Keeping up Appearances
Wherever products are on display, merchandising is key to selling products. But new markets bring new challenges, says Chloe Rigby
How do you display goods so that they will sell in different countries? It’s a deceptively simple question that goes far beyond what photographs to use on a website. For displaying goods online is not only about what they look like. It’s about how they’re showcased on the home page and the order in which they appear in search results.
What matters when customers are making a buying decision is not only how a product appears, but that its appearance is relevant to their search. Show the wrong goods and the customer will leave. But get it right and they’ll return again and again.
Indeed, according to Jean-Charles Mairesse, France sales director for merchandising software specialist Fredhopper , getting merchandising right can give UK retailers a real advantage. In France, for example, he says technology adoption is generally around 18 months to two years behind the UK. He cites the currently accepted practice in that market that goods on 90 per cent of websites appear in search results in order of price, either ascending or descending. “That’s fine, but it’s not the most efficient way to generate revenue and to encourage the visitor to buy,” he says. “You can go further and instead of ranking by price, rank by behaviour and customer recommendation. You can take into account Facebook ‘likes’ and so on to create a new way of ranking information – that’s increasingly a significant key to the market and revenue on the website.” So just because something is ‘the way it’s done’ in a certain market, doesn’t mean UK retailers should slavishly follow local customs. New technologies that are standard best practice for ecommerce retailers at home can confer a real advantage in developing international markets.
WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
Showing off the goods starts with images. Clear photographs that help consumers to understand what it is they’ll be getting if they buy this product are key in any market. “The old mantra that a picture tells a thousands words is important vmore than ever in ecommerce and online sales,” says David Brint of imaging specialists SpinMe. “If you’ve got a very, very clear image that portrays all the facets of the products, the terminology and the wording become less important, because the consumer, whether they are Spanish, French or German, can make a decision because they can see all aspects of the product.”
Using 360-degree or 3D imagery, for example, allows the customer to examine an item in detail. In the case of a laptop, for example, the customer can spin it round, open it up and zoom in. Video can show the item in action. All this “means the customer needs to ask less questions about the products because they can see the answers,” says Brint. “You can see how many ports there and the configuration of the keys.”
While ‘neutral’ items such as a laptop or a men’s bag or even shoes are straightforward simply to show off well on an international website, different factors come in to play with images of other kinds of goods. In the UK, for example, fashion clothing is generally shown on a model. What those models looks like may vary from country to country, but cultural variations can go far beyond that, says Mo Syed, head of user experience at Amplience . “Those kinds of products have an element of art direction within the way those assets are produced,” he says.
“There are a lot of style cues, lifestyle cues, brand cues that are wrapped up in the assets around them. You’re not just representing the product but everything around those products, the lifestyle that goes with them.
“With a premium brand you’re selling that just as much as you’re selling the product itself. The function of the asset is not just to represent a product as to represent all the stuff around the product, the brand as a whole.”
Thus, international brands may use images to show exactly what they represent in each market. “The classic,” says Syed, “is a brand that is premium in one region and mid-range in another. The kind of art direction in those two places might be very different or there might be regional conventions on how you shoot those products.”
SEASONAL VARIATIONS ACROSS REGIONS
As well as regional conventions, there are also more everyday realities to reflect in the site. In the customer engagement (page 30) and strategy (page 26) features we look at the importance of language. There are other constants to bear in mind when merchandising a site. When wintry cold weather keeps people in Northern Europe and the UK indoors, those viewing a New Zealand or Australian site might be baking in high temperatures. The products on sale, and the way they’re promoted, will be very different for any retailers who experience seasonal variation, from fashion to travel companies.
“We work with Asos who merchandised their winter collection very differently in Australia from the content they’d have in the UK at the same time of year,” says Allyson Tremblay, UK country manager for Fredhopper.
Meanwhile, in different countries in the world different seasons may bring different special days and festivities. For example, in southern European countries such as Spain and Italy, the Epiphany on 6 January is associated with present giving to children, while Scandinavian countries have their main Christmas celebration on the evening of 24 December.
These local trends also go beyond religious festivals to legal issues. In France, for example, points out Fredhopper’s Jean-Charles Mairesse, sales can only be held on certain days, by law. In 2013, according to Paris.com, the winter sales run from 9 January to 12 February, and in the summer they start on 29 June and run through to 30 July.
