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Are you delivering the optimal shopping experience for shoppers on tablets and smartphones?

BY CSA STAFF

By Thierry Costa, [email protected]

Your online customers are increasingly relying on their tablets and smartphones to research products they want to buy, and to complete their purchases. “Couch commerce,” where shoppers are using their portable devices to take their online shopping away from their desks, has grown steadily over the past several months: according to IBM’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday Reports from late 2011, sales from mobile devices were three times higher in 2011 than 2010. The New York Times also reported that tablets gained prominence with online holiday shopping, as 75% of web shoppers made purchases on their tablets and 94% on their laptops. Some experts predict that tablets will ultimately replace the desktop as a preferred method for purchasing online.

To make sure your customers are just as enthusiastic about your own mobile storefront(s), you should smooth out the navigational and search bumps that can get in the way of fast, easy browsing and shopping – and what you do for a smartphone shopper can differ substantially for tablet shoppers. The technical specifications of both devices require separate strategies for developing ways to help customers browse and find products. Tablets in general offer certain benefits over smartphones as the screens are bigger, which means content and images are easier to read and see.

The tips below are just a few ideas for what retailers can do to improve the user experience of their tablet and smartphone shopping sites by delivering a tailored search and navigation experience.

Assess image selection and zooming capability: Do your product photos rely heavily on a shopper’s ability to zoom in on images, select parts of images, or click back and forth among sets of images? Because tablet users use fingertip taps and swipes to select images and content, make sure you design the user experience to take these gestures into account. Allow users to pinch images, rotate them with their fingers, and hold their fingers on or tap an image to load a bigger image. Consider adding these capabilities right within search results pages. Allowing users to “play” with the product images in search results pages makes a lot of sense – users can examine a product and compare product options directly from the search page, where additional refinements and sort options are also available.

Rethink navigation elements for tablets and smartphones: As with images, tapping the screen is the standard method of navigation for tablets, and for most smartphones as well. However, small text menus – for instance, those that you might find in lists of refinements – are hard to tap on without hitting another menu item by mistake. The same goes for buttons that are too close together, or pagination numbers: these items are easy to click on with a mouse, but challenging to click on with a finger.

Consider making sure text font size and action buttons for tablets and smartphones are bigger than what you would normally use on your regular website. One good presentation idea is a drop-down menu, which gives users full refinement capability while saving screen space by hiding options when they are not in use. This helps reduce visual clutter on the mobile site, since visitors can view more products and content without having to scroll down.

Search page results should also follow device-specific guidelines. For instance, on a smartphone shopping site’s search results page, make sure to use only one column in order to maximize the use of the limited space. Include clear thumbnail images, with product name, short description, and price. On your tablet shopping site search results page, you should use two or three columns in a grid view compared to the three, four, or five you might use on your regular web shopping site. Better yet, allow users to choose the number of grid columns on your tablet shopping site, with a simple swipe of the finger!

Help shoppers do their research – and find the “Buy” button quicker. Consumers using smartphones are sometimes referred to as “hunters,” since they’re usually doing product research or hunting for the best price. For instance, these browsers might be looking for store location and hours, finding out if a particular product is in stock – or looking for a better price online while in a brick-and-mortar store. So how do you turn these browsers into shoppers? One way is to encourage them to shop by rendering the “shop” step easy and natural. This can be done by adding a “Buy” button on the search results page right under the product description or image. Consider showing discounted prices to encourage browsers to become shoppers. Simplifying the checkout process, by reducing the numbers of steps, is also recommended.

Also, make it easy for smartphone users to find localized information, such as product availability near their present location, with simple “In Stock” or “Available Nearby” buttons that take them to the “Buy Now” page directly form the search results page.

On the other hand, when your customers are using tablets to browse your storefront, they’re often sitting comfortably on their couch and are ready to commit to a purchase. In fact, 49% of tablet owners say they plan to buy more via their devices in the coming year, compared with 19% of smartphone owners, according to a study from Zmags and Equation Research. Make sure your search and navigation tools help speed the path from browsing to buying for tablet users – for instance, indicate whether products are in stock or out of stock in search results, so that shoppers can quickly find a product that’s available now.

