Extra! Extra! Innovative eMerchants Focus on Effective Sales Tactics!

Okay, maybe it’s not really breaking news, but it apparently is to some online retailers. Conclusions derived from the e-tailing group’s 7th Annual Mystery Shopping Study revealed that, from a merchandising perspective, the most innovative merchants are focused on tactics to more effectively sell products. And, observed e-tailing group president Lauren Freedman, “Among the 100 sites that we shopped it is becoming a case of the haves and have-nots. While some sites continue to innovate, others show few changes year-to-year. This is cause for concern, as customers will gravitate to those who consistently improve the shopping experience across all channels.” Freedman’s advice: “We encourage merchants to review the findings from this study and prioritize tactics, adding the most relevant merchandising features and functionality to their sites.”
Here is the e-tailing group’s summary of key growth merchandising metrics from the 4th quarter 2004 (TY) with available comparisons to 4th quarter 2003 (LY) as many new metrics have been added to this survey. Commentary and recommendations include holiday related tactics as well as evergreen benchmarks.

1. Holiday Strategies: Last minute push for sales keeps getting stronger
–Holiday Shipping Deadline – Present on 61% of the e-tailing 100 sites TY vs. 56% LY
–Conditional Free Shipping – Offered by more sites as it got closer to Christmas; 48% Thanksgiving week increasing to 51% the week of December 16th

2. Gifting: Online gift buying made increasingly easy and efficient through robust functionality
–Gift Certificates/Cards – Soon to be universal, being offered on 86% of the sites TY vs. 77% LY with greater presence of electronic versions (59% TY vs. 53% LY)
–Gift Centers and Suggestions – Both found on 71% of the sites LY, respectively increasing to 75% and 79% TY
–Gift Wrap/Box – A real asset when well implemented; deployed by 55% of the sites TY vs. 50% LY
–E-announcements – A new metric, found on 12% of the sites, which uses e-mail to advise recipients of gifts to come; also creating opportunities for customer acquisition
–Multiple Ship-to Addresses – Also newly tracked, a metric which we consider a must-have for any merchant who is serious about the gifting business, present on 38% of the sites

3. Established Merchandising: More focus on tried and true techniques though innovation stands out from the pack
–Brand Boutiques – For the sites that use a manufacturer’s “brand” as a selling attribute, aggregating products by vendor/designer is becoming more important as 83% did so TY vs. 75% LY
–Exclusives – TY 26% of the e-tailing 100 sites found this a smart way to differentiate themselves vs. just 13% LY
–What’s New – A successful suggestive selling technique for 64% of those surveyed TY vs. 55% LY

4. Promotional Strategies: Innovation beyond basic sales and specials
–Internet Only Sales/Specials – A new metric TY that was a smart use of the channel for 14% of the sites that offered sale product
–Charity/Upromise – Donating a percentage of product sales was another new metric TY, found on 28% of the sites surveyed
–Incremental Offers – Creative incentives from buy one/get one free to a percent off the next purchase to buy more and save abounded for 23% of the merchants TY vs. 12% LY

5. Product Enhancement: Emphasizing details sells products and limits returns on applicable sites
–Zoom – 70% of the sites deployed this bottom-line tactic TY vs. 62% LY
–Alternate Views – Growing presence on 21% of sites TY vs. 12% LY
–Color Change – Of the merchants who offer color as a key product attribute, 24% enabled customers to view product in available hues TY vs. 13% LY

6. Suggestive Selling: Virtually building the average order size with category the dictator
–Product Page Up-sells – While suggestive selling remains a mainstay on 80% of the site’s product pages TY vs. 79% LY, the specific use of up-sells has increased to 49% TY from 22% LY
–Shop by Outfit/Shop by Room – 37% of sites selling apparel bundled products for multiple purchases TY vs. just 6% LY; similarly and newly tracked, 8% of merchants in the home category aggregated products by room
–Recommendations in the Shopping Cart – Suggestive selling at this stage in the order process was a tool for 56% of sites TY vs. 50% LY

7. Viral Techniques: Customer to customer communication adds credibility
–Ratings & Reviews – This newly tracked metric, located on 24% of the sites, takes advantage of customer feedback to sell products
–Refer/E-mail a Friend – 58% of the sites provided functionality for customers to conveniently forward findings TY vs. 45% LY

8. Membership: Registration must deliver expediency
–One Click Settings – 38% of sites offer registered customers convenience and speed with this feature TY vs. 24% LY

9. Inventory/Backorders: Availability status is essential
–Real time Inventory – Found on 79% of sites TY vs. 68% LY

10. Multi/Cross-Channel Tools: Making the shopping process seamlessly integrated
–Shop the Catalog – TY 66% of the sites with catalogs wisely made them available for customers to peruse online vs. 40% LY
–As Advertised – TY 27% of the surveyed merchants leveraged their offline marketing campaigns by featured advertised goods on their websites vs. 20% LY

11. International Markets: The next frontier, reaching customers on a global scale
–Shop in Another Language – 17% of the e-tailing 100 sites enabled customers to shop in a language other than English TY vs. 8% LY
–Multi-National Site Entry – 13% of the sites offered access to international versions of their sites TY vs. 8% LY

These study results appear courtesy of the e-tailing group, inc., a shopper-centric e-commerce consulting firm. For more background about this research study, including a list of merchants surveyed or for additional information on the e-tailing group, inc. please contact Lauren Freedman at lf@e-tailing.com or visit www.e-tailing.com.

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