Retail merchandising is about maximising sales by promoting the right goods, at the right time and in the right place. In the real world, it uses eye-catching displays of well-chosen products and well-timed promotions. Online, it’s increasingly about encouraging customer feedback, providing excellent product information and maximising social media – tactics that the leaders in this Dimension skilfully employ
#1: Encourage reviews and ratings
Not every customer has the time or inclination to write a review or give a star rating for every purchase, yet such feedback can be key in informing the purchasing decisions of others. According to a study by the Pew Research Centre, 82% of US adults either sometimes or always read online reviews and ratings before buying. The habit is most pronounced among younger shoppers, with 53% of the 18-29 age group ‘always’ and a further 43% ‘sometimes’ reading reviews and ratings. Of the adults who ‘always’ read reviews, almost two-thirds (65%) believed that they give an accurate picture, with this picture reversed with the ‘sometimes’ readers, where 61% find it hard
to tell if reviews are truthful or biased.
Almost all the Top50 customers encourage reviews – some more successfully than others. Having an excessively large number of unrated products with the encouragement to “write the first review” may be acceptable with new or
fast-moving stock lines but hardly adds credibility for discounted products already labelled as having ‘low stock’, as at Getthelabel.com [IRDX RGTL]. Similarly, having too many reviews (some sites list 900 or more) takes it to the opposite extreme, since the earliest are unlikely ever to be read. Research involving hotel sites suggests that reviews older than three months tend to be ignored.
Some sites compromise by providing an average rating for all reviews and most also provide the number of reports contributing to a star rating, which certainly reduces the significance of all those five stars based on a single review. Others adopt more meaningful metrics. Homebase [IRDX RHMB] usefully collates reviews to give an overall percentage for how many contributors would “recommend the product to a friend”, while John Lewis [IRDX RJLW] provides simple graphics to encourage shoppers reading reviews to report whether they find the information useful or not, producing an overall tally of reactions.
#2: Remember basic merchandising skills
High street retailers have always put great emphasis on visual merchandising, presenting their products in store as attractively as possible. Supermarkets display linked products – pasta sauces next to dried pasta, for example – while fashion retailers dress a display with accessories to encourage add-on purchases. Not all online retailers apply these techniques to the same extent though.
Coast provides a range of ‘You may also like…’ accessories and alternatives on its product pages, while Figleaves [IRDX RFLC] adds ‘Complete the look’ suggestions, such as fluffy slippers to go with cosy pyjamas. Yours Womenswear [IRDX RYOU] provides ‘Complete the outfit’ ideas, detailing the shoes, jewellery and additional garments worn by each of its models, as well as additional styling suggestions. Similar add-on items are less common among non-clothing sites, although Bathstore [IRDX RBAT] does add a stream of ‘Spares’ associated with its larger items.
#3: Let your customers speak for you
Reviews and ratings are all very well but sometimes shoppers want a little more information. Providing live chat or FAQs can work but increasingly, would-be customers want validation from another owner. This seems especially true when it comes to buying equipment or toys for children. Early Learning Centre [IRDX RELC] provides a well-used ‘Ask an owner’ option, with existing customers providing detailed answers to practical questions. The approach adds credence to the products on offer since owners voluntarily cite real experiences of using products with their own toddlers. ELC also provides an extremely long and detailed choice of FAQs – running to 14 pages of drop-down menus – while lingering on a web page for too long prompts a live-chat pop-up asking if you need help.
#4: Tell them how good you are
While reviews and ratings may help guide buying decisions, they’re unlikely to provide feedback on a retailer’s efficiency or levels of customer service. Richer Sounds [IRDX RRIC] takes a novel approach by recommending its support staff. These are featured with photographs and profiles on its customer service page, along with Shane the office dog. Richer Sounds also uses a series of scanned ‘thank you’ letters from customers under the heading “Don’t take our word for it: click the letters to see some of the kind messages we’ve received from our customers”. The letters are anonymised, so an improvement to add credibility may be to add a date plus the region they were sent from.
#5: Don’t leave them floundering…
All etailers are well aware that good search tools are vital for customers as they hunt for purchases, often clicking through several sites to find that must-have item. Present customers with ‘no results’ and they’ll probably head straight for a different site. Yet provide relevant alternatives and they may linger.
The key, of course, is relevance. Many use predictive text to second-guess what the customer is looking for. Key “tie pin” into Moss Bros’ [IRDX RMOS] search box and its suggestions include “pink ties” or even a “burgundy bow tie” but not the obvious alternative of a “tie bar” which Moss Bros does sell. Cycle Surgery [IRDX RCYS] takes a similarly vague approach, although a neat pop-up panel does show images of the items suggested. “Bicycle clips” are clearly an outdated concept and produce an immediate ‘no results’, but type “clips” and the predictive text offerings work their way through clothing ideas for “cl” and finally comes up with three pictures of spare parts.
