January 25, 2012, 4:41 PM

E-retailers improve site navigation

The E-tailing Group also finds more focus on mobile and social commerce.

Lead Photo

More retailers are enhancing their e-commerce navigation tools, and also are more focused on mobile commerce and social media than a year ago, according to new data released today from The E-tailing Group Inc.

The research firm’s 14th annual Mystery Shopping Study was conducted during the fourth quarter of 2011 and focused on the site features and functions of 100 larger e-commerce web sites across 13 consumer product categories.

The study showed that 74% of retailers have drop-down or fly-out menus in their navigation bars, up from 64% in 2010. Also, more retailers are allowing shoppers to use advanced search, as 39% of retailers now have this feature, compared with 21% in 2010. The report did not define advanced search.

Retailers are also adding site features that aid shoppers with their product research. For example, 74% of retailers have product or how-to guides available to site visitors, compared with 64% in 2010. “An increase in the number of guides and how-to content is notable, particularly on the product page,” says the report’s author, Lauren Freedman. “Here, too, video plays a key role, enlightening and educating shoppers prior to purchase. Year over year, the quality of both store and product locators has greatly improved with more information and merchandising forthcoming.”

Faced with consumer brand partners who are increasingly selling online to consumers, retailers are working to differentiate themselves in ways that go beyond free shipping offers, such as highlighting particular brand offerings, exclusive products or the latest trends. 84% of retailers allow consumers to shop by brand (compared to 75% in 2010), for example, and 79% allow shoppers to refine search results by brand (up from 64% in 2010).

“Although ‘creative’ free-shipping is a differentiating element, ranging from unconditional to a specific dollar threshold, merchants are making moves to set themselves apart from the competition beyond a reliance on promotional tactics, which appears to be an everyday occurrence,” Freedman says. “Showcasing brands is a primary means by which merchants are distinguishing themselves.”

Retailers are also increasingly adding social media functions to their sites. The Facebook Like button appeared on 71% of e-commerce sites studied, compared with 36% in the previous study in 2010, and 95% of retailers provide a link to social networks, versus 83% in 2010.

About half of the retailers’ Facebook pages allow some form of shopping, but only 16% of merchants enable shoppers to complete their purchase within the network, with the rest linking back to their e-commerce sites where the consumer can check out.

Mobile strategies are advancing quickly, too, as the study found that 78% of retailers had a mobile-optimized site compared with 44% in 2010. 66% had mobile apps available this year; the study did not measure that in 2010.

“Our Mystery Shopping Study confirms that merchants are concurrently refining online tactics to find, inform, personalize and connect with improved speed and efficiency, while diligently developing social and mobile initiatives,” Freedman says. “The ultimate goal must be to deliver a channel-agnostic shopping experience whereby the consumer can seamlessly migrate from the physical store to their channel-of-choice based on shopping dilemmas and desires.”

Freedman will be speaking at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012 in June in Chicago in a session entitled “What shoppers want: Listening in on the consumer voice.

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