Ecommerce: making online shopping unique
Personal shopper: ecommerce is witnessing a data-driven collision between content and commerce as an increasing number of branded websites turn to curation techniques to make online shopping a deeply individual activity
Ecommerce brands are increasing their chances of boosting sales by positioning themselves as “product curators”, using customer insight to create a highly personalised sales experience and help consumers find the products and services they desire.
Thomas Pink has been using the curation technique to create recommendations for its online customers. Its head of ecommerce Nadine Sharara says: “Any brand can have access to data and use technology to make recommendations but the skill is being able to give customers a real sense of direction. We are introducing things such as stylist recommendations to advise people on what tie goes with what shirt, for instance.”
Sharara, who is working with ecommerce search and merchandise technology company Fredhopper on the recommendations, is confident this strategy will drive conversion rates and encourage visitors to spend more.
“The recommendation engine brings in different metrics that mean visitors get a more customised experience depending on what they are searching for,” she says. “We also spend a lot of time analysing feedback from the customer service team and from our live chat helpdesk so people can easily find what they want or might want.”
Being a curator is all about making the experience more convenient - John Ashton, Screwfix
Thomas Pink is not alone. The coffee ecommerce site Has Bean will choose a bespoke blend for consumers, while luxury goods brand Net-a-Porter will pick a new pair of shoes each month to send to customers for a fee.
Online boutique furniture store Mydeco is also moving into curation by adding a ‘wishlist’ area to its retail website, which relaunches this month and replaces the former affiliate site.
Users can add products to their lists that appear on the product pages so other visitors can see which items are being bought along with particular pieces of furniture. Mydeco head of marketing communications Jo Casely says this helps people validate their own shopping choices.
“The data we collect is very important because people navigate into the wishlists,” she says. “This boosts sales because people are encouraged and tempted to buy additional items.”
There are also plans to introduce videos where furniture suppliers talk with consumers about why particular products have been chosen for the site to instil buyers with even more confidence.
The brand does not just suggest products to its audience but even rewrites every product description for its range of 5,000 items from different suppliers.
Casely explains: “Our research shows product descriptions affect people in different ways and there can be a frustration among consumers, which does have an impact on what they buy online.
“We have rewritten everything to get a consistent tone and to make sure the descriptions answer the kind of questions we know our customers ask, such as what material is the product made from? Is it from a sustainable source? What is the delivery time? This is what people want to know before they make a purchase.”
This concept of acting like a trusted mentor in helping consumers decide what to buy online is also used by membership-based clothing site Lux Fix.
The company says it “super curates” fashion content by using data to cherry pick the best of its partner designers’ products each season.
The site holds live 40-minute flash events for members. Clothes can be bought as soon as an event begins but the price falls as the clock ticks down and each designer’s inventory for the event is limited.
A new version of the website launches this month and co-founder Rebecca Glenapp, a former digital marketing manager at comparison website Billmonitor, says content is also curated using feedback gathered from members during online chats, which helps the site to choose four items from each designer’s collection for different events.
“Our members are time-poor professionals who can suffer from inventory overload when buying fashion online, so they want something they can engage in straightaway and which meets their tastes,” says Glenapp.
“Using data to improve on the personalisation aspect will be crucial with the relaunched site. We are only in our second season but the insight is already helping to boost sales of accessories.”
Data and customer feedback has also identified how men using the online store to buy gifts for their partners would benefit from a more personal service in the new site. “Men can input information on their partner, such as their size or colour tastes and what’s in their wardrobe now, and be guided to the best products using an automated personal shopper service,” says Glenapp.
Domino’s Pizza is also using curation techniques to make its online shopping experience as simple as possible.
Domino’s multimedia manager Nick Dutch claims that even in the world of fast food, acting as a product curator and demonstrating understanding of a visitor’s preferences is appreciated. Visitors log in to view their order history while their Create Your Own Pizza page and address are stored. The business achieved an overall jump in sales of 3.6% in the final quarter of 2011, with online orders now accounting for 44.3% of deliveries.
“It means customers do not have to enter their details every time they visit the site and are fewer clicks away from placing their order,” says Dutch.
Domino’s uses analytics to review the purchase funnel and assess how customers are using the site. Pizza buyers are also asked to complete an online survey when they order. This feedback was recently acted on to make the Create Your Own Pizza process easier to use. “In the past six months, we have used data to make 115 amendments,” he says.
“These included minor tweaks, such as changing the colour of buttons from red to green, which customers seem to prefer, and it has boosted sales.”
