Essential e-commerce features & functionality to drive great customer experience – part 2

In my last post, I looked at the features and functions of e-commerce platforms that help to drive a positive customer experience at the point at which a prospect has decided they want to purchase a particular product. In part two, I am going to take a look at features that facilitate the actual moment of purchase and the post purchase experience.


Moment of purchase

By removing barriers to conversion, an e-commerce platform can have a big impact on making the purchase process as easy as possible.

Although not necessarily dictated by the e-commerce platform, the design and layout of the site should be customisable to an extent, ideally without the need for development resource.

  • Category product layout – Product listings in grid or list format should be an option available to the customer and remembered for that user
  • Flexible module based design – The ability to move certain pieces of content from one area of the page to another, whilst adding and removing landing pages will greatly increase your chance of being able to improve conversion rates through a/b testing, for example
  • Flexible templates – Ability to assign designs on category and product level (unique design per product/category)
  • Hero & header images – Carousels and image headers should be specifiable for the homepage, categories and across other areas of the site. make excellent use of hero & header images across their categories, highlighting latest ranges and deals, for example:

Product detail
A customer needs to feel as informed as possible about a product before committing to purchase. The layout and information provided at a product level can have a big impact on this.

  • Multiple images per product – Customers expect to see a large number of high quality product images
  • Product image zoom-in capability – Images should be high resolution, be ‘zoom-able’ (did I just make that word up?!) by click and through movement of the mouse across the image
  • Product image 360 degree view – Functionality to allow for products to be viewed from all angles
  • Product coverage – Where products appear in publications, the ability to highlight this to the customer through thumbnail images/logos
  • Product stock level tracking and notification – Ensure stock availability is visible and ideally in real-time to to avoid fulfilment frustration. As highlighted in my last post, make great use of product imagery, offering a number of images from different angles and showing the items in use and on their own:

A smooth buying process from basket to checkout to completion will help minimise the customer ‘dropping off’ at any of these stages:

  • Customisable checkout – A flexible checkout is important as this allows for testing, removing and reposition of form fields and so on
  • Checkout without account/guest checkout – Probably the biggest mistake made by retailers (and the biggest bugbear for customers) is insisting an account is created in order to make the purchase. Don’t force this on customers up-front, offer it as an option after the sale with an incentive for doing so i.e. money off a next purchase
  • SSL security support – Both front-end and back-end, secure checkout is vital for customers trust to complete the sale
  • Saved shopping baskets – Ideally with configurable expiry time. Remembering a user’s product choices will avoid frustration if they accidentally close their browser or press the back button

A key factor to conversion is an excellent shipping and delivery process. To achieve this, the e-commerce platform should be highly configurable to allow a multitude of flexible options (assuming the retailer has the processes and systems in place to offer these options of course):

  • Trackable delivery – Customers expect to be kept up-to-date in terms of where their purchase is in transit or be able to find information on the status of their order on the site
  • Configurable delivery cost – Free delivery or flat rate delivery per order or item from our experience are the best aids to high conversion rates. Clear information for differing weights, destinations etc, are also essential so all costs are clear up-front
  • Print invoices and packaging lists from the order screen – Key to offering a smooth and efficient delivery service is to make the background processes simple and automated

A comprehensive range of payment features will allow customers to transact easily and conveniently.

  • Payment gateway integration – Offering a broad range of payment gateways will ensure any obstacles to completion are minimised
  • Discounts codes – The ability to add voucher/discount code at basket/checkout
  • Credit card details – Securely remember users credit card details (should they wish to) saves time and effort next time they make a purchase

Active selling & dynamic merchandising
This refers to the art of cross-selling a similar or complimentary product to the one a customer has chosen to purchase. This is could be an alternative (before they have added to basket), an item that would complement their purchase or an additional item required for the chosen product to function properly.

  • Recently viewed/compared products – The option to include a list of recently viewed products
  • Active selling – The ability to push items through daily deals and new item promotions
  • Configurable cross-sells, bundled items, up-sells and related items – All should be customisable, and be able to be added to different areas/templates of the site
  • Wish lists – The ability to add desired products into a list associated with users account

IKEA make nice use of tabs to include an array of cross selling opportunity, matching and complementary products, similar items and more products from the same range:

Post purchase

Delivering on your promises after the purchase is essential to building trust and brand loyalty. An e-commerce platform can aid this in the following ways:

  • Customer accounts – Allow customers the option to create an account that remember key details such as address and payment methods
  • Customer service – Allows customers to make enquiries via their account and linked to the products they have purchased previously
  • Online chat – Integration into the platform for customer service queries, as well as asking product specific questions
  • Email marketing – Email marketing fully integrated with the customer database can feed into the retailer’s eCRM program


Whether off the shelf or bespoke, there is a lot to consider in terms of functionality when selecting an e-commerce platform. The above attempts to cover some of the key e-commerce features to ensure your site achieves its true potential and most importantly you deliver the kind of pre- and post-purchase experience needed to win in complex and competitive sectors, such as homewares and fashion.

