From DM News' Special Report on E-Commerce Platforms & Software: Key Trends in E-Commerce
"More and more retailers are realizing that continuous testing of key pages on their Web sites can pay huge dividends. And this goes beyond landing page optimization. Oftentimes, small changes on product pages, credit card pages and shopping carts can result in significant increases in conversion rates."
- Mark Wachen, CEO of Optimost
"Online merchants are now expanding beyond traditional multichannel environments - phone, mail, retail and branded online stores - and branching into a variety of online subchannels such as eBay, Amazon and a variety of shopping comparison sites."
- Robert Coon, president of Dydacomp Development Corp.
"[A key trend is] the evolution of search and navigation to be more of a merchandising tool - to provide the same sort of merchandising and personal sales assistance to a visitor as they would receive from a live sales person when they visit a bricks-and-mortar store. This includes the timely presentation of appropriate styles, sizes, colors and price ranges.
"Another powerful e-commerce trend is the use of analytics in combination with search, navigation and merchandising to track and measure the effectiveness of search and merchandising strategies."
- Corey Leibow, president/CEO of Mercado Software
"The biggest trend we are seeing in the e-commerce space is the move toward service-oriented architecture. As systems have gotten more and more complex, it becomes overly cumbersome for developers to maintain software integrations and overly cumbersome for the user to learn and manage multiple interfaces. Having a system call out to one central pricing service from all channels is far simpler for everyone and ensures that pricing is uniform for the customer regardless of the channel they interact with."
- Brian Dean, vice president of strategy and marketing at Ecometry
"E-commerce companies who also sell through other channels such as catalog or retail are realizing the power of integrated marketing and maintaining a single view of the customer account across channels. The most efficient way is with data integration by running the business using enterprise software that can manage all channels effectively or through a data warehouse. While Amazon.com set the bar for effectively using their data with suggestive and predictive selling based on previous purchases or similar customer purchases, many online retailers now have adopted similar technologies to increase overall cart value.
"Shopper comparison sites such as MySimon and Shop.com are also making it easier for online shoppers to find the lowest prices for products. E-commerce companies must be aware of this and maintain brand awareness and effective pricing and promotional structures to keep customers returning to their Web site."
- Brian L. Carpizo, CEO of Junction Solutions
"The true integration of the e-commerce channel with the rest of the retail enterprise is front and center for merchants. This means a real-time view of inventory, customer transactions and product information, so for the consumer the e-commerce activity - research, ordering, self-service - is a transparent extension of the brand offering.
"As top-tier retailers deliver on the promise of a seamless, channel-transparent experience, it raises the stakes for all merchants."
- Jane Cannon, chief operating officer of CommercialWare Inc.
"Experienced Web buyers expect a streamlined shopping process and more control, and shoppers want tools and functionality that will help them effectively sort through and find the most relevant products in the shortest amount of time. Customers are getting more sophisticated, so a rich customer experience is now required to do business online."
- Ken Burke, CEO of MarketLive
Challenges for Online Retailers
"Thanks to the effectiveness of search engine advertising, retailers have gotten very good at getting prospects to their Web sites. Retailers are very good at 'getting the horse to water.' But the biggest challenge right now is 'getting the horse to drink,' that is, improving post-click conversion rates to maximize the effectiveness of their search engine advertising efforts."
- Mark Wachen, Optimost
"While online subchannels offer exciting new opportunities for merchants, they pose considerable obstacles in the area of system integration, timely customer service and real-time inventory or availability information."
- Robert Coon, Dydacomp
"Online retailers need to provide a search solution that makes it easy for their customers to find and buy what they are looking for, even if they don't know how to spell it correctly or don't know what the correct search term is. Also, they need an e-commerce search solution that is able to handle basic merchandising techniques such as suggesting appropriate accessories and add-ons, and the customized display of seasonal promotions and special sales."
- Corey Leibow, Mercado
"The biggest challenge today for online users is finding the products that they are looking for. It starts with the search engine optimization and continues with functionality like faceted search and guided selling inside the company's Web site. Studies have proven that consumers are not going to page through multiple search result pages to find the products they are looking for. Similarly, they have an expectation of being able to find the products through misspellings, natural language search and alternate product names."
Brian Dean, Ecometry
"Customer retention. The best way to prevent customers from going elsewhere is through effective marketing and promotions. Personalized marketing will become even more necessary to retain customers and prevent them from looking elsewhere for lower prices. Ensuring that the Web site design is user-friendly and that item-search functions are accurate and easy to use is also key."
