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Showcasing products to best effect

We survey whether retailers offer clear explanations, strong imagery and reviews

RETAILERS THAT PERFORMED well in the Merchandising Performance Dimension did so when they used images, videos, reviews, ratings and product descriptions to explain their products in great detail, while making them easy to find through a website’s search and navigation.

Communicating the product is all the more vital online since shoppers viewing on a desktop or from a smartphone can’t touch or feel items as they can in the store. InternetRetailing researchers set out to judge how well retailers explained and presented their products online. They looked at how easy it was for shoppers to search and navigate a website, and how well products were illustrated, both through zoomable images and through product information. Whether products could be shared or Liked via social media, saved to a list, or bought without registration were all considered. In-site promotions, from a ‘bestseller’ tag to upselling and cross-selling, were also taken into account. The research extended, through the ongoing InternetRetailing Product and Merchandising Tracker, in association with InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner Brand View, to reveal the completeness of retailers’ product displays by describing the proportion of items that are out of stock, on promotion, feature product videos or reviews, or lack a description.

Then, looking at retailers’ mobile apps, the analysis also considered the quality of imagery and the availability of star ratings, and gave scores for personalisation and searchandising.

What the Top500 did

Top500 retailers showed, on average, between three and four images (3.5) of each product. had, on average, between five and six images of each product (5.7) and also showed product videos for 31% of its electricals range, according to Brand View research, which was much higher than the average of 18% within its sector. That research, covering 23 of the largest IRUK traders, showed that, on average, retailers showed reviews for 58% of their products, although 4% of products lacked descriptions.

InternetRetailing research showed that 60% of the 482 retailers to which the metric was relevant enabled shoppers to find their way around websites using drop-down search suggestions, while the use of navigational filters was also widespread. Filter by price was the most popular, used by 68% of those assessed. Filter by product type was used by 62%, while 43% enabled browsers to search by brand. Banner advertising was used on 48% of retail websites, while just six (1.2%) marked their bestselling products. Promotions were made obvious on the homepages of 72% of websites.

Brand View showed that 42% of products stocked by retailers were on offer over the last six months of 2016. In all, these leading retailers had an average of 5,247 products on promotion. The fact that the median number of products on promotion is 2,342 suggests that a relatively small number of retailers run a large number of promotions.

One key metric looked at was whether a no results search returned any answers. It found that 25% of retailers did offer alternative suggestions when they didn’t have stock of a particular product.

Half (50%) offered product ratings and just over half (53%) had reviews on their websites. More than half (53%) helped shoppers to share products with friends using social media, while 26% offered social validation on the product page.

Seven in 10 (69%) used cross-selling to recommend similar products while 15% used upselling to suggest a more expensive product or combination. Some 44% required shoppers to register before they checked out – checkout taking an average of between three and four (3.4) pages.

Some 204 of the Top500 had an iOS mobile app, analysed for merchandising features by InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner Poq. The analysis showed that, of retailers with apps, fewer supported the same level of product visibility and merchandising on that channel as on their main websites: 53% of retail apps showed the product through more than one image, while half made images zoomable within the app. More than a quarter (27%) showed the star rating that each product had, 53 (26%) showed written product reviews, while 45% enabled shoppers to save an item to a wishlist. Finally, 28% offered daily deals from the app.

What the leading retailers do

John Lewis , Amazon , Early Learning Centre , Argos and Sally Express were among the leaders in this Dimension. Each performed to a high level on most metrics and stood out by adopting those that were less commonly used but that researchers judged to be highly effective.

John Lewis combined star ratings with written product reviews to good effect, and also offered daily deals on its mobile app.

Amazon stood out for being one the 53 retailers that used the bestseller ribbon to mark popular items, for its exceptional use of written product reviews, and for its ability to offer alternative suggestions to a no results search – one of 25% of retailers that did.

Early Learning Centre stood out with another consistent performance. It outperformed the average Top500 retailer with social validation, filter by brand, and the ability to save to a wishlist to good use. Argos used product reviews alongside product ratings and also offered daily deals through its app.

Hairdressing and beauty supplies website Sally Express made good use of the bestseller ribbon, offering alternative results to a no results search and enabling shoppers to Like its products. Sally was among the retailers that performed well above its weight – as defined through the IRUK Top500 Footprint – in this Dimension. Others that did the same included white goods to computing retailer, which offered product videos on 31% of its electrical products (compared to the sector average of 18%) and showed between five and six images for each product, well above the average. It also showed alternative results for a no results search. Bathstore showed alternative results for a no results search, and enabled both social validation and social media Likes. Footasylum also enabled social validation and Likes, while providing a wishlist feature.

Moss Bros scored well above its Footprint, through features that included the use of bestseller ribbons, the ability to filter by brand, and alternative suggestions to a no results search.

Also ranking in this Dimension well above their Footprint size were CycleSurgery, which enabled shoppers to Like its products via social media and provided upselling suggestions; and, which had social media sharing and Likes alongside daily deals.

Seed merchant and gardening supplier Thompson & Morgan was ranked more than 300 places above its Footprint for its use of less common features, including the use of a bestseller ribbon, upselling and giving alternative suggestions on a no results search.

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