Victorian Plumbing’s [IRDX RVIP] ‘no results’ page has a friendly message apologising for a failure to find anything and asks the shopper to check spelling, limit search to a more generic term, or “Please try again”, accompanied by an inviting new search box. This approach at least encourages a second attempt and is rather better than the off-putting ‘no results’ statement more often encountered.
Among the Top 50, InternetRetailing’s researchers identified 38% scoring well for ‘no results page not blank’. They included American Golf [IRDX RAMG], Appliances Direct [IRDX RAPD], Coast [IRDX RCOA], Hornby [IRDX RHRN], Long Tall Sally [IRDX RLTS], Merlin Cycles [IRDX RMLC], PC World [IRDX RPCW] and Yours Womenswear.
#6: …or try to be too prescriptive
Second guessing may sometimes work but providing excessive search filtration and a limited choice of terms to search by isn’t always the answer for delivering relevance. Electrical goods retailer, Ao.com [IRDX RAOC], provides a large search filtration panel on its home page that asks shoppers to specify product type, version, price range, brand or colour initially before showing how many items come into that category. However, its prompts don’t cover every possible equipment choice. For example, using the search panel doesn’t provide the option of identifying a “spiralizer” and the closest is the different product “chopper or grater”, suggesting to the shopper that the company doesn’t stock these fashionable kitchen utensils. Yet key “spiralizer” into Ao’s rather more discreet search box at the top of the page and thee such items pop up immediately. So providing suitable search prompts can be helpful but only as long as in doing so, the entire product range remains on offer.
#7: Flaunt your brands
While some retailers are purely own label, the vast majority sell branded merchandise – be that designer fashion, the latest must-have running kit, or premium electricals. Customers may be more interested in these labels than in the retailer offering them. Enabling customers to search and filter by brand seems an obvious customer-friendly function to offer. Of the Top500, just under half support filtering search results by brand.
Long Tall Sally offers ‘brands’ as one of its header pull down menus along with ‘clothing’, ‘shoes’, ‘what’s new’ and some styling and editorial options. The Fragrance Shop [IRDX RFRA] also adds ‘brands’ to its header choices, while Figleaves [IRDX RFLC] is one of several that provide a list of brands in the pull down menu choices for different product groups in its landing page headers.
#8: Provide accessible quality content
While some shoppers may know precisely what they want and zone straight in on a specific item, others will spend time on research, possibly visiting several sites to compare products, ratings or prices before buying.
Providing good quality content not only assures shoppers of a retailer’s knowledge and competence but can also encourage loyalty and repeat purchases. According to Ed Bussey, [IR online newsletter, 12 May 2017] founder and chief executive at content specialists, Quill, “Informative product descriptions can increase conversion rates by as much as 78%.”
Studies also suggest that incomplete product information is often blamed for failure to purchase. “Ultimately,” says Bussey, “55% of shoppers visit a retailer’s website to research products before buying, which puts primary content second only to customer reviews as a source of information.” Top retailers generally take this message to heart, using online magazines, video product demonstrations or advice centres to reinforce their expertise.
Pets at Home [IRDX RPAT] puts ‘Pet advice’ on its header, with the click through providing a raft of specialist information that covers all types of pets and all possible problems. Cycle Surgery [IRDX RCYS] offers ‘Advice and inspiration’ as an option on its home page. Similarly, Marks & Spencer [IRDX RMAS] puts ‘Inspire me’ in pole position among its landing page headers.
Mothercare [IRDX RMOC] gives plenty of product information with every item and includes specific buying guides and safety advice information where applicable in each of its category menus. As Mothercare’s chief executive, Mark Newton-Jones, said in his latest annual review, “Our focus on content and enhancing the customer journey is helping to support conversion rates.”
While Debenhams [IRDX RDEB] has ‘Our style debrief’ that offers information on the latest trends, its eye-catching click-through button is tucked away right at the bottom of the landing page among the usual dreary lists of basic information.
#9: Highlight best sellers
While fewer UK sites use best-seller ribbons than many in Europe, most highlight their best-selling items in other ways. Merlin Cycles puts lists and images of both special offers and best sellers on its landing page, while Pavers [IRDX RPAV] features trending items there as well. It also adds a ‘What other customers are looking at right now’ stream, while ‘Most popular products in this collection’ are highlighted within each product group. Many others, including those as diverse as Boots [IRDX RBOO], Home Essentials [IRDX RHOE], Thomson & Morgan [IRDX RTMO], and Yours Clothing, allow merchandise to be listed in best-seller order as well as by price, newness and so on.
