Making Manufacturers Sites More User-Friendly

Nov 04, 2008 4:32 PM  By

Consumers’ budgets are going be tighter this holiday season and through 2009, and increasingly sophisticated Web users are going to be shopping smarter than ever. This means retailers and manufacturers must work extra hard to close the online sale.

Merchants must cater to a new kind of “Web-informed” shopper: Research conducted in May by Krillion and The E-tailing Group shows that more than 40% of shoppers spend half of their total shopping time on the Web prior to purchase. They are experts in navigating the Web to learn what product to buy and where to find it at the best price.

Many of these Web-informed buyers prefer to pick up the purchases locally: offline sales influenced by online research will grow at an annual rate of 12% through 2011, according to Jupiter Research. Last year, 60% of shoppers purchased items valued at $500 billion using Web-to-store checkout.

Why? Shoppers eager to save on shipping costs or holding out for last-minute deals will actively seek out Web-to-store options.

What’s also clear is where shoppers are doing their research. Because they have the most comprehensive and up-to-date information, manufacturers’ Websites have become the no. 1 product research destination. Seventy-two percent of online shoppers look to these Websites when researching major-branded products online, compared to 54% who head directly to retailers’ sites, according to the Krillion/The E-Tailing Group study.

But all too often, manufacturers’ Websites fall short of the expectations of cross-channel shoppers. Manufacturers are therefore losing sales by not connecting the ready-to-buy shopper with local retailers that have the right product, at the right price, in stock, at that moment.

What’s the problem? Most manufacturers are still relying on Web 1.0 technology to meet the demands of sophisticated, cross-channel, Web-to-store shoppers, with the result that shoppers looking for product-specific, local availability information on a manufacturer’s Website are often disappointed.
A manufacturer may have implemented a dealer locator on its Website to direct customers retail locations, but it doesn’t provide what a shopper needs — and expects — to complete a purchase: a smooth and well integrated Web-to-store experience.

But shoppers don’t need a dealer locator, they need an intelligent product locator that provides real-time local inventory information and connects them with authorized, local retailers who have in-store, in-stock product. What if the product the customer wants isn’t in-store locally? An advanced product locator must be capable of offering equivalent or similar products — just as a good salesperson would.

Focusing on a smooth Web-to-store experience enables savvy manufacturers to accelerate the purchase process, close more sales, drive qualified buyers to their local retailers, and give consumers more ways to buy the products they want.

Four tips for manufacturers
1. Assess your dealer locator from the point of view of today’s internet-influenced consumer.
Shoppers prefer to research product online first, check for availability, and then find all of the ‘buying options’ as they narrow brand choices. Tailor the customer experience online to match their expectations online. Are all buying options tightly integrated across your product information pages? Are you able to quickly satisfy shoppers’ expectations? Are your shoppers being “led” toward purchase?

2. Create a cross-channel experience that supports today’s ‘research online, buy offline’ shopper.
Consumers are increasingly conducting product research online before buying offline, and retailers are acting on this trend. Manufacturers need to think about their role in leveraging this opportunity when structuring their own multichannel experiences; they must support Web-ready buyers that want to pick up product locally.

3. Take into account retailers’ increasing emphasis on product availability features, designed to drive in-store sales.
More retailers are driving cross-channel shopping options by providing shoppers product and availability information at the local store level. Technology companies focused on providing consumers with better local search experiences can aggregate and organize this information for shoppers as they research online. This increased emphasis on product availability is great news for retailers that depend on the Web-savvy local shopper, and a great opportunity for manufacturers to better align with their channel to sell more product.

4. Incorporate retailers into the design of your multichannel Web experience.
While manufacturers have “cracked the code” for optimizing Websites for their own direct sales and supporting online resellers, the tools exist today to allow manufacturers to also easily integrate local stores’ product, price and availability information. Close the local loop!

Make it easy for people to buy your product when they’re searching for it. By telling customers which local retailers have the product in stock today, and even connecting them with their retailers’ online stores, manufacturers can motivate consumers to buy now, not later.

Joel Toledano (joel@krillion.com) is CEO of Krillion, a local search engine that connects Web-influenced buyers with in-stock, in-store merchandise.