Give prominent placement to the search box – and add a search box to the bottom of the page. While tablet users benefit from more screen real estate, they can still use some help in finding the search box. For both smartphone and tablet storefronts, make sure the search box is large and easy to find. On Gotapparel’s mobile site, the search box takes up much of the space on the home page, which makes sense – it should be more prominent than the search box that appears on your standard online storefront. For smartphone users, it helps to add an extra search box at the bottom of webpages. This allows shoppers to easily continue exploring the site without having to scroll back up to the top.

The smartphone and tablet landscape is changing rapidly, as new models flood the market and capabilities improve. At the same time, consumers show increasing willingness to shift their browsing and buying habits to these convenient devices. Keep a close eye on website analytics that can tell you which devices shoppers are using when they browse your site and when they make a purchase – and make sure they’re indulging in the best possible m-commerce or couch commerce experience.

Thierry Costa is VP marketing at SLI Systems, a full-service, customized, on-demand solutions for site-search, navigation, merchandising, and user-generated SEO. He can be reached at [email protected].


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Focus on: Operations

BY Connie Robbins Gentry

Given the escalating cost of fuel, conventional wisdom dictates the way to save money would be to schedule fewer miles. But this is not always the case, as witnessed by specialty retailer LifeWay Christian Resources, which found that more frequent deliveries translate to less cost across its retail enterprise.

LifeWay Christian Resources, which operates 170 stores throughout the nation, reinvented its distribution model — shifting from one consolidated truckload delivery per week to its stores to multiple UPS deliveries of smaller quantities.

“Even with the increases in fuel costs, it is still more efficient overall to have frequent store deliveries with smaller volumes rather than one large delivery per week,” said Mike Harry, chief supply chain officer at LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, Tenn., whose stores sell a wide variety of Christian materials and services, including books, music and videos.

The benefits to store operations have been numerous, particularly the reduction in time to process deliveries and the ability to get product on the selling floor more quickly. Store managers know precisely when UPS will deliver each day and exactly what is in each shipment. This visibility, plus the smaller volume of product arriving in each shipment, enables more productive scheduling of store associates and more proactive outreach to customers waiting for new or special-order merchandise. Previously, LifeWay found that while it often had stock on-site, associates couldn’t find the items they needed because supply rooms were jammed with boxes of inventory needing to be unpacked.

“At a high level, we save approximately one hour per store per week — that’s 170 hours saved per week, which is very significant when multiplied across the year,” Harry concluded.

Before adopting the new distribution model, 65% of merchandise shipped direct to store and only 35% went through the LifeWay distribution center. Today that model is reversed: 65% of store deliveries are processed through the DC and arrive at stores in small, easily processed quantities.

“Our goal is to make delivery of product as seamless and quick as possible,” Harry explained. “We have taken steps to minimize the impact of deliveries at the store level by doing things like pre-pricing product before it ships so it arrives floor-ready, and store associates can focus on serving customers rather than performing backroom functions.”

In addition to maintaining and replenishing some 16,000 SKUs in its stores, roughly 130,000 SKUs are available to LifeWay customers via special order and the company’s e-commerce site. A robust visibility tool available through UPS, the Quantum View Inbound Notification system, marries the physical movement of goods with the movement of information — effectively providing store managers with an advanced view of inbound shipments so they know what is arriving on any given day. This visibility and the consistency of UPS deliveries contribute to a positive shopping experience in the store and enhanced service for e-commerce as well as special-order customers.

Looking ahead to the 2012 back-to-school and holiday seasons, Kiel Harkness, UPS retail strategy manager, noted: “E-commerce is the fastest-growing channel, and excellence in fulfillment operations is becoming a key differentiator for retailers. Increasingly, retailers must have the ability to deliver packages when consumers expect to receive them and provide information along the way.”

