December 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Supplement: How to make technology investments pay off

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QR codes, which are two-dimensional bar codes consisting of black areas arranged in a square pattern on a white background, can be captured by smartphones with a camera. Once the image is captured, the QR code reader application on the phone scans the image and connects the user through the phone’s web browser to a product information page on the retailer’s web site.

“One of the advantages of QR codes is that they can link the consumer directly to the retailer’s web site, rather than to a page of links to other retailers’ sites containing information about the same product,” says hybris’ Keating. “Mobile commerce can be the glue that binds the web store, the retail store and the mobile channel.”

While smartphone apps that directly link the consumer to a retailer’s m-commerce site are gaining popularity, they are most appealing to frequent visitors to the site.

“The less frequent the shopper, the less appeal a mobile app has to that consumer,” says Keating. “Retailers should be adding mobile technology options their customers will use frequently, even if they just want to check a price.”

As part of its product suite hybris offers applications for m-commerce, e-commerce, multichannel commerce, product content management, customer service and print catalogs. Each application can run independently or in conjunction with the other applications, allowing retailers to upgrade their platform one module at a time.

Connecting with customers

Since the goals of m-commerce shoppers can differ from those of consumers shopping the PC-based Internet, online surveys are an effective tool for determining how to satisfy shoppers’ needs and deliver a consistent shopping experience.

“Surveying consumers at the end of the user experience generates information that clarifies their intent for visiting the site, whether the site allowed them to meet their objectives and their level of satisfaction with the site,” says ForeSee Results’ Freed.

Retailers don’t want to be playing follow the leader in emerging arenas like mobile commerce and social media, he adds.

“Copying what competitors are doing is not the best solution, because competitors may be guessing what works,” says Freed. “The best way to learn how to satisfy consumer needs in these channels is to ask what has influenced their behavior and about their satisfaction with the shopping experience.”

ForeSee Results provides services and technology that measure satisfaction with the user experience in the context of how customers use a web site and what they intend to do as a result of a visit. ForeSee Results’ customer satisfaction scores help retailers understand which areas need to be addressed to improve the experience for specific customer segments or for all site visitors.

With retailers scrambling to establish a social media strategy and struggling to measure its impact, online surveys are an effective way to measure the sales driven by social media.

“Consumers influenced by social media to visit a retailer’s web site have an average order size that is 35% higher than consumers not influenced by social media,” says Freed. “The key to understanding how social media impacts conversion rates is not to look at the referring URL, but to ask consumers how social media brought them to the retailer’s site.”

The viral nature of social media means that consumers will talk among themselves and refer friends to a retailer’s fan page or a retailer’s Twitter posting that contains a link to a sales event or product landing page.

“Just because the consumer may come to the retailer’s site through a fan page or a Twitter post doesn’t mean they were directly influenced by the retailer’s social media strategy,” says Freed. “A large part of social media is still driven by word of mouth and e-mail referrals by friends, so retailers need to ask consumers if they are following social media or were referred by a friend.”

Planning for growth

To take advantage of opportunities in social media and the overall growth in Internet commerce, many retailers say they are planning upgrades to their web sites. But they don’t all have large technology budgets. Retailers looking to stretch their technology dollars must consider making use of existing tech tools, such as analytics.

Translating web analytics into useful insights remains a significant challenge for most retailers. “One question retailers should ask themselves as part of any planned technology upgrade is: Are they getting the most out of their analytics packages,” says Ai’s Schmelkin. “Many retailers don’t always understand what metrics they ought to be looking at or collecting.”

Schmelkin recommends retailers step back and break down conversions on a micro level, such as by section, product category and even time of day, as opposed to the overall number of visitors that convert.

“Once retailers identify areas within the site and times of day that deliver better conversion rates, they can look at the factors behind why conversion rates are so good for those segments and apply what works there to other areas of the web site,” explains Schmelkin. “Retailers on a budget should also be reexamining which keywords generate the best conversion rates.”

In addition to site design, Ai helps retailers create social networking strategies, provides rich media such as streaming video, and develops mobile commerce applications.

Retailers on a tight budget might also want to look at improving product content management, because that can be done in stages. “Retailers don’t have to improve all their product data at once, they can do it in batches of a thousand products or by segments, such as best sellers,” says hybris’ Keating.

In addition to the many site technologies retailers can choose from, they also face decisions about whether it makes more sense to license the application and operate it in-house or turn to a software-as-service (SaaS) vendor. While each option has advantages, retailers must ask how their business can benefit from each option.

“SaaS makes sense for retailers when they don’t want to build an I.T. staff from scratch or have their existing I.T. staff support specialized applications, such as site search or customer reviews,” says Schmelkin. “Two big benefits of SaaS applications are that retailers can be up and running on them in a few weeks and vendors provide regular upgrades.”

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