8 Tips for Content Sites Using E-Commerce

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Now that the holidays have come and gone, content Web sites that rely on e-commerce to keep revenues strong throughout the year must determine how they intend to stay afloat until the next holiday season.


Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, reports that an estimated $5 billion was spent online by consumers this past holiday season. But what can content sites do to maintain a steady stream of cash beyond the busiest shopping months? Here are eight suggestions:


• Apply commerce in context to embed targeted merchandise into all appropriate content areas throughout the site. This means that when I visit a sports site and read a news blurb about the Lakers, the site's monitoring capability is intelligent enough to identify me as a potential buyer for, say, Phil Jackson's autobiography.


This commerce in context is typified by NewsReal.com, whose clients can create their own pages of content such as news, sports and weather, with context-specific promotions embedded within the article. The ability to monetize content with this type of contextual merchandising will increase click-through rates by six times the average (Forrester Research, October 1999). Reputable e-commerce providers will be able to easily and effectively work with you to merchandise products with your site content.


• Personalize e-commerce with account registration, rewards programs and personalization software. Few would argue against the notion that a customized Web site populated with personalized offers causes higher buy rates. Historical personalization tracks past behavior to determine future interest. The data used to accomplish this may include demographic profiles, registration information, preference data, past buying behavior, and site navigation (click streams). As buying patterns and site behavior data are collected, the merchandise mix, presentation and placements within the site can be further targeted. Rewards programs also offer a way to create repeat visitation.


• Create seasonal storefronts with themed merchandise and links from high-traffic Web pages. Targeting holidays and special theme days such as Valentine's Day, Mother's Day or back to school increases buy rates because of enhanced relevance and reminders of the need to purchase. These sites can be supplemented with individual-level visitor information to micro-merchandise throughout the site, which means matching products to individual users' profiles and interests. Working with an e-commerce provider that is flexible enough to quickly design and build seasonal stores is crucial for creating additional revenue.


• Ensure site stickiness by keeping e-commerce activity on the site. There's no longer any reason for not keeping e-commerce activity local, with private-label e-commerce players in the market. A complete selection of targeted products in a site-branded shopping environment keeps visitors at the site and actually enhances the site's brand. The end result should be a shopping environment that preserves your original image, using the same logos, graphics, fonts and similar structure. An often overlooked benefit to rolling out that proverbial Web shopping cart is the amount of site stickiness it creates, since visitors can shop without having to leave the site.


• Reinforce the brand by adopting the host site's look and feel and by identifying the brand throughout purchase, delivery and customer service. Seamlessly embedded commerce should be designed to make the host site the "hero" brand and should enable all interactions and transactions to become part of a satisfying experience, turning visitors into shoppers. When evaluating whether to build or buy your e-commerce, it is crucial that your partners are able to provide you with solutions that will support and enhance your brand identity.


• Build a reputation for prompt delivery and responsive customer support. Should problems occur fully disclose them to the customer in advance whenever possible. People are more forgiving that way, especially when you offer a prompt response and solution. Customer relationship management is also critical. When implementing an e-commerce solution, your site is best served through centralized, branded customer service, which can be bundled by a select group of private-label e-commerce providers.


• Offer products from a range of categories that appeal to the site's users. Sales and customer data can be used to continually target new items for sale. Although an initial merchandise plan may be based primarily on demographics and content, more optimal merchandising strategies can quickly evolve based on in-market experience, analysis and testing. It is important that the products your partner has access to are sufficiently broad and deep so they can address all of your users' needs.


• Send targeted e-mails to the user base, highlighting valuable promotions and reinforcing the value of the site's e-commerce. Short of spamming your best customers, ask each customer for their permission to receive your news, new products available, coupons and discounts. After a purchase, send an e-mail to inform your customers about the drop date or shipping status. Finally, be sure that your e-commerce partner is able to work with you to support your promotions.

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