By Steve Cole, CMO, Gladson
Here’s a bit of holiday cheer for retailers: According to Shop.org, online sales will grow 13%-15% this holiday season. But do retailers have what it takes to cash in?
One of the most critical elements of merchandising online is providing shoppers with detailed product information. With so many options – both in products and places to buy – converting a visit to a sale is about communicating key brand messages and the details about individual products. Improved integration of online and in-store marketing and merchandising, often referred to as omni-channel selling, means effective content about products online will drive both e-commerce and store sales.
In order to engage shoppers and increase sales for the upcoming holiday season, retailers’ websites must include four crucial components:
1. Great product images
It’s vital that retailers provide consistent and up-to-date product images across all shopper marketing channels for the products they sell. Both retailers and brands invest heavily to create and maintain a consistent and powerful brand image. Any time the brand is diluted, shoppers lose confidence and sales are lost. Especially online, inconsistency in product imagery can weaken the brand and create doubt during the selection process.
For example, imagine a shopper researching a product online and comparing it with a coupon from a print ad. If the photo on the coupon doesn’t match the online image, this discrepancy can confuse the shopper and result in a lost sale.
It’s a constant struggle, but brands and retailers are working together to create, manage, maintain and distribute high-quality product images that enhance the shopper’s experience and drive sales.
2. Reliable product information
Recent studies have shown that as many as 80% of U.S. shoppers use the internet to research and purchase products, so retailers’ online presences must satisfy shoppers’ quests for reliable product information. Depending on the product type, this means item descriptions, nutrition facts, ingredients, dimensions, marketing claims, warnings and more need to be online, consistent, accurate and up to date. This is especially true during the holidays, as shoppers base gift selection, menu planning and other activities on product information.
Retailers are using value-added online resources such as wish lists, recipe suggestions, product recommendations and more, based on detailed product information and shopper preferences to cement customer loyalty and increase their share of the shopper’s spending.
3. Localized pricing
Shoppers don’t want to visit their local store and find that a product is more expensive than it was advertised online. This is especially important during the holidays, because shoppers are often “on a mission” for certain items and will turn to a competitor if a retailer fails to meet their price expectation.
Prices vary from market to market, but the shopper wants to know how much she is going to pay in her store, not in the store across town or in another state. Location-specific pricing requires retailers to integrate their web – and mobile – presence with price files and POS systems in order to show prices online and in apps that are consistent with the shoppers’ local stores. Many retailers ask their shoppers who register for their websites and mobile apps to select a favorite store or enter a zip code, but leading-edge apps on location-aware smartphones make this simpler.
4. Real-time inventory
Shoppers use many different devices and media in making purchase decisions, whether it’s for a single item or for a full basket. They have been trained to expect that what they see online they can buy in their local store so visibility of available inventory is becoming increasingly important. Leading retailers have developed systems to maintain a perpetual inventory, by store and online, to deliver on this expectation.
This continuous inventory visibility is accomplished by integrating inventory management systems with order entry and point-of-sale data. More than ever, this means integration of supply chain systems and technologies with customer-facing applications, bringing IT and marketing together to deliver a real-time experience to the shopper.
The bottom line: accurate, detailed product information increases sales. This is even more important today, when only 25% of shoppers consider themselves to be brand loyal. Shoppers who feel well informed about a product will purchase more frequently than those who do not; shoppers want control over where they are spending their money, and good information about products empowers purchasing decisions and gives them control.
Steve Cole is the chief marketing officer with Gladson, a Lisle, Ill.-based company that provides product images, product content and related services for the U.S. consumer packaged goods industry.