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GUEST COMMENT Online retailers are losing sales by neglecting their primary content

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Back when I was part of the team building, it became clear that we were beating bricks-and-mortar competitors because we offered online shoppers something they couldn’t: unparalleled choice. We gave customers access to more brands and more products in more sizes and colours than offline retailers did at that time. Gradually, however, we started to see conversion rates fall in some categories, due to the ‘paradox of choice’ – the tipping point at which customers become so overwhelmed by options and that they make no decision at all. A customer coming to our website and searching for ‘swimwear’ would see over 500 results, with no clear guidance on what to buy. What we were missing was the online equivalent of a shop assistant; the content that helps consumers make informed purchase decisions.

Today this issue is still prevalent. Online retailers are losing sales because the content their customers really need at the point of purchase – such as product/category descriptions, how-to videos, buying guides and localised content – is often not fit for purpose. We call such content “Primary Content”, owing to its critical placement at the end of the customer journey, where browsers become buyers. Yet it’s often viewed by marketers as a secondary priority to content higher up the funnel.

While great advertising will often persuade people to visit a website, a slick campaign alone is not enough to drive sales. Consumers ultimately won’t make a purchase if the on-site product descriptions or buying guides are uninformative, not localised to their market or altogether absent.

Given the huge choice available to consumers – accessing millions of products that can’t be seen, touched or worn, via the screens in our pockets – it’s even more important that Primary Content fills the gaps that online can’t address. To illustrate: product descriptions effectively replicate the function of the fitting room (or showroom) by describing the look, fit and feel of products, while in-depth guides on how and why to use a product fulfils the role of sales assistant.

Time and again Quill witnesses poor content on retailers’ websites, often drafted by less experienced, junior staff, undermining the shopping experience on all devices across the purchase funnel. Many retailers are instead preoccupied with the award winning “hero” content at the earlier stages of the customer journey, without taking much or any account of the fact that their Primary Content directly impacts ROI on all marketing activity higher up the funnel.

Ultimately, failure to invest in Primary Content results in lost sales and reduces average order values. We estimate that UK retailers are wasting 100’s of millions on advertising campaigns, driving consumers to sub-optimal Primary Content that won’t convert browsers into buyers. At a time when ad blockers and general ad blindness are impacting performance, the need for strong content on retailers’ websites becomes even more critical.

Primary Content may not be as exciting as your latest ad campaign, but it’s no less important, when you consider its impact on revenue:

1. Increased conversion rates

Research shows that informative product descriptions can increase conversion rates by as much as 78%. Similarly, 75% of consumers say they are more likely to make a purchase after watching a video that explains what they are buying.

If you consider this for a moment, it’s an astounding opportunity. If you’re an online retailer with a £1m turnover, even a tiny percentage increase in your conversion rates is an extremely lucrative return.

The challenge for any online retailer when crafting product or category descriptions, or producing an informative video, is to fill in the gaps in the customer experience. A study by Nielsen Norman Group found that one in five customers who failed to make a purchase when shopping online blamed incomplete product information.

The nature of ecommerce has forced brands to adapt to the realities of selling digitally. A customer might need to know if a product is a tight or loose fit or how the material feels, for example. The more informed someone is, the more likely they are to part with their cash and the less likely they are to return an item because it doesn’t meet their expectations.

A baby care retailer might, for example, provide in-depth details of relevant accessories when new parents purchase a pram. A fashion store could talk about current style trends. Ultimately, 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. Yet, when Quill conducted a Primary Content audit of leading online European retailers, we found that just 18% offer a broad range of high-quality guides for customers.

2. Improved search rankings and organic traffic

Category descriptions play a large role in driving higher search rankings, both for generic search terms (e.g. jeans) and long-tail terms that show a high buying intent (e.g. brown cargo pants size 8). We know that Page 1 results on Google net around 95% of all search traffic, so it’s mission critical for e-tailers who want to be found – and I’ve yet to meet one that doesn’t – to optimise their category pages for maximum visibility with relevant, unique and high quality content. Yet, again our audits showed that just 15% have fully optimised category description content for SEO. This is a huge wasted revenue opportunity.

3. Larger basket sizes and reduced product returns

Convincing consumers to spend more, whether on higher value items or more items, is another key retail challenge – and in a hyper-competitive online environment, the way retailers use words matters. How much more might a customer spend if instead of ‘Long black woollen scarf’ they read ‘a sumptuous, knee-length black scarf, made from 100% Tibetan cashmere’? Buying guides and videos can also be used to cross-sell other complementary accessories.

Of particular relevance given today’s consumer behaviour, Primary Content isn’t just capable of boosting revenue, but it can also diminish return rates. When many e-tailers are boosting sales with generous returns policies, the costs of high return rates can hurt their bottom line. 43% of consumers say that they have returned a clothing item they ordered online due to “poor fit”, and we see comprehensive product descriptions drastically lowering this figure.

The challenge for e-tailers

The overall content landscape is incredibly complex and, although consumers may well be ‘always on’, they are also easily distracted, making it difficult to cut through. They are interacting with brands via multiple channels and devices at different times of the day and in various locations.

We see brand-led content on TV, online advertising and across social media and email. Yet where the money is really made is in high volume, evergreen, accurate, informative, compelling and brand-compliant Primary Content at the end of the conversion funnel. Unless your Primary Content is optimised, the rest is just noise.

Ed Bussey is founder and chief executive at Quill.

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