Q&A with E-Tailing Group’s Lauren Freedman

E-commerce consultancy E-Tailing Group last week released its Eighth Annual Merchant Survey. What does the survey of some 190 senior e-commerce executives reveal? MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT senior writer Tim Parry caught up with E-Tailing Group president Lauren Freedman to discuss the findings

Based on the economic climate, only 36% of those surveyed said they would invest more in e-commerce technology in 2009, and 8% say they will not change the amount they spend. Could this lack of investment in technology spend hinder overall e-commerce growth in 2009?

I think given the times and the resource challenges within organizations, it’s amazing this many can, in fact, spend. For most it will be a year of tweaking and when the sales dollars are back, they’ll go back to investing more in technology. What will be the biggest issue is the consumer spending piece of it.

Merchants are changing how they view success metrics, with conversion numbers trending down and other benchmarks being considered in the broader context of multichannel shopping. What are the success metrics merchants say they are now looking at, and are they truly metrics that dictate success?

I think it’s about driving store traffic, the number of folks who look at the locator, take advantage of events and have embraced the brand as a community. For example, merchants such as Barnes and Noble, who use the Web in-store, will have a long-term advantage.

You’ve introduced a new metric: guided navigation. What exactly is that, and what steps do merchants need to take to achieve that?

Guided navigation allows consumers to understand what the assortment is, and it typically identifies the quantity of those products and makes for a more accessible drill down in to those assortments. Merchants need to understand their brand requirements and typically part of a search package solution or customized in-house.

More Web marketers are sharing via social networks and blogs. But how can merchants tell if they’re taking advantage of the blogs and social networks or just throwing their hat in those arenas?

I’ve recently conducted 25-plus interviews in this area, and for most, it’s about research and development and learning, and it’s a small part of their marketing budget. But these merchants will be poised when social media is meaningful from a revenue point of view.

What was the biggest surprise to you when you looked at the results of this year’s survey?

The dedication to e-commerce is in place, and that is an evolutionary process that will be monitored and tweaked for optimization. It’s no longer radical, but essential to business survival.