Lifeway’s Harry acknowledged that the new distribution model was counterintuitive to the retailer’s historical practices and certainly presented a cultural shift. But he said the chain drove the change by helping everyone to understand costs from a holistic standpoint rather than just based on one segment in the operation.

“You have to look at the savings from the standpoint of total operations, not just transportation costs,” Harry emphasized.

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Trending Toward Tablets

BY CSA STAFF

Today’s retail associates have more selling tools at their disposal than ever before — not the least of which is the increasingly popular tablet. The mobile device has taken not only front-of-house selling to new levels but has added efficiencies and enhanced employee productivity to back-of-house functions as well. Chain Store Age talked with Mike Stinson, VP marketing of Motion Computing, about the trend toward tablets.

What are some of the most prevalent uses of tablets in the retail environment?

The most obvious is assisted selling. For example, today’s customer may have a smartphone, will have done comparative shopping in advance of the store visit, and then will enter the store in search of a specific product. The tablet enables the associate to provide that customer with additional information and features.

How does the associate best utilize the tablet in that selling situation?

Imagine presenting that customer — via a media-rich tool with a 10-in. display — with product accessories, side-by-side comparisons, information about what inventory is in stock, what pricing specials might be in play, and what kinds of warranties or rebates are available. What’s more, the associate can swipe the customer’s loyalty card and see what additional value can be provided.

Do you have a real-life example of a tablet being utilized for selling?

We have a retail furnishings customer currently involved in a tablet pilot. Using the tablet means that retailers’ sales associates don’t have to abandon customers to retrieve catalog information from the backroom. An associate can remain with the customer, pull up additional information about, for instance, a couch she is looking at, show the different colors the couch comes in, show various cushion selections and display accompanying pieces such as end tables.

In this scenario, the likelihood of completing the sale goes up and the average ticket increases as well.

What is generating the most interest among retailers?

No question that it’s the mobile POS, whether for line busting or personalized transactions. A major wireless carrier is using the tablet in its stores to reduce wait time and increase sales floor efficiency. High-end department stores use the tablet to allow associates to follow the sale through to transaction completion without passing the customer to another employee. Again, this is expected to increase the average revenue per transaction, as well as the close rate for each employee.

How widespread do you think the use of tablets will become?

Our numbers are showing at least 70% of retailers are evaluating tablets for deployment right now. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, though. There are so many different work flows in a store — selling, managing, security and more — but my prediction is that there will be at least one flow in every store using a tablet within the next 18 months.

Compare the PC-based tablet with other operating systems on the market today.

The Windows-based tablets have the advantage in ease of integration and deployment because they are running existing operating systems and applications. Because other operating systems are targeted at consumers, they may seem more user-friendly. But they are generally optimized for media consumption and not for the data crunching and multi-processing required in a retail business environment.

What are the security issues with regard to mobile payment transactions?

There are three-day seminars on this topic. But the long and short of it is there is nothing really unique about a mobile tablet payment processing function versus taking payment at a fixed terminal. Retailers should look for devices that come with integrated security features, such as the Trusted Platform Module and MagTek or Merchant Link’s built-in encryption, which provide secure information management and enhanced data and business protection.

There are also many software solutions, such as Computrace from Absolute Software.

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B.Low says:
Jan-03-2013 05:12 am

Excellent post
Sant Ritz Sant Ritz is also near elite schools such as St. Andrew’s Secondary School and St. Andrew’s Junior College. Cedar Girls’ Secondary School and CedarPrimary School are also around in the area. For vehicle owners, it takes less than 10 minutes to drive to the business hub and vibrant Orchard Road shopping district, via Pan Island Expressway (PIE) and Central Expressway (AYE).

B.Low says:
Jan-03-2013 05:12 am

Sant Ritz Sant Ritz is also near elite schools such as St. Andrew’s Secondary School and St. Andrew’s Junior College. Cedar Girls’ Secondary School and CedarPrimary School are also around in the area. For vehicle owners, it takes less than 10 minutes to drive to the business hub and vibrant Orchard Road shopping district, via Pan Island Expressway (PIE) and Central Expressway (AYE).

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