It is not only consumer websites that are seeing an increase in visitor numbers and conversions from content curation. Screwfix, the multichannel supplier of building materials, has seen a 30% increase in visitor numbers to its online sales platform in a year.
Tradesmen are directed to a different home page depending on whether they are a plumber or an electrician and they can create a shopping list that stores the tools and materials they regularly buy.
John Ashton, head of ecommerce at Screwfix, says selling to the trade is different from selling to consumers. “We don’t need to tell a plumber what they need.
They and the manufacturers are the experts and we are just there to offer the best brands and pricing,” he says. “Being a curator is about making the experience more convenient for busy tradesmen.
“The web platform links into our stores and we have just launched our Click, Collect and Go initiative, which means people can order online or on their mobile when on a job and collect from a branch within 15 minutes.”
With many ecommerce sites only converting between 1% and 4% of their leads, according to Fireclick Index/Nielsen data, a growing number of online retailers will use data to customise and curate content and gain a valuable edge by keeping their visitors feeling valued.
Yet one question being asked is whether multichannel retailers can adopt a similar approach for their high street shops. Could physical stores benefit from the curation philosophy?
Julie Lewis, senior lecturer in marketing at Nottingham Business School, says consumers have always wanted a more customised marketing offer but before online retailing it was something most retailers found difficult to do in practice.
“The IT infrastructure needs to be in place and for many multichannel retailers it has been a case of ‘learn as you go’,” says Lewis. “This is about adding value to the consumer experience by saving them time and effort. If they have quicker access to the products they like they will respond by spending more money or returning again and again. This is something the best online retailers have long realised.”
Aaron Chatterley, chief executive, Feelunique
It is no longer enough just to have a bog-standard ecommerce platform.
Retailers are spending a lot of money getting people to visit their website so it makes sense to do more to encourage them to come back and buy again and again. Acting as a content curator helps do that.
Although the technology for a certain level of personalisation has been there for some time, there is certainly more of an appetite for it now. As part of being a curator and getting the content right for individual visitors, retailers need to think more like magazine publishers rather than simply a business selling products consumers may have read about elsewhere.
Consumers respond to online stores that provide them with good content. They want to read recommendations from experts and know that what they see will be relevant to them.
On Feelunique’s site, we have a section called Beauty Talk, which predicts trends. We employ beauty journalists so that the copy produced is credible. Data is crucial to ensure content is customised effectively but it must also be analysed so the banner advertising people see is also relevant.
We take information on a visitor’s age, skin type and gender, among other things, to ensure they see ads they are more likely to respond to.
We also build personal relationships by understanding the lifecycle of a beauty product. We know when an item such as a moisturiser is likely to run out and we will email the customer 10 days before to remind them to replenish. This builds a personal relationship and has a positive effect on sales.
Ecommerce is witnessing a collision between content and commerce that is being driven by data. This insight will fuel the curation model.
Personalising and curating the ecommerce experience extends to any display advertising consumers see when visiting a site. For retailer Littlewoods, this process was important to improve the effectiveness of its online Christmas campaign.
The retailer worked with personalised retargeting company myThings to combine tactical brand display with retargeting - two previously separate functions.
Real-time website behavioural data and Littlewoods’ anonymous first-party data - including information shared by shoppers, collected from web analytics platforms and the CRM system - were overlaid onto both activities. Additional third-party segment and audience data from different inventory and media partners were then added too.
James Balmain, head of ecommerce at Littlewoods owner Shop Direct Group, explains: “It is rare to combine firstand third-party data in this way but it enabled us to build a powerful personalisation engine with the help of media owners’ data too.”
The technology works by tagging individuals when they enter an advertiser’s website and spotting them again when they enter any ad network site. Using aggregated anonymous data, the engine selects the adverts most likely to appeal to them and creates a personalised banner in real time. It is custom-created with product data, pricing, layout and other information from the retailer’s website, effectively acting as a personalised shop window.
The recommendation engine predicts what product, service or promotion someone is likely to be interested in and factors in other preferences such as incentives or cross-selling.
Balmain claims the initiative has been a success for Littlewoods, with the brand achieving an average post-click conversion rate of 8.2%, while the cost per acquisition was more than 300% above the initial forecast.
nma explains: ecommerce
Product curation is essential for any etailer in order to drive volume of sales and boost selling opportunities. Consumers online don’t have time to browse products in the way they do in-store. Analytics, optimisation and continual split and multivariate testing are critical.
The placement of products needs to respond in near real time to customers’ behaviour. And not only behaviour on the retailer’s site but their overall browsing history. As data collection becomes ever more important, however, retailers must develop transparency so they don’t fall foul of the ePrivacy Directive.
Justin Pearse, new media age