from $389 million in 2008, according to Mercator Advisory Group. That growth potential has sparked interest among several ClearCommerce/Certegy customers to implement mobile payment applications.

“Growth in mobile payments is expected to explode and retailers not only need to be ready for it, but to properly assess the risk of those transactions, or any transaction for that matter, by looking beyond traditional risk management rules,” Hazama says.

Video is another application gaining momentum in e-retailing. Retailers are increasingly using the medium to educate consumers about product features or to demonstrate how a product works. For instance, Americaneagle.com recommended Ron Jon Surf Shop build a video message board for its site. The project is currently in development.

“Video markets a product in a way text and photos can’t,” Methling says. “Ron Jon’s asked us for this feature because customers are telling them they want content that is more compelling and they want richer features on the site. What’s more, it brings them back to do more than just shop.”

Among those richer features can be user-generated content, such as product reviews, user blogs and message boards. Once thought of as only merchandising tools, these today are both a source of compelling content for shoppers and a way to increase the visibility of a retailer’s site to search engines. “Search engines need a continuous food source and consumer-generated content is one way to give it to them,” says ShopVisible’s Cook.

Other sources of information that can be of value to shoppers and search engines are product review indexes. ShopVisible will create pages indexing customer reviews to make it easier for shoppers to find information about a desired product and give the site more relevant content that can raise its natural search ranking. Similar pages can be created for site search terms and are usually accessible under the category heading of “Most recently searched.”

“Every page we create for a web site is built with the goal of enhancing the shopping experience so shoppers can find and access the kind of compelling content they want faster and to maximize site visibility to the search engines,” Cook says.

When selecting any new technology, retailers need to check out whether the supplier has the financial resources to meet future technology needs. Retailers should especially look at the size of the vendor’s portfolio and how long the vendor has been in business.

Be technologically smart

“Shoppers aren’t going to patronize a retailer for long if their technology does not meet their expectations,” Methling says. “That’s why retailers need strong technology partners.”

While it is certain e-retailing technology will change dramatically again over the next 12 to 18 months, retailers that don’t keep pace are just as certain to fall to the back of the pack.

“A lot of new technologies are constantly coming to market and retailers that deploy them smartly will be the ones that create a shopping experience that meets customer expectations,” says ClearCommerce/Certegy’s Kuzio.

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