by David Kirkpatrick
, Senior Reporter
When a manufacturing company also has an e-commerce side selling the same products directly to customers, there can be a conflict of interests. Should the direct sale element compete with the company’s clients, stores selling its products, or should the company consider any sale of its products a good sale?
This case examines how one marketer solved this issue.
Step2, a manufacturer of plastic toys for children, made a very bold marketing move. In the heart of its most important business season, the company completely changed the way it presented its products on the company website.
The company sells directly to the public, but an overwhelming majority -- around 90% -- of its products are sold through retailers such as Walmart, Amazon and Toys"R"Us . In a sense, the smaller consumer aspect of the business competes with the much larger reach it gets from selling to retailers.
To square that circle, the marketing team at Step2 decided to post on the e-commerce website both its consumer price, as well as provide pricing and links to merchants that sell its products. This essentially sets up the Step2 site as a potential one-stop shop for any customer.
Tena Crock, Online Marketing Director, Step2, said the timing of this change made the success of this effort very important to the company, but also provided a wealth of data to give the marketing team a solid reading on whether it worked or not.
"We started it in December, which was a little scary," she said. "Seventy five percent of our sales come in from Black Friday through Christmas Eve."
Read on to find out how Step2 implemented this shift on the website in the middle of its busiest season, and achieved a better than 25% lift in conversion in the process.
One issue was the consumer piece of Step2’s business was competing with retailers selling its products. When Walmart and Amazon would enter into a price war, Step2’s e-commerce side would also lower the consumer price of the product. Shipping costs became an issue, and Step2’s consumer sales margins were being severely cut into.
Step #1. Identify the business problem
With this in mind, the marketing team came to a conclusion. Crock stated, "The message we wanted to get out was, ‘We don’t care where our products are sold.’"
She added, "We just wanted to make sure that we are selling our products."
Because Step2’s retail clients started devoting less shelf space to its large, bulky products -- such as plastic wagons -- the Internet became increasingly important for sales, causing another issue.
People would find these products with a Web search, reach Step2’s site, but then leave the site to buy the Step2 product elsewhere. Worse, they would sometimes find a competitor’s product in the searched for category, such as "play kitchen" or "swing set."
To combat all these issues, Step2 decided to continue selling direct to consumers on its website, but also include comparison prices and links
to help ensure its products are sold, no matter what company actually completes the transaction.
Step #2. Drive traffic to the website with paid search
Once Step2 began listing retailers’ prices, the website became a vital tool for Sales since many of the big box clients, such as Toys "R" Us, were selling Step2’s products, but not devoting shelf space for the large items.
Organic traffic was important, but the marketing team also used paid search using broad terms -- such as "playhouse," "climber" and "wagon" -- to drive traffic to the product detail page for the latest item in that category.
Website visitors could buy that product from the product detail page, but they were also presented with comparison shopping prices to retailers with links to those websites.
The goal for the marketing team was to get traffic to Step2’s site for these broad search terms that matched its products, and then ensure that if the website visitor navigated away from the page, it was to a retailer selling its products. The team wanted to avoid potential customers going back to the search engine where they might find a competitor’s product.
Step #3. Utilize content to improve organic website traffic
To improve organic traffic to the Step2 website, the marketing team employed a number of content strategies.
Adding rich media, such as video
, was part of this effort. Video added additional value for the company since retailers were not devoting as much shelf space for the products. Video created a way for customers to see the products in action.
Crock said, "People can see the value of our product and recognize the play value."
User-generated content in the form of product reviews
was another aspect of the content strategy.
"We have over 20,000 reviews on our website for our products," explained Crock, "And our reviews are indexed for search."
The company included a gamification element where if reviewers added a picture or video to the product review, they would receive points. To date, Step2 hasn’t decided what to do with the points, but reviewers are accumulating them.
A final element to improve organic search was an overhaul of the URL structure, where the URL included the product number, product name and product category.
Step #4. Add social media to the mix
Step2 also used social media to create buzz for its products and drive traffic to the product detail pages. The company utilized Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest.
Although Facebook had the highest level of engagement, Pinterest was an important piece of the social media strategy because of its age and gender demographics, since the marketing team at Step2 was very interested in reaching moms.
Crock said reaching that market was so important that outreach to "mom bloggers" was another piece of the social media outreach. The marketing team would even provide products for these bloggers before they were available to the general public to help build buzz and attention.
This overall effort led to a 2.13% conversion to sale on the e-commerce site, a lift of 26.3%. At the same time, Step2 is providing leads for retailers through the on-site links.
Crock added that she doesn’t have a hard metric to put behind the result, but sales through the Internet channel for Step2 products overall is up since this e-commerce push has been in effect.
- Comparison prices and links
- Product reviews
-- Step2’s online shopping vendor
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