E-commerce an easy sell

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E-commerce an easy sell
E-commerce an easy sell

Struggling retailers serving cash-strapped consumers are looking for ways to make the shopping experience easier, and many find their e-commerce Web site is a great place to start.

"We wanted to give customers a convenient shopping experience online that matches the experience in stores," says Christina Callas, VP of e-commerce at Lord & Taylor, about the store's relaunch of its Web site on iCongo's platform.

From Web-enabled in-store kiosks that give shoppers access to a wider selection of merchandise to the ability to chat with a customer service representative directly from the Web site, retailers are investing in a variety of digital strategies. All of these are designed to make it easy for consumers to browse, do research, make a purchase or return a product.

Lord & Taylor's product pages were redesigned for the new site with larger product images and zoom functionality. In addition, there is a pop-up window with tab functionality that gives consumers access to a lot of information about each item without having to click through to a different page. Other features include a search filter that enables customers to search for items using several criteria at the same time.

"This gives the customer a lot of shopping power right there on the category page," says Callas.

Lord & Taylor also is working with a new, centralized fulfillment provider and a new third-party call center. "We wanted to be able to deliver a higher level of service and a centralized brand experience," says Callas.

E-commerce outperforms retail

E-commerce
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Since relaunching the Web site last fall, Lord & Taylor's e-commerce sales have doubled, traffic is up and conversion is up, Callas reports.

Enhancing the shopping experience was one of Brookstone's goals for the relaunch of its Web site on the Novator platform this summer.

"When you go to a store, you can pick up, touch and learn about a product," says Marie Harding, operational VP of direct marketing operations at Brookstone. The new site "tries to replicate online the fun, interactive dynamic we have in the stores," she continues.

This interactivity is accomplished on product pages with larger product images that "flash out" from the page. Users can zoom in or out without a pop-up window. Some of the images are supported with video as well.

"There is definitely a focus this year on the value created by using the digital environment to make it easy for consumers to shop," says Zain Raj, CEO at Euro RSCG Discovery North America and global retail practice leader at Euro RSCG Worldwide. He points to Target as an example, which provides consumers with online tools and resources to manage their back-to-school budget.

With consumers mindful of their budgets, many are spending more time researching before buying a product, says Kelly O'Neill, director of product marketing at ATG, an e-commerce service provider. The company, she notes, is "seeing increased traffic counts on retailers Web sites."

Smart retailers are adjusting by making information more easily available, O'Neill adds. Chico's, for example, recently installed ATG's Click to Call and Click to Chat functionality so that shoppers who are getting no results from their searches can be connected with a call center agent.

One reason for a focus on the Web site experience by retailers right now is that the notion of "value" itself is changing, explains Raj: "The definition of value is more robust this year" as consumers and retailers have grown weary of markdowns.

In addition to competitive pricing, retailers know they need to offer better service. It's easier and less expensive to offer a more robust customer service experience using the e-commerce channel than via stores, he adds: "Because of this multichannel experience, some of the major retailers will have momentum behind them at the holidays that will rival Amazon.com and other pure-play online retailers."

Providing a personalized experience across multiple channels is key this holiday season, says Andy Peebler, SVP at Acquity Group. The retailers providing a robust customer experience are the ones who are "connecting with customers not just on the Web site but in their day-to-day life" by integrating their e-commerce Web site with specific products, social networking and mobile phones, says Peebler. The first wave of this is already happening with e-commerce on Facebook, social shopping on Web sites and moving mobile into transaction processes.

Lord & Taylor, for its part, added a button to its product pages several months ago so shoppers can "share" an item on their social networking site.

Taken together, the retailer's moves to enhance its Web site and the online customer's experience reflect "the growing importance of e-commerce to Lord & Taylor," says Callas.

With that growth in mind, Lord & Taylor will allocate additional spend this holiday season to its current marketing efforts in support of the Web site, which include display and banner ads, affiliate marketing and e-mails.

The retailer will also hold some online-only events this holiday season, including exclusive online sales, promoted as Lunch Break events, which take place between noon and 2pm.

"We have much more robust marketing [around the Web site] because of the anticipated growth trajectory of the e-commerce business," says Callas.

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