Similarly, in Singapore, the Great Singapore Sale runs for nine weeks each summer though the date for 2013 was yet to be confirmed at the time of writing.
Most retailers then, will need to adapt their site for different markets, merchandising products according to different factors, time zones and beyond. That brings questions about who takes responsibility for the work of merchandising the site.
Some retailers may have a centralised merchandising team while others will have country teams who work on the area from the market in which they are based.
Each set up brings its own challenges. Centralised merchandising teams must keep track of the different time zones, special days and climate of their various markets, for instance. “It is possible to have this managed from a central team, and not all retailers have the resources to be able to staff a site that’s trading across these regions,” says Fredhopper’s Tremblay.
“Many are centralising this but treating these local markets as campaigns. But it’s important to be conscious of time zones and what things get triggered at different times when they’re updating their sites.”
Meanwhile, companies that delegate to in-country teams must make sure that the site still maintains the integrity of the central brand.
Tremblay says merchandising technologies can allow retailers to set central rules while giving local teams flexibility. “There should be some very standard merchandising rules depending on the site and region, so you have consistency on how the brand is presenting itself and communicating,” she says. “Maybe you have a rule on the number of product shown on a product detail page, so at least those kinds of things can be consistent so at least that’s not compromised when you’re trading internationally. Then you have the flexibility to be able to offer the local merchandisers control over what products get recommended. If their finger’s on the pulse of trends that may be different from one country to another, that can be reflected in helping to merchandise the site.”
Rules can be also set so that merchandising software learns from behaviour on the site. Data feeds might include social media ‘likes’, most popular items on the site, reviews and ratings, what other, similar people bought, as well as the customer’s own behaviour as they navigate around the site. Each different market site can be informed by the way people use it, with the result that people using the same retailer’s site in different markets will see different results. “The most popular items in France are going to be different from the ones in the UK, no matter what,” says Tremblay. “It’s almost impossible to get complete consistency. You open it up to being able to use the feedback from those local markets while still able to apply your search and merchandising rules.”
That also means that customers visiting a site from another region can have a different experience. Thus a UK resident searching a Canadian site to send a gift to a relative may see different products, displayed in a different order.
Such use of the site can inform upselling and cross-selling opportunities, so that visitors see the items that other people who have a similar profile bought, or what other people who chose the items they are buying also bought. And because all this activity takes place within their home market, argues Amplience’s Syed, the effect is to make the site feel more local to them. “If you think of personalisation in terms of alignment with customer intent and expectation, you realise there’s an opportunity there to best align yourself with what that customer’s looking for,” he says.
“Regionalisation is a great way of doing that because for a lot of customers it will feel more natural. The customer won’t feel like they’ve been shoehorned into a big machine. It’ll feel like a more personal experience, a little less jarring and there’s not just an opportunity to make it better that way but an opportunity to differentiate yourself.”
Paul Bolton, director of product and corporate strategy at multichannel advisers the Ivis Group, says personalisation will become only more important in international markets, just as it is at home. This means that overseas sites will not only reflect what other people in the same market like, but indeed, what the individual themselves likes and finds relevant. “As the internet population grows in those local markets and consumers become more internetsavvy, they will expect those experiences to become more aligned to the way they shop,” he says. And that’s something that good merchandising goes a long way towards achieving.
Speaking from Experience
“There could be a hundred results that are returned, so how do you know which to put at the top of page one? If your local analytic data says these ones are the highest converting, they can be presented in a completely different order from in the UK.”
Allyson Tremblay, UK sales director, Fredhopper
“More and more we’ll see personalisation for local markets becoming important, whether you have a separate country site or it’s integrated as one and you deliver different experiences for different countries.”
Paul Bolton, director of product and corporate strategy, Ivis Group
ALIGN WITH INTENT
“The more the brand aligns itself with what that customer wants, provides the best products for that intent, and the best experience that is best aligned with that intent, the more likely the brand is to make a sale,”
Mo Syed, director of usability, Amplience
“The way you’re going to show your products and manage your merchandising on the website is strongly linked with your cultural usage of websites. The way French, Spanish and Italian people buy things is different from the way that English or Swedish people do.”
Jean-Charles Mairesse, France sales director, Fredhopper
Since we last covered this area, personalisation has become a more pressing issue as the technology has evolved. Online shoppers in less-developed markets are now starting to expect websites to reflect their own experience, and those retailers that use technology to give it to them, will be at an advantage.