Rebuild Your Site and Cater to Power Shoppers

I love offline shopping. My spouse hates it. The reality is that neither of us has the time for shopping.

In the bricks-and-mortar world, she rarely shops for anything but essentials. I still do, but when I do, I go fast. We are similar in that we both lack time, but we are still very different attitudinally. We are also different in behavior and in lifetime value. Most importantly, we are decisive, high spenders with strong commitment to retailers that serve our needs. If you focus on serving the shopping needs of the power shopper, you will create a more effective online retail capability for all your stakeholders and constituencies.

What is a power shopper? A power shopper shops both off-price and mainstream. He either quickly finds at least a few things worth focusing on or he is gone. He knows other power shoppers who are just like him — people who love to shop, who find good things and who move through the store fast. And since power shoppers buy clothes and more for the whole family, they tend to buy and return as well as buy and store away for the future. To profit from them is easy, if you meet their needs.

Many of these folks are Web-shopping enthusiasts as well, but very few online retailers seem to focus on what certain offline retailers have learned to do — cater to the power shopper. If they are, they are not doing a very good job of telling people about it.

Learn from bricks and mortar. Creating navigation and functionality for the power shopper requires something very different from standard search functionality. Power shopping is about movement through departments, rapid scanning of available options, quick comparisons of multiple items, visualization of ensembles, quick decisions, quick checkout and more.

Working in retail merchandising, you burn a lot of cycles on flow patterns. Some of that work is exactly counter to good design for online retail, but some of it is right on. Too often on the Web the problem starts with the home page and usually gets worse.

Power shoppers need a home page that shows them everything your store is about. Not tells, shows. Visualize a huge storefront window with clear views down every aisle. How would you do that? Some providers of stock photography have made incredible use of Flash technology to enable rapid viewing of massive catalogs. Big soft goods retailers need to take this to the next level. The Gap is so user friendly in person. It is trying on the Web, but power shopper Gap fans probably still prefer bricks-and-mortar, even if they know their sizes perfectly.

For power shoppers, flow patterns that force maximum travel distances are anathema. Mazes on single floors are bad, dead travel between floors is bad and distance between complementary items is the worst.

Online, they must be able to get anywhere on your site from anywhere else in one click. Shoes, click, socks. Pants, click, shirts. It means just that. Boom, click, boom. Not boom, look, scroll, find, click, nope, back, try again. From anywhere to anywhere with a click. The closest we have found to being able to do this the way we want to on a major site is at Macromedia recently ran a contest for retail site design, and the winners really got this.

Use database technology for them. When power shoppers get to where they want to be, they want to see it all — the styles in all the colors, or all the colors in all the styles. Show them a site that has shop by color navigation, shop by style, shop by color and style and so on.

Technically speaking, they want more canned queries and reports to choose from. They also want better ad hoc queries. Yes, they do want collaborative filtering and rules engines as long as they improve the flow. They would also like to know as much as possible about their progress. A browsing basket concept is different from a shopping basket. The database technology online retailers should use to maximize the marketing learning and profitability of their sites can be turned on its end to vastly improve the shopping experience.

Is there a site out there that lets shoppers carry things around during a session that they can easily cull several times before buying? How about one that will clearly tell them what they have already looked at during a session? And what they looked at in past sessions and what they bought? Browser technology does this a bit, and Amazon is starting. In fact, Amazon is starting to become a power shopping site.

What’s coming and what should be. Online retailers have been tinkering with mall concepts for some time. They are working hard on virtual changing rooms and so on. That’s all well and good. They will get there some day. There is a whole population of power shoppers out here today reveling in the types of search functionality Yahoo and others are providing for finding stuff, only to be disappointed once they get to an online store.

Power shoppers are waiting to be served on the Web in ways a number of very well-known offline retail merchandising brands have perfected. You will find power shopper prospects in your Web database by looking for session paths that jump all over the place. They cover a lot of ground very quickly.

You will probably also notice a high rate of nonpurchase and probably a high rate of shopping cart abandonment. Do not ignore what they are telling you. These are symptoms of power shoppers trying and failing at having, online, the offline experience they know and love.

If you were rebuilding today. If you were rebuilding your retail site today, you would be smart to make sure to get plenty of input from the best available bricks-and-mortar merchandisers you can find. You would study the search and shopping behaviors of the power shoppers your offline experts know at the offline store. And then you would work with your technical team to build in site functionality that delivers against folks like them — folks who love to shop, have plenty to spend and make the purchase decisions for more than just themselves. Rebuild for the power shopper, and you will deliver the kind of return on investment from your site that you have been hoping for.

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