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Meeting customer expectations

Improving search functions and adapting to changing consumer behaviour are among merchandising priorities for top brands

Top brands across Europe have this year made significant improvements in search techniques and merchandising services, such as customer generated lists, according to Internet Retailing’s researchers. Many more have added apps, too, although these newer ones tend to offer more basic functionality.

Across the European Economic Area, the Largest 250 brands studied significantly improved search filter options: a 25 percentage point (pp) improvement in the use of filters for product type, a 12pp uptake in the use of brand filters and a 10pp increase for price filters. Shoppers increasingly expect search to be not only quick and easy to use, but also to generate accurate and appropriate results. The major increase in the use of focused filters reflects this demand. Of the brands studied, 87% now offer product filters and 70% price filters. Brand filters are less common (used by 25% of top brands) but since many brands only sell their own label lines, brand filters are not appropriate to all.

Researchers also found increased use of customer wish lists – up by 15pp and now used by two-thirds of brands studied. Use of drop-down suggestions when typing a search query was up by 12pp and is now used by 69% of brands. Upselling techniques on the product page were up by 17pp but are still only used by fewer than a third of the Largest 250 brands.

Although rather more than last year, a similar low number of brands (36%) manage to generate a search page offering alternative suggestions when there are no directly relevant results. A ‘no results’ page can quickly send a customer clicking to a competitor’s site but so too can irrelevant suggestions. The majority of brands appear to see this as a difficult area to manage well.

“There was a decline in sites linking products to social media, which may reflect changing attitudes.”

Interestingly, there was a significant decline in the need to register before checking out – down by 10pp to an average of 28% across the EEA. While many sites have never insisted on registration, a growing number now offer a guest checkout option. Again, this may reflect changing consumer behaviour: since shoppers buy from many sites, often only once, they have no desire to be automatically signed up for email promotions by registering for an account.

There was a decline, too, in sites linking products to social media, with falls of 5pp both in the number of brands supporting social media ‘Likes’ of products and the visibility of whether ‘friends’ on a social network had ‘Liked’ products. Such functions are now offered by only 13% and 19% of the largest EEA brands respectively, which may reflect changing attitudes to social media demonstrated by Facebook’s recent announcement to focus on “meaningful interactions” between friends and family rather than encouraging input from brands and news feeds.

While there is little overall change in the use of product reviews and ratings – both now used by around 45% of the brands studied – there are a few notable geographic differences year-on-year. Those of the Largest 250 which have localised to Spain have increased their use of product ratings by 12pp in the market (now used by 45% of those studied) and use of reviews by 9pp (now used by 48%), while 49% in the UK now provide product ratings (up by 6pp). In both Germany and Italy, the Largest 250 increased their use of product reviews by 5pp to 40% and 35% respectively of those studied.

Year-on-year comparisons for mobile app functionality is difficult given that many brands have added apps for the first time. These tend to be rather basic, so provision of more sophisticated tools – such as push notifications, wish lists or image zoom – have declined overall. But this is largely because of the increased sample size and limited functionality of the newer arrivals. New attributes investigated by IR’s researchers included augmented reality, supported by 3% of the Largest 250 mobile apps. Recommendations, based on a user’s browsing history and demographics, are offered by 22%, while predictive search is offered by 12%.

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