Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Online stores Product Placements

Online stores lack the observable physical start and finish structure of a retail store. At retail, a customer can clearly see aisles and shelves filled with products and the checkout counters waiting to total their purchases. Online, there is a virtual space that is unseen and unclear as the customer "steps" through the store entrance and onto the home page. Once there, the shopper knows there are lots of products, yet he can't see how many. He also can't see the structure of the aisles or how products might appear on the shelf. And he can't tell the size or the depth of the store. This can be disorienting because the customer doesn't know if the store is a big operation or a small one—the tip of an iceberg or only an ice cube.

As the shopper starts clicking choices and wanders through the e-aisles, he can be confronted with virtual pallets full of random products (long line listings). Or he can be presented with structured, organized shelves filled logically with an assortment of products that are easy to select.

Some products are better suited for online sales than others. Multi-channel shoppers will choose to purchase products based on convenience and proximity to their businesses or homes. And this depends on the product itself. Many people shop online, regardless of where they actually purchase. They may research information for a higher priced or larger item online, but they make the purchase in person at retail. More routine, commodity, and low involvement products make ideal online purchases.

A strategic retail shelf-management technique determines product shelf placement. Typically, placement is determined by the number of turns—volume of product sold during a month—and value of the specific product. Unfortunately, key areas on web pages are sold for advertising space instead of reserving them for prime products. Also, dynamically generated product listings are often sorted by the database rules—such as alphabetically by product name or numerically by product number—and not by product value to the merchant.

Internet 2010

Above the Pack and Above the Fold

Online products most frequently purchased or products that have other strategic value should be placed "above the fold." This is the viewable part of the web page as it renders in a conventional 600 x 800 resolution screen. It is analogous to placing the product on the retail shelf at eye‑level. This placement makes it most convenient for people to find. Customers stop searching if they have to scroll too much or click to other pages, which is similar to putting products on the top or bottom shelf.

Considerations must be given to emerging technologies and adoption of Internet devices I such as handheld PCs and net or web TV so that prime products are displayed first.

Limiting Choice with Conscious Intent

Even with the ability to offer a limitless product mix, there is a point where the law of diminishing returns comes into play. Unlike a retail store and catalog that have physical limitations, the online store has depth, limited only by the system storage space and servers running the we bsite. The more products in the database, the harder it is to organize and merchandise them.

Limiting choice is a strategy employed to manage the structure to ease product selection and minimize warehousing and fulfillment transactional costs. Too much choice can actually be an inhibitor to purchasing and a reason for abandoned shopping carts. This occurs when the product comparison and selection tasks become too overwhelming. Even with the mistaken perception that online shelf space is limitless, customer considerations and business drivers must be taken into consideration.

Online shoppers look to their online merchants as experts in the products they sell. Many online resellers feel that providing customer choice equates with providing them every product that is available. This view forces shoppers to compare and make choices from long lists of possibilities with limited information. Shoppers often don't bother and shop somewhere else instead.

What better service to your customers can you provide than making recommendations to them? To start, this can be simply identifying products as "good, better, and best" for the shopper's need. These recommendations can be based on price and quality of the brand. These designated products can be placed above the fold for those shoppers who don't know where to begin to comparison-shop. Then, additional choices can be listed or featured for those customers who would like more choices and have more time to browse.

Product and category long-term value factors must be considered in developing the good, better, best model, however. Customers will develop trust for your store if their experience with the product matches your recommendations. They will continue to see you as the expert in the products you sell.

Increasing Cash Register Ring

Many techniques can influence the number of items purchased or the total value of the she cart. Three of these successful retailing techniques to leverage online are cross-selling, up ing, and purchasing spares. In fact, there is more opportunity online through virtual mess to attach these to products than in traditional retail or catalog phone orders.

Cross-selling products are a method by which the online store recommends complex items for customer purchase. This technique drives incremental sales and is typically innate. These "add-on" products can also provide a fuller solution for the customer. Some impel recommendations could be jewelry and shoes with dresses, cables with printers, batter- with electronic devices, or salsa with chips.

Relevant and complementary items work best for cross-selling. These items might belong to the same category or they might belong to a completely different category. Conduct a holistic evaluation on your website to put together recommendations for key products. Make it convenient and easy for the customer to add the item to the cart. Complementary products are good items to consider as bundles and "e-kits," a tool.

Up-selling is a method by which a product within the same category with varying degrees functionality is recommended that may better meet a customer's longlterm needs. This method replaces a less-expensive product purchase with a more-expensive product purchase, while cross-selling adds additional products to the cart.

Another cross-selling technique is to recommend that the customer buy "spare" products.

It is technique is best for consumable, repeat purchases. It's never convenient to have to go to retail store when you run out of a product. This can be an incentive to increase the number of products in the shopping cart, especially if your online store offers free shipping or other delivery options for a designated sale amount. This technique also keeps customers coming back as repeat purchasers making more frequent visits to your store. Many customers return to the original store for repeat purchases if their experience was positive.

Using valuable cross-sell merchandising space for non-relevant products doesn't work. Many online stores currently make the mistake of "down-selling," which happens when stores believe they are offering customers "choice." This practice can recommend a lower-quality product at a lower price, which may not be in the best interests of the customer. The store's perceived value of choice may conflict with the customer's perceived value of the recommendation. As one customer put it, "It's like going to a premium store, and being offered flea-market items."

Down-selling often occurs when webpage space is sold as manufacturer advertising or the product manufacturer offers "spiffs" (sales representative incentives) attached for the merchant. While seemingly harmless, this practice may cause you to lose credibility with customers due to the recommendations you make. As an online merchant, customers see you as an expert. If this is compromised by non-relevancy, customers may lose faith and trust in your judgment.

Customers look to online stores to recommend the right products, not to merely list products for sale. Used effectively, these techniques increase the total cash register ring and provide customers with complete and best solutions.

Increasing Frequency of Purchases

Increasing the frequency of purchases is an online technique that considers customers' purchasing behaviors. It is somewhat related to cross-selling when follow-up products are offered to customers at a designated time after an initial purchase is made. This is essentially a "postponed" cross-sell. For this technique, it is imperative to understand your specific target customers and have a thorough understanding of product-related categories and other categories as defined by retail customer segment clustering techniques.

Online sales data is analyzed for trends. For example, a trend might identify that customers who purchase a new desktop PC also purchase a new printer two months later. The store can provide printer information to the PC customer as a follow-up a month later.

Tracking customer purchases and integrating the information into your CRM database will allow you to customize messages to your customers when they enter your website. You can greet them personally and acknowledge past purchases. If the customer buys routine supplies from you at regular intervals, give the customer the option of placing a standard order. Even small companies take advantage of this technique. One pizza chain keeps records of each take-out pizza ordered linked to the customer's phone number. When the customer calls in an order, he asked if he would like the same as his last order. The same concept applies online. But it must be non-intrusive and with the customer's permission.

Taking this a step further, the company can recommend, based on ordering history, what it thinks a particular customer might like to purchase in the future. This technique must be very customized to be on target and should be linked to a personal shopping service. Otherwise, it may be perceived as an annoyance.

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