#10: Make promotions obvious…
Everyone likes a bargain and in retailing, these are no longer confined to the traditional twice-yearly clearance sales. While ‘sale’ is a popular menu item at certain times of year, shoppers are just as likely to search for the types of product that interest them and then start to compare prices. Beaverbrooks [IRDX RBEA] adds neat little symbols to its product catalogue declaring such things as ‘save’, ‘offer’ or ‘I’m new’. The Fragrance Shop adds its basic offers to its landing page, as well as including ‘offers’ as a menu choice in its header choices, as does Victorian Plumbing. Marks & Spencer similarly highlights its current offers on the landing page header – such as “20% off school uniforms”, “Up to 40% off outdoor and conservatories” and “New wine offers” – while L’Occitaine [IRDX ROCC] includes ‘sale’, ‘offers’ and whichever seasonal promotional event is relevant in its headers.
#11: Share with friends…
Shopping, in the real world, is a sociable activity made even more so in recent years thanks to such in-store digital technology as magic mirrors. Online customers also want to share their purchases with friends or perhaps ask for a second opinion before pressing the ‘buy’ button. Amazon has been a leader in this field with its prompts to share details of any purchases with friends. Several sites enable shoppers to share items they Like, regardless of whether they have bought them or not, via social media. Pavers provides direct click-throughs to share on Facebook, tweet, ‘pin it’ or ‘fancy’ any individual product. As well as Pavers, InternetRetailing’s researchers singled out Early Learning Centre, Footasylum [IRDX RFAS], Bathstore, Urban Outfitters [IRDX RURB], getthelabel.com, Pets at Home, Hotel Chocolat, Toys R Us [IRDX RTOY], Home Essential and Richer Sounds for their approaches to social media.
#12: …and consider a wishlist
Shoppers also want to provide friends and family with information about the items they’d like to have and gift and wish lists are available on many of the top sites. Mothercare provides both, regarding the ‘gift list’ as something customers can compile for a special event – Christmas, baby shower, etc – and then make available to others, while the ‘wishlist’ is described as a “personal shopping list”. However, wish lists can be public, which slightly blurs the differentiation. Links to both gift and wishlists are clearly available in the header of the landing page.
Holland & Barrett [IRDX RHOL] allows shoppers to list their ‘Favourites’ – again linked from a header on the landing page, while Bathstore has ‘myBathroom’, where favourite items can be stored for future reference. Figleaves is another offering a wish list function, which can either be maintained as a private shopping list or shared with friends and family. However, the link is way down at the bottom of the landing page included in the usual text lists of account, delivery, site map and other miscellaneous information. If you are going to offer such services, then they really should be made very obvious.
Mentioned in this piece…
GetTheLabel is an on-line website offering footwear, clothing and accessories for men, women and children.
Bathstore is a bathroom retailer with 170 stores across the UK and a comprehensive multichannel offering. Customers with Bathstore receive the same experience whether visiting a store or flicking through the brochure on a tablet or mobile. The site supports the booking of an in-store face-to-face consultation. (more…)
Founded in 1978, Richer Sounds is a British home entertainment retailer that operates online and through a chain of 53 stores distributed across the United Kingdom. The business is 100% owned by Julian Richer, the founder and managing director of the company.
Products include hi-fi, home cinema and TV equipment. (more…)
Hornby Hobbies Ltd operates a number of hobby-related webstores, primarily Hornby Railways, a model railway retailer.
Hornby is a household name and is famous as the UK brand leader in the model railway hobby. The company’s founder was Frank Hornby (1863 – 1936) who applied for a patent in 1901 to protect an invention he called ‘Improvements in Toy or Educational Devices for Children and Young People’. (more…)
Long Tall Sally is a clothing label for tall women 5’8″ and over.
Welcome to your first stop in fashionable, flattering clothing for women 5’8″ (173cm) and above.
Long Tall Sally is a clothing label for tall women 5’8″ and over.
In 2009 Long Tall Sally partnered with Tall Girl to create the ultimate fashion destination for Tall. Together they combine over 50 years of experience, in making tall women look their very best.
Their accompanying range of footwear is also carefully designed for larger sized feet and they also carry a fantastic range of fashion forward brands.
AO.com (formerly Appliances Online) was the first website of parent group DRL Limited who also sell kitchen appliances through partnerships with Boots, Next, House of Fraser, B&Q and Iceland. In 2009 ao.com acquired distribution company Expert Logistics enabling it to deliver its own products. (more…)
Toys R Us (stylised as Toys Я Us) is a dedicated toy and juvenile-products retailer. The company operates more than 872 Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores in the United States, more than 715 international stores and over 180 licensed stores in 35 countries and jurisdictions. (more…)