Using Content as a Primary Retail Sales Driver

When consumers visit a retailer’s web site and click for more information on a product that interests them, the manufacturer (not the retailer) provides that information. And interestingly, the kind of content provided makes a significant difference in whether consumers go on to buy the product online or in the store.

Product pages are designed to showcase branded marketing content and item specific content. The wealth of information these product pages provide customers run the gamut from simple text, to elaborate product shots, video (see New to QuickBooks?), 360-degree views, customer testimonials and reviews  (click on ”Product Tour”/”Feature Reviews”). This is called enhanced content which provides a shopping experience, akin to shopping in-store but with more information that sales folks can usually provide.

How important is this content? Does it make a tangible difference in prompting buyers to Add to Wish List, Add to Registry, Add to Cart, abandon their carts less and most importantly, increase sales?  We know the answer is “Yes” to all of these, confirmed by a series of A/B tests over the years.

In our tests, 50% of online shoppers saw a regular product detail page (generally offering a product photo, SKU number, and price) with no enhanced content, while the other 50% of online shoppers saw a product detail page with enhanced content. All site visitors were segmented into the two groups by random selection.

The effect of promotions and other marketing activities was neutralized and we tested the same set of products, over the same time period. Moreover, shoppers where included in the A/B test only when products were sold online (with “Add to Cart” on the page) and were tagged with persistent cookies to be identified if a purchase was completed at a later date within the test period.  In short, we assured that the only independent variable tested was the impact of the content.

For one Fortune 250 cross-channel retailer, here is how enhanced content impacted various points in the purchase cycle: Orders (Sales) +9.3%; Add to Cart +7.47%; Add to Registry +10.26%; Add to Wish List +17.26%.

Applying some analytical thinking to the numbers, we also see that the increase in Add to Wish List is greater than the increase in orders, which indicates that an even larger number of customers may intend to buy after the two week test period ended. The increase in sales is even larger than cart additions, which indicates that people are less likely to abandon a purchase once they have added to the cart after being exposed to the content.  In this test, “baseline” content (or minimally enhanced) was used, indicating that deeper, richer content would probably may yield even higher results.

In another two-week long A/B test, a major manufacturer of computers and printers saw a 5.39% increase in view-to-cart ratio (from 508 to 535.4 per 10,000) from shoppers who benefited from viewing the enhanced content on a major retail partner’s website.

For a global electronics brand, the A/B test showed that enhanced content drove a 5.82% increase in view-to-cart ratio (from 354 to 374 per 10,000) over a 10-day test conducted on one of the largest shopping club sites in the nation.

Finally, in a test just completed, we A/B tested the impact of enhanced content on consumer products from 45 different vendors on the website of a major pharmacy retail chain.  Enhanced content resulted in a view-to-cart ratio increase of an astounding +27.82%.

The lessons learned? That content, when presented clearly and purposely when requested by the consumer can be a powerful driver of sales. The more elaborate the content, the more it engages consumes and leads to higher sales.

Scott Matthews is CEO of Webcollage.