Brian L. Carpizo, Junction Solutions
"Building customer loyalty. Retailers spending much more on customer acquisition than customer retention. Shoppers doing more product research online to find the lowest price or most reputable retailer. Shoppers can easily move from one retail site to another. Retailers over-promoting to retain customers ... can actually train customers to be more price sensitive."
Ken Burke, MarketLive
New Products and Services
"We recently added even more sophisticated analytic tools to our platform. The new enhancements allow our customers to view comprehensive analyses of statistical significance and confidence intervals in easy-to-understand charts and graphs."
Mark Wachen, Optimost
"Dydacomp's Mail Order Manager system now offers a suite of tools to streamline the integration between these online subchannels and the merchant's in-house order management system. The end result is better communication across the various technologies that allows the merchant to be more competitive and customer-service oriented."
Robert Coon, Dydacomp
"BFirst, a software-as-a-service, enables businesses to quickly and cost-effectively deploy enterprise e-commerce search, navigation and merchandising capabilities to their online customers.
"BSmart is a solution for business-to-business-focused online businesses by providing ... accurate product search and catalog navigation ... It also uses the ability to create custom catalogs for the 'power buyer' who knows specifically what he or she is looking for and buys it repeatedly in accordance with company contracts or with his or her specific role within the company."
Corey Leibow, Mercado
"Commerce OnDemand allows retailers to implement full end-to-end retail solutions, from feature-rich Web storefronts to back-end order and warehouse management. In addition, Commerce OnDemand provides a combination of benefits retailers are looking for in a turnkey hosted application with cost savings and a reduced implementation timeframe.
"Ecometry offers enterprise-class commerce technology, and Acquity Group complements these tools ... for deploying multichannel solutions."
Brian Dean, Ecometry
"The Junction MCR product - our e-commerce features are fully integrated in an interactive environment allowing for Web store functionality to be tied directly into Microsoft Dynamics AX. Rich catalog and product shopping [are] fully customizable in order to create a company's unique branding. Standard forms include ordering, shopping, registration and return visitors. Also, by utilizing a standard self-service Web form, customers can obtain past and present ordering, invoicing and payment history."
Brian L. Carpizo, Junction Solutions
"In January we rolled out a gift and stored value card application that allows merchants to offer their customers cross-channel gift cards. There is a need to be able to instantly activate, redeem, check balances, et cetera, with gift cards on the Web, in the store and over the phone. The consumer wants and expects to be able to use them throughout the organization, and the retailer wants to be able to offer and manage them easily and without incurring a discrete fee for each of those activities."
Jane Cannon, CommercialWare
"[The] MarketLive 5 platform, introduced in May 2006, is [a] solution to combine the extensibility of an open-development environment with the functional depth of a rich e-commerce solution, without needing extensive IT resources. MarketLive 5 introduces technology that allows retailers to rapidly deploy new product releases and facilitate the preservation of any customizations while upgrading to the new release.
"MarketLive 5 also introduces international capabilities to enable retailers to sell into markets outside the United States, and this is the first solution in its class to deliver a complete software developers kit. This means customers, system integrators and third-party software vendors can integrate with and develop extensions to the MarketLive platform."
Ken Burke, MarketLive
Optimost: Time Warner, Overstock, RealNetworks, IAC and EarthLink.
Dydacomp: Artisanal Premium Cheese, PETA, SCS Ltd., R.C. Bigelow Inc., National Running Center, Pocket Nurse and James Candy Co.
Mercado: Sears, REI, B&H Photo Video, Williams-Sonoma, J.C. Penney, Macy's, Target, Tower Records, MSN Shopping, Caterpillar, OfficeMax, Guess Jeans.
Ecometry: Nordstrom, Time Life, Brookstone, Saks Fifth Avenue, Miles Kimball, Kohl's, Hickory Farms, Levenger, Delia's, Overton's, Brooks Brothers, Nine West, Coldwater Creek, Coach, Bebe, Ross-Simons and Urban Outfitters.
CommercialWare: Patagonia, J. Jill, Ritz Camera, Abercrombie & Fitch, Peruvian Connection, Sundance, Jos. A. Bank, Chico's, Sur La Table, Pendleton, Camping World, Swanson, King Arthur Flour, Frederick's of Hollywood, Athleta and Aerosoles.
