Integrating content and commerce

In the early days of e-commerce, many users surfed the Internet to research product information; then after comparing prices and features, they would buy the goods offline. But consumers are clearly more comfortable buying products online today. So when shoppers are on your site looking for information, they’re ready and willing to make a purchase then and there. Which means it’s up to you to use your Web pages to persuade them to do just that. Fortunately, one of the major advantages of Internet marketing is that you have unlimited space to post information to close a sale, whether that information is hard-selling copy, in use product shots, or soft-selling editorial.

But how you integrate commerce and content could make a big difference in your success online. The tips outlined here may help you successfully integrate content with e-commerce:

– Provide content that’s directly related to product sold within your site. This may sound like a no-brainer, but a number of online catalogers don’t act upon it – despite the studies that have shown that the majority of online consumers demand information about new products when surfing the Web.

Customers often begin the Web shopping experience with an information-seeking session, so you want to make sure you’re providing data, both on the specific products you sell and onthe product category as a whole. For instance, online-only sporting goods marketer Fogdog provides product features and fit charts specific to its sundry products and lines throughout its Website. These product guides let customers thoroughly research the merchandise before buying it online.

To cite another example, visitors to online toy marketer Toysmart.com can not only buy baby items but can also peruse parenting articles such as “The Importance of Play” or check out tips on selecting “safe toys” for youngsters of various age groups. And parents-to-be and new parents can review a checklist of the gear they’ll need for baby’s first year – and of course buy the products right there.

Several apparel Websites use editorial reminiscent of fashion magazines to help sell their product. On its Website, Nordstrom promoted a “Fall Kickoff” section highlighting fashion trends, including the must-have products for the upcoming season. Visitors to the section could click on any of the wardrobe must-haves for immediate purchase, an integration strategy that encourages impulse buying.

Meanwhile, discount designer clothing site Bluefly has a content section entitled “Flypaper” that shares designers’ advice for such occasions as dressing for a date. The site also has a “Top 10” section of products, similar to the Nordstrom.com must-haves list, from which users can make impulse purchases.

– Use how-to guides to provide information to customers while encouraging them to buy your products. Instructional editorial can make shoppers aware of merchandise that they may not have previously realized they needed. If you sell painting supplies, for instance, your guide to painting interior walls could remind or inform readers that for best results, they should prepare walls with a coat of primer – an add-on sale – before applying the paint.

For its part, pet products marketer Petsmart.com creatively combines pet-related tips – from vaccination recommendations to articles such as “Choosing a Bed for Your Cat to Curl Up On” – with selling products to help readers act upon the advice.

Online pharmacy Drugstore.com provides a solution-driven approach to Web marketing by combining advice and highlighted product selections in its “Daily Dose” section. Drugstore.com also offers well-developed content centers throughout the Website’s departments; for instance, the beauty products section includes a list of makeup “essentials” for expectant mothers.

Chipshot.com, a virtual-only golf products cataloger, provides an advice area within its wood clubs product section. Users can e-mail the Chipshot.com golf pros for customized advice on selecting woods, choosing a shaft, and fitting your clubs. This interactive element creates a contact rather than static content strategy.

At gardening products site Garden.com, users can read up on advice regarding the care and feeding of particular flowers – and if they come across a product they realize they need, shoppers can buy it immediately. A search feature that’s integrated throughout the site allows users to search by products or editorial at any time, without going back to the home page to find a search function. This type of feature lets visitors “have it their way” from both a shopping and an information perspective.

– Personalize your site to encourage “stickiness.” According to Fletcher Research, 68% of Web users who “personalized” an e-commerce site made a purchase from that site. One type of personalization feature is having visitors fill out a questionnaire on their favorites within a product category so that a filter built into the site software can present a dynamically generated list of recommendations tailored to that customer’s preferences. Booksellers Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com both provide this option, as does video merchant Reel.com.

Another personalization option is the fit-model feature offered by apparel marketer Lands’ End, among others: Customers can tailor a virtual mannequin to their proportions and then see how various apparel items look on the model.

And don’t overlook service-related features such as personalized accounts, in which customers enter their shipping and payment preferences just once so that they need not bother for future purchases. This sort of option is bound to generate loyalty and stimulate sales.

– Integrate community features to add value to your site. You might create a community on your site by incorporating chat rooms, bulletin boards, and testimonials throughout.

For instance, the American Girl Website from doll and book marketer Pleasant Co. includes a section in which youngsters can ask for or offer advice on topics such as impending surgery or dealing with a friend who smokes. The featured question changes each week, which encourages customers to return to the American Girl Website regularly.

The key to integrating merchandise and information online is appealing to customers while simultaneously converting visitors to buyers. The more convenient and rewarding the online shopping experience, the more time – and money – your customers will spend with you.

In addition to integrating editorial with selling, some Web merchants are beginning to add direct links to “live” customer service reps. Apparel marketer Lands’ End, for one, has a television advertising campaign for the holidays encouraging shoppers to go online to test its live-operator functionality.

For certain, a link to a live rep adds value on the customer service side, which can translate into higher conversion rates and more upsells. In fact, NFO Interactive in a recent research study found that nearly 35% of the 2,321 online shoppers surveyed said they would buy more from an e-commerce site if they could interact in real-time with a salesperson. Moreover, Internet newbies, who according to Zona Research made up more than 60% of the online shopper customer base last year, welcome any and all customer-friendly enhancements.

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