Retailers Striving to Differentiate Themselves, More Focus on Social, Mobile Commerce

More retailers are enhancing their e‑commerce navigation tools, and also are more focused on mobile commerce and social media than a year ago, according to new data released recently from The E‑tailing Group Inc.  According to the company's new Mystery Shopper study, 74% of retailers have drop-​down or fly-​out menus in their navigation bars, up from 64% in 2010. Also, more retailers are allowing shoppers to use advanced search, as 39% of retailers now have this feature, compared with 21% in 2010. 

Retailers are also adding site features that aid shoppers with their product research. For example, 74% of retailers have product or how-​to guides available to site visitors, compared with 64% in 2010. “An increase in the number of guides and how-​to content is notable, particularly on the product page,” says the report’s author, Lauren Freedman. “Here, too, video plays a key role, enlightening and educating shoppers prior to purchase. Year over year, the quality of both store and product locators has greatly improved with more information and merchandising forthcoming.”

ONLINE RETAILERS STRIVING TO DIFFERENTIATE THEMSELVES

Faced with consumer brand partners who are increasingly selling online to consumers, retailers are working to differentiate themselves in ways that go beyond free shipping offers, such as highlighting particular brand offerings, exclusive products or the latest trends. 84% of retailers allow consumers to shop by brand (compared to 75% in 2010), for example, and 79% allow shoppers to refine search results by brand (up from 64% in 2010).

Although ‘creative’ free-​shipping is a differentiating element, ranging from unconditional to a specific dollar threshold, merchants are making moves to set themselves apart from the competition beyond a reliance on promotional tactics, which appears to be an everyday occurrence,” Freedman says. “Showcasing brands is a primary means by which merchants are distinguishing themselves.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

Retailers are also increasingly adding social media functions to their sites. The Facebook Like button appeared on 71% of e‑commerce sites studies, compared with 36% in the previous study in 2010, and 95% of retailers provide a link to social networks, versus 83% in 2010.

About half of the retailers’ Facebook pages allow some form of shopping, but only 16% of merchants enable shoppers to complete their purchase within the network, with the rest linking back to their e‑commerce sites where the consumer can check out.

MOBILE STRATEGY

Mobile strategies are advancing quickly, too, as the study found that 78% of retailers had a mobile-​optimized site compared with 44% in 2010. 66% had mobile apps available this year; the study did not measure that in 2010.

Freedman concludes that "merchants are concurrently refining online tactics to find, inform, personalize and connect with improved speed and efficiency, while diligently developing social and mobile initiatives.”

[Source:  "14th Annual Mystery Shopping Study."  The E‑tailing Group.  25 Jan. 2012.  Web.  26 Jan. 2012.]