E-retail loyalty may depend on smarter testing
The addition of some simple testing and accountability to a retail web site can make a significant and positive difference to trading figures, according to James Murray of Interwoven.
It is possible, considering the closer scrutiny that boards of directors are already applying to marketing budgets, that 2009 may be the year in which marketing and marketers become truly accountable for their successes - or failures. They will become accountable not only for sales, revenue, but also for company performance.
The key to making this accountability successful, Murray suggests, lies in the marketer knowing not only what customers want but also how to provide it. To do this, the marketing department need to persuade every visitor who browses the web site that the company has exactly what they are looking for, at an appropriate price, and with a level of service and security that instils confidence, credibility, and trust. The problem is that there is a very short time - on average only 9 seconds - to do that, Murray says.
So, if you attract a consumer to the web site, and also convince them to engage with the company, how do you then help them to believe that they will find exactly what they want or need. This involves encouraging each visitor to become more than just a 'window shopper' by optimising the web channel to fit their needs as exactly as possible.
This is the point at which web store testing is invaluable, because it is far too costly to make changes and introduce features that don't work for the consumer. For example, Murray warns that e-retail marketers should test vast numbers of combinations of both web content and page layout to find out which are most effective. This approach allows the marketer to scrap the 'one size fits all' approach that deters so many customers because it just doesn't meet their needs. Indeed, through multi-variable testing of a web site, marketers can more easily pinpoint exactly what customers want and even have the right items ready in-store before the customer walks in through the doors.
The process of personalisation varies for each visitor and will be dependent upon the information that the individual carries with them as they move along on their browsing and buying journey. For example, multi-variable testing allowed ING Direct to track, test and target each visitor's behaviour, and to provide offers and an experience so rich and full of temptation that consumers can find very few reasons leave the site, there was a 59% rise in click-throughs on the company's Savings Account landing page, along with a 24% increase in new account applications.
This kind of testing is focused on optimising what already exists (i.e. web site attributes and customer traffic). In another example cited by Murray, the UK retailer John Lewis found that simple testing and comparison of content on the log-in page reduced both bottlenecks and hurdles for customers entering the buying process. The results highlighted that supposedly value-adding copy actually stopped customers proceeding to the checkout. Over 30,000 combinations and 86 content recipes were tested and simply removing some of the existing text eliminated a previously unseen barrier between customers and their purchases. This change may sound simple and small, but it was the catalyst for an additional £2.7 million in additional sales over a 12 month period.
Given the ongoing shift of consumer preference from High Street shopping to online shopping (for example, 77% of those polled by PayPal said that internet shopping is more convenient), a company's online channel has never been more critical to the brand's overall success in the marketplace. Information collected from account details and customer profiles can be used in conjunction with contextual data to provide a better and more immediate knowledge of what each customer is looking for, allowing marketers to create an increasingly more personal and relevant online shopping experience.
Multi-variable testing also enables marketers to address and control the issue of multi-channel variation: If a customer browsing on the internet likes what they see and then visits a bricks-and-mortar store, only to find that the in-store offering doesn't match the web-based offering, the customer's trust and loyalty is jeopardised.
But, perhaps more importantly, a big temptation in today's economic climate is to keep cutting prices to keep customers happy, but this kind of testing allows marketers to find out the optimum discount for their customers. As Murray says, "Why offer 25% when 10% will do?"
Undeniable proof that customers respond to a more tailored user experience can be seen by movie site LoveFilm. Through testing, the company found that customers preferred a change in the header colour (from red to white), a change in the area surrounding the 'free trial' button (replacing prices with promotional offers), and some small changes in the site's layout. These minor adjustments are expected to produce an estimated 7-figure revenue increase annually.
"Customers are smarter and more aware than ever before, and their demand for a tailored experience matches their unscrupulous eye for detail," concluded Murray. "Provide them with the experience they're looking for and you will have turned a window shopper into a customer."