Forrester Research and Shop.Org‘s much anticipated study The State of Retailing Online has good news for ecommerce retailers. Nearly 60% of survey participants reported a rise in conversion rates during 2011. But the starting point for those improved statistics was an average conversion rate of just 2-3%. That’s still a weak ratio in real terms. It seems as an industry we have more to do to crack the question of truly embedding online purchasing into the sales loop.

The retail experience: it’s all about the journey

There’s no doubt that multi-channel shopping is here to stay, with more than 50% of shoppers incorporating virtual channels into their shopping journey. But in March 2012 Experian demonstrated that 90% of actual purchases still happen on the high street.

One year on, bricks and mortar remain integral to multi-channel retailing, with 87% of UK shoppers still favouring physical stores as the point of purchase. Shopping behaviour, it seems, may not have changed as much as we might think it has.

Shoppercentric’s research Shopping in a Multi Channel World reveals that 45% of shoppers will ‘always love going to the shops, no matter what new technologies are available’. We all know that ecommerce satisfies a growing consumer demand for multi-channel convenience. However, the evidence suggests online retailers would do well to pay attention to high street merchandising techniques on their sites to satisfy an inherent consumer love for the physical shopping experience.

Creating inspiring ecommerce: take some tips from the high street

Forrester and Shop.org’s research also highlights the most useful tools in driving conversions. Sales and clearance pages, product reviews and the ability to search by price, brand and other parameters all rank highly. It’s not a coincidence that these techniques closely reflect retailing strategies deployed in-store.

It follows that conversion rates online can be influenced by powerful visual merchandising strategies and their effect on the customer. Yet in my experience many retailers still encounter serious limitations in the ability of their ecommerce platforms to do just that.

Harvey McEwan highlights the user’s site journey as a powerful conversion strategy. “Search engine optimisation is essential for driving visitors to your site” he points out, “but will also have very little effect if the traffic doesn’t know what to do when it arrives there”.

Well said, Mr McEwan. Shoppers will abandon a faulty search experience or uninspiring product placement in the same way that they might avoid a dowdy, incoherent high street display. All that investment in SEO will be wasted if you don’t get your merchandising right on your site.

New technology to optimise your online merchandising

My previous blog shows that target product groupings do not in reality respond to personal behaviour, but make clumsy assumptions based on group behaviour. Locayta Freestyle Merchandising takes a different approach. A powerful mix of rules based merchandising, user responsive algorithms and unique Balance Factor technology function collaboratively. They deliver genuinely targeted search results and category listings plus elaborate visual merchandising, equipping ecommerce merchants to create a more sophisticated journey that genuinely recreates the high street experience online.

Our client Boohoo’s Ecommerce Manager Catherine Turner sums up the benefits beautifully. “When a new buzz hits the catwalk it’s vital for us to adapt our visual displays and search criteria at a moment’s notice” she says. “With Locayta we can tie our categories and sequencing into a wide variety of trends, colour stories, collections, and special promotions in line with the latest media coverage. It’s all about delivering fast, relevant product placement as well as detailed category and search functionality.”

Other clients including Tesco, Superdry, Paperchase and the British Museum mix and match key elements of the platform which uniquely combine search and product recommendation functionality with visual merchandising within a single system. This approach has resulted in increased conversions and average order values for these brands.

By taking the best elements of high street merchandising techniques and delivering them effectively merchants can optimise their online retailing strategies, and hence their sales revenue. What’s more, they can streamline operational input, increasing their ROI and deliver an efficient, responsive online performance.

Locayta Freestyle Merchandising is the first system enabling retailers to do this in a single, simple to use system that can be integrated into their own ecommerce platform. If this grabs your attention you can view a free demo online, or contact us to find out more.

Read more:

The State of Retailing Online (Forrester Research and Shop.Org, September 2011)

The Changing Face of UK Retail in Today’s Multi Channel World (Experian, March 2011)

The high street is central to multi-channel retail strategy: stats (Graham Charlton, February 2012)

Shopping in a multi-channel world (Shpppercentric, February 2012)

Conversion rate optimisation tips for ecommerce (Harvey McEwan, March 2012)

The IRX2012 debate: Is ecommerce personalisation fact or fantasy? (Andre Brown Locayta March 2012)