February 10, 2010, 12:00 AM

Retailers are turning to social media, video and faster buying, study shows

Merchants are jumping into social media and expanding use of video and quicker buying techniques, according to a study by The E-tailing Group. Its president, Lauren Freedman, will present study results at the Internet Retailer web design show next week.

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The 2009 holiday shopping season was perhaps the roughest in the history of online retailing. The wretched economy caused consumers to rein in spending and conduct more comparison shopping, hunting for the best deals.

Changing consumer behavior throughout 2009, in turn, caused retailers to try new selling and branding techniques, or augment existing ones. Three areas of change included the use of social networking, online video and streamlined purchasing, according to The E-tailing Group Inc.’s annual study of 100 online retailers.

60% of the retailers in the study featured on their e-commerce sites links to social network presences, notes Lauren Freedman, president of the research and consulting firm. Freedman will be speaking at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference, Feb. 15-17 in Orlando, FL, in a session entitled Lessons from Holiday 2009.

“Right now social is very top of mind for merchants, but it’s an R&D; issue to understand how social works, what its role is in driving customer engagement and what it will deliver in return on investment,” Freedman says. “The biggest impact social will have will be on engagement with the brand. I am skeptical about its ability to deliver sales, which in the end is what marketing has to do.”

The study also found that 61% of retailers present video guides-for branding or how-to, for example-throughout their sites. This is up from 49% in 2008.

“Last year there was more use of video at the experiential level from a branding perspective like a fashion show or leveraging YouTube to show how to decorate your house for the holidays, as well as video on product pages,” Freedman says. “Video is a growth area. The customer likes it, it’s not expensive to produce and present, and it gives customers more confidence to buy.”

Another area of growth is in enabling shoppers to add products directly to shopping carts-without having to go to a product page-at various points throughout the customer experience, such as within the shopping cart for recommended products, on products shown on category pages and next to site search results. 62% of merchants have what The E-tailing Group calls “fast-buy” functionality, up from 39% in 2008.

“This speaks to the notion of efficiency-make everything faster and easier,” Freedman says. “Retailers are making it easy for people to take extra items really quickly and not have to go through the product page.”

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