Survey: Websites Doing More to Personalize the Experience

Consumers’ desire for control—and merchants’ need to provide them with the tools that satisfy their desire—are apparent from the results of the E-tailing Group’s ninth annual Mystery Shopping Study. The Chicago-based consultancy’s survey looked at business-to-consumer e-commerce sites during the fourth quarter of 2006.

Only 17% of the Websites studied offered an advanced search option, down from 23% of those surveyed during the fourth quarter of 2005. While that downward trend might seem to counter the trend toward giving consumers more control, it actually is a result of merchants’ adding more varied and category-specific search and sort options to their sites. In fact, 78% of the sites surveyed offered some sort of landing page sort option.

Of those sites with landing page sorts, the ability to sort by price was most popular: 88% enabled visitors to sort items from low price to high price, while 76% allowed them to sort from high price to low. Other popular landing page sort options included top sellers (54%), brand (45%), and new arrivals (37%).

As part of the effort to personalize each visitor’s online shopping experience, more Websites are including a “recently viewed products” feature: 27% of the sites visited this past fourth quarter had it, compared with 16% the previous fourth quarter. In addition, more sites are providing visitors with alternative product choices on the merchandise pages (39% compared with 28% in 2005) and in the shopping cart (25% in 2006 vs. 18% in 2005). And the percentage of merchants with frequent-buyer programs rose to 40% from 31% in 2005.

Taking a page from the Web 2.0 playbook, more merchants feature “refer a friend”/“e-mail a friend” functions on their sites—68% from 60% the previous fourth quarter. Along similar lines, the inclusion of ratings and reviews on sites rose to 38% from 32%.

Rich-media features such as zoom and alternate images are becoming standard, according to the survey. Eighty-one percent of the sites studied during the fourth quarter of 2006 featured zoom photography, for instance, while 57% offered alternative product views.

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