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Mar 30, 2001
Interview

Online Merchandising Tips from Top Consultant Lauren Freedman of the e-tailing group

SUMMARY: This quick article outlines some of the biggest, often obvious, things eretailers can do to improve sales. (You know, sometimes when you are all wrapped up in your business, it's the most obvious insights that escape you.)
Lauren Freedman of the e-tailing group has been helping online merchants improve their site sales since 1994. Freedman came from a background in traditional retail and catalog merchandising, so she has some fascinating insights in how online is different ... and what traditional retailing tactics will always be successful regardless of the medium they take place in.

BEST QUOTE:
"Women are the predominant online buyers now. You'll continue to see them prevail, basically because they buy more stuff in general. The average online shopper is 41, married, with a $65,000 house income and some college."

Tactics to Encourage Customer Loyalty

Just like in traditional retailing, loyal online customers are worth more. On average just 10-15% of visitors are loyal to a site, visiting almost twice as often and spending 1/3 more than a casual visitor. Therefore, before spending more money on generating new traffic, Freedman says it's best to make sure you have loyalty programs in place to maximize ROI. These can include:

- Clubs such as the cooking clubs at Cooking.com

- Custom shopping lists that make repeat orders easier such as the shopping list feature at OfficeDepot.com

- Gift reminder services such as those at RedEnvelope.com

- Personalized shopping recommendations that grow more useful with time as the site learns more about a customer's buying habits, such as Amazon's recommendations program

- Exemplary customer service

How to Make Online Shopping Quick and Easy

According to a cPulse Survey, 79% of holiday shoppers said that shopping online saved them an average of three hours. This is an especially critical factor for e-retailers targeting married women who are the busiest demographic out there. If you can save women time, they will be less likely to abandon their shopping carts, and more likely to return to your site repeatedly. Freedman's recommended methods to save shoppers time include:

- Quick shopping features for customers who've seen a product in a catalog and wish to purchase it online without all the trouble of an extensive search. Best example - Crate&Barrel's catalog quick order feature.

- Live online chat feature with a customer service rep. Freedman says the customers who use this are the types who impatiently hit "0" when they get voicemail on a phone system. LandsEnd is a great example of a site using live chat.

- Unbelievably easy navigation, including easy-to-use smart search capabilities. BlueCross BlueShield's Doctor & Hospital Finder is a useful example of smart search.

- Decision-making tools online that provide personalized shopping help a clerk could provide at an offline store. Good examples of these are JCPenney.com's sizing guidelines tool and PetsMart.com's dog food calculator.

Ease the Transition Between Online and Offline Shopping

Freedman says 23% of online shoppers prefer to research online and then purchase offline. Critical site features to appeal to this demographic include:

- The ability to take online returns at brick and mortar stores

- Store location finders on the site

- Prices displayed for all products -- even if orders for those products cannot be taken online. This is especially important for offline retailers using their Web site as "brochureware" rather than an active e-store. Also, online shoppers like to know if prices vary between online and offline purchases.

Yes Brand Still Matters

Freedman agrees with other experts who say branding is critical online. Strong offline brands can make a site more powerful. This means that:

- Online retailers without an offline arm should feature well-known brand name products to establish credibility.

- Additional channels strengthen multi-channel retailers as customers encounter them at every media touchpoint in their lives. Best example, MarthaStewart.com.

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