When it comes to how people buy online, retailers are paying as much attention to how the shopping experience ends as how it starts. According to the The State of Retailing Online 2009: Merchandising Report, conducted by Forrester Research, Inc. of 117 respondents, retailers plan to focus heavily this year on improving customers’ check-out experience. Companies will also place an emphasis on image enhancement on product detail pages and site search filters to help shoppers more easily find what they’re looking for. “In today’s economy, retailers need to be one step ahead, especially when it comes to attracting shoppers who have money to spend,” said Executive Director of Shop.org Scott Silverman. “Companies are investing in their websites to set them apart from their competition and make the shopping experience informative, efficient and even fun.” Retailers Focus on Transparency of Shipping Charges, Checkout Experience According to the survey, eight out of ten retailers (79%) said enhancing the checkout process was on the top of their to-do lists for the remainder of the year, with 90% of medium-sized retailers* listing checkout as a top priority. The largest initiative in this area among retailers seems to be an emphasis on shipping, with retailers specifically increasing the transparency around shipping charges to reduce shopping cart abandonment. According to the survey, 88% of retailers will focus on providing more shipping information within the next year, including such details as when a customer can expect to receive a package and information about when products have left the warehouse. In addition, two-thirds of retailers (67%) said they would pay special attention to calculating the loaded cost of an order prior to checkout. “Retailers realize that, particularly during an economic downturn, shoppers who understand shipping charges at the beginning of the checkout process are less likely to abandon their purchases,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester Research Vice President, Principal Analyst and lead author of the report. In an era of tight budgets, the increased focus on checkout is balanced by a somewhat lessened focus on home page improvements, with 60 percent of companies saying they would concentrate on improving their home page, down from previous years. According to the report, retailers have learned that many shoppers bypass the home page altogether because comparison shopping engines and search engines often direct them to specific pages on retailers’ websites instead. As a result, retailers are focusing more on product detail pages and search results pages. Companies Prioritize Image Enhancement on Product Detail Pages With customers wanting as much information as possible before buying, retailers continue to enhance the quality of information on product detail pages. According to the survey, retailers will focus on adding alternative images of products (50%), zoom, and color or fabric swatches (31%) this year. Retailers are also relying on shoppers themselves to provide key information to product detail pages. According to the survey, more than half of retailers (60%) use customer ratings and reviews and 55% of companies will make ratings and reviews a priority for the coming year. In addition, 34% will incorporate automated recommendation tools by third parties for their site. In addition to improving detail on current pages, retailers are adding new pages to their sites to better accommodate shoppers on a budget. According to the survey, 89% of retailers say that they are introducing sale or clearance pages to their sites in the coming months. Retailers Invest in Search Capabilities to Help Shoppers Find Products Many online shoppers have specific items in mind and retailers are paying special attention to site search features to make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for. According to the survey, nearly three-quarters of retailers (73%) plan to add different skins or filters to their search functions, which would enable shoppers to choose multiple attributes like brand, color, price and size to their site search. In addition, 41% of retailers surveyed said they are evaluating introducing an entirely new search engine to their websites. Source: “The State of Retailing Online 2009: Merchandising Report,” conducted for Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation (NRF), by Forrester Research, July 15, 2009. Website: www.shop.org.