Market Live: Norm Thompson, Boston Proper, Sundance Catalog.
"Time Inc. increased online subscriptions by 16.2 percent through real-time, multivariable testing. We did extensive multivariable testing for Overstock on their product page. The ... improvements will result in a $24 million increase in revenue over the coming year."
Mark Wachen, Optimost
"Solutions are offered as 'out-of-the-box' ready, giving end users the power to choose their configurations without the involvement of Dydacomp Development. As a result, user-specific projects are most popular for custom design of e-commerce sites hosted by Dydacomp. As businesses typically choose Dydacomp's solutions to replace less integrated technology, our most popular projects are those that involve the migration of a site's brand, look and feel."
Robert Coon, Dydacomp
"Macy's was using a method to rank products that was based on various internal calculations. The merchandising managers had limited control over this. Now with metrics-based merchandising, these managers can modify the product rankings based on their business goals. This will be especially useful for seasonal products [like] swimwear, shorts [and] sandals.
"In addition, the new version of the CMC allows the merchandisers to create a single rule to cover multiple search scenarios where they previously had to create multiple rules. Result-based rules will also allow them to do more dynamic merchandising without trying to figure out all the various search scenarios.
"Guess Jeans had very limited quality of search. We provided an enhanced search capability by introducing vastly improved search relevancy, the ability to provide linguistics particularly synonyms to match shoppers' terms to the products in the catalog, the ability to create special landing pages - gift guides - that increased sales and overall conversion during the holiday season, and provided related products - cross-sell - on the product pages through links in their data.
"When shoppers go to the Williams-Sonoma site, they are shopping for more than products; they are shopping for tips and tricks, recipes and entertaining ideas - it's all about lifestyle. So one of their goals was to be able to have different result sets - products, recipes and tips and tricks to make sure users got the information that they were looking for.
"SiteStuff selected their Mercado bSmart solution to improve how their business customers search and order products from their SiteStuff catalogs. SiteStuff markets ... to the commercial real estate industry with a catalog of over 150,000 different MRO items including janitorial, lighting, electrical, HVAC, tools and office products."
Corey Lebow, Mercado
"The key driver for Pets United was being able to support multiple microsites delivered on a common platform. When a customer goes to dog.com, they want to be treated as a dog owner with relevant content as well as product choices that are different from the experience of fish.com or ferret.com.
"Another requirement that makes the sites appealing for the customer is the ability to maintain a shopping cart while moving from one microsite to another. We were able to help Pets United in providing that experience due to our unique multi-store merchandising ability and customer-centricity components.
"The key driver for Brooks Brothers was a complete system from the point-of-sale registers, to managing the in-store customer experience with clientele [handling], guided selling and on through the call center and Web site. The customer experience will be able to be maintained across the channels, giving ... a complete picture of customer activity to Brooks Brothers.
"The key driver for Francesca's collections was to bring the online presence to the same experience as their 60 retail stores. They chose the Blue Martini product as an on-demand solution through Ecometry partner Acquity Group. Through the partnership of Ecometry and Acquity Group, the power of the Blue Martini system becomes available as an on-demand offering for customers looking for a rapid implementation without the complications of licensing and hosting their own solution."
Brian Dean, Ecometry
"J.C. Whitney is a great example of an organization that has completed real-time integration of their online commerce and, as a result, can do an even better job servicing their customers. They have an enormous inventory of 'everything automotive,' and that availability as well as customer transaction information [are] accessible in real time across Web, catalog and call center."
Brian L. Carpizo, CommercialWare
"[For] Norm Thompson we did a complete redesign of its site; outlined strategy to better support brand online and reconnect with the main target audience; increased merchandising flexibility, allowing customers to browse by collection and purchase by outfit; and streamlined the product page to increase conversions and more effectively present product content.
"For Boston Proper we provide a rich customer experience, improved cross-sell capabilities and increased ability to update the site regularly and keep it fresh.
"Finally, for the Sundance Catalog we did a complete redesign of the site and integrated shopping tools and functionality that allowed customers to sort through an extensive product mix to find the most relevant products. Also, we did category-specific product finders, increased sort and filter functionality, identified missed merchandising opportunities and helped create multiple shopping paths to the same product to meet the needs of different shopping behaviors - for example, [in the] jewelry category you could shop by birthstone."
Ken Burke, MarketLive