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I was recently asked to comment on my views how online retailers should "merchandise" their websites. The gist of my response was as follows.

From experience gained by working with over 300 retailers over the past 10 years, the key issues around developing online sales are in the following areas:

Development of brand offline

Having strong offline presence is vital to establishing high latent demand. Relying exclusively on online & onsite brand communications is a challenge and often uneconomic: retailers should exploit their multi-channel profile – it’s a differentiator.

Ultimately, success is based upon a unique proposition, a compelling and desirable product range, competitively-priced, well-packaged and delivery cost-effectively and quickly with superb after-sales service.

Customer acquisition (generating traffic from new customers)

Gaining new customisations online is extremely costly: the conventional methods include paid-search (low conversions unless for brand-related traffic); SEO (useful for long-tail, but lower converting); affiliates (can be effective, but a small % of overall traffic). Social media is the current holy grail, but ROI is difficult to prove.

Customer retention & re-marketing

Email marketing is the “silver bullet”. The critical factors here are to target individual segments with the appropriate mix of products and promotions.

Customer service & fulfilment

Efficient & well-constructed service propositions are vital. This includes everything from communication of service (costs, methods, timings, returns etc) to its implementation.

Targeting of relevant products & offers

Keeping product and site content fresh, interesting and relevant is one of the hardest tasks for online retailers. Not only does it involve the tasks of planning and implementation, but also creative and technical execution on a website. It is here that automated merchandising tools can play most part, by allowing site managers to define rules for bringing content and product in front of the right customers.

Development of brand online

Related to the above, online retailers need to evolve content which appeals to customers to inspire & motivate, once these customers have been tempted back to the site. Especially relevant now is the distribution of this content via social media and other online channels.

Measurement and analysis

None of the above make sense unless there is a commitment to measure and analyse results and capture data/feedback. Customers are voting with their feet in their thousands every day – the astute online retailer studies what works and what doesn’t and then takes action.

Screen Pages offers guidance and advice on how to promote, merchandise and manage client websites for maximum effect.

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