Strategic Merchandising for Higher Conversions

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It wasn't very long ago that more emphasis was placed on simply getting a potential customer to visit a site than having him actually complete a transaction.


The theory of percentages was hard at work. Companies thought that if these potential customers could be persuaded to visit the site, some nominal percentage would become qualified prospects.


Though this seemed like a good plan for a while, it had obvious flaws.


First, the notion of channeling traffic from a strategic partner's site through the use of untargeted, general advertising or promotions often led to empty visits. Once visitors reached a site, they abandoned the completion of any transaction for various reasons. They might not have been searching specifically for the products offered, for example, or they might have had their curiosity piqued just enough to visit and then leave.


In today's market, with so many external pressures from investors and competitors, the mere ability to acquire a visitor holds little value.


Therefore, companies are no longer budgeting for expensive cost-per-thousand-based advertising programs. Instead, more emphasis is being placed on cost-per-acquisition-based models that rely solely on the performance of a campaign instead of on the hope that a campaign will produce.


There is plenty of data to support the notion that more than half of visitors who reach a product's offer page will abandon the site or network before reaching the order-processing page. In addition, half will leave before getting to the thank-you page.


How can we take this visitor to the next level? How can we present an argument persuasive enough to entice the visitor to complete the order process and reach the thank-you page?


We first must recognize any barriers that may be breaking down the transaction process. The goal is to eliminate barriers and provide the visitor with the necessary information to easily navigate through your site or network to locate a product of interest.


Start by providing the visitor with a simplistic categorization of products, informative copy on the products and an easy method of navigating. This strategy can be taken one step further not only to reach the right audience with the right product in the right context, but also break down many of the barriers that prevent customers from ordering.


Allowing customers not only to locate your products on a strategic partner's site but also to transact an order for that product without ever having to leave that site is a key to greater conversion rates.


By building in the ordering process on your partner's site and making that process simpler, you eliminate many of the common barriers to bringing a visitor to your site. The customer is much more likely to process his order if it can be done in a time-efficient, hassle-free manner. Subsequently, conversion rates can more than double by implementing such a strategy.


Similarly, a winning promotion must include the right product for the right audience in the right context.


Partnering with companies that can provide the necessary vehicle to promote your product to an interested audience is key. You have only a few brief moments to capture the attention of the viewer. It is essential to deliver a compelling argument that offers the right message about your product to attract the audience, and to persuade them to inquire further and order the product.


Targeted marketing is not a new concept. However, the endless potential the Internet offers for targeting your products to the right audience is truly amazing. Never before could you reach so many, so quickly, with the right targeted offer. With so many niche sites on the Internet today, strategically aligning with the right sites can prove to be an extremely valuable tool in acquiring qualified customers.


Visits are great to boast about, but companies that can produce high conversions from those visits are the ones that will ascend to the next level.


We must rely on common-sense marketing practices, both new and old, with a mix of assertive targeted merchandising tactics in turning visitors into customers. Only then will we be able to establish the long-term relationships with these customers that will prove vital to our success.


• Tim Choate is chairman/CEO of Aptimus Inc., Seattle, an online direct marketing network. Reach him at timc@aptimus.com.
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