Can you think of anything additional you might look for in an e-commerce platform?


Essential e-commerce features & functionality to drive great customer experience (part 1)

To prosper in a complex, competitive and fast paced market, retailers must deliver a superior and fulfilling customer experience, consistently and seamlessly across all marketing channels. It is a monumental challenge but one that retailers, big and small, need to overcome and marketers, at all levels, need to grasp if they are to win new customers and build valuable, long-term relationships with them.

The choice of e-commerce platform can have a major impact on a retailer’s ability to deliver this experience. The right features and functionality can greatly aid the likelihood of succeeding at each stage of the buying journey, beginning with visibility of the site in search engines (thereby acquiring targeted traffic), helping to convert that traffic and then retaining new customers through a good post purchase experience.

Our Retail Marketing Machine visualises the complex journey consumers make when researching, considering and purchasing products, along with every touch point that shapes and influences their decision.

There are a number of key stages that I will refer to during the course of this post, namely:

The shop window of opportunity
This is the point at which a prospect has decided they want to purchase a particular product or service. Are you in their shop window when they are in research and consideration mode?

Moment of purchase
This is the point at which the prospect is engaged with your brand and is ready to purchase. A wide range of factors will determine whether they progress to sale (or not) with the look and feel, features and functionality of your site playing a key role.

Post purchase experience
Here we refer to both the practical and emotional experience the customer receives once they have made their purchase. The practical involves delivery, for example. The emotional more concerned with how the retailer builds a loyal brand advocate through channels, such as content and social media.

This two part blog post looks at the features and functionality that will aid and improve each of the above stages and therefore what to consider when choosing an e-commerce platform. This is by no means an exhaustive list but more a guide to those features that help drive a superlative experience at each of the key buying stages outlined above.

Shop window of opportunity

For your site to reach and acquire customers during their ‘period of active consideration’, it needs to be found across search engines – that’s pretty much a given. But once they arrive at your site it must also present prospects with access to as much information as possible to evaluate your products sufficiently. With this in mind, let’s take a look at a number of e-commerce features that are essential to meeting this goal:

Categorising products
The ability to categorise products will aid natural search visibility, as well as improve usability. Features associated with product categorising might include:

  • Unlimited products and categories – Surprising as it might sound, some platforms have a limit to the number of products and categories you can create. Ensure you choose a platform that allows unlimited products and categories
  • Product option selection – A product should be able to have unlimited options such as size, colour, etc. rather than having to create new product pages for each variation
  • Grouped product view – Allows products to be grouped together. This works well if you are presenting a number of different products into collections or ranges
  • Faceted navigation for filtering of products – It should be easy to add new filters and tag products. Filtering should also be search engine friendly i.e. it should create ‘friendly’ URLs and use keyword insertion in page titles, meta descriptions and h1 headers. The Marks and Spencer site is a good example of clear and comprehensive faceted navigation:

Product detail
By creating content over and above that of simple product descriptions, you are creating a more memorable experience should encourage a prospect to return to the site oe perhaps share that content even if they are not quite ready to commit to the purchase at this stage. Content might include:

  • Product reviews – Usually a score out of 5, the ability to display average customer ratings for a product can help make your site a destination at the consideration stage but also help be a decision trigger
  • Question and Answers – A Q&A sections take FAQs a step further by allowing customers to ask product specific questions. This level of interaction can significantly increase conversion rates as any doubts the customer has about a product can be dispelled
  • User Generated Content (UGC) – Allow people not only to review but upload photos and videos of their experiences in using products. In turn, this helps prospects see products in their real world setting used by actual customers
  • Product comparisons – Where products are complex, the ability to compare side by side is a very powerful feature to aid decision making. uses both a Q&A areas and reviews across their products with many of the customer reviews including images as well

Site search

Configurable search with auto-suggested terms. Many e-commerce systems fall down here. Users expect the search function to be as good as that of Google.

Store pages
More often than not, store pages are dull, un-engaging and lack personality. An e-commerce platform with advanced multichannel availability and logistic capabilities can significantly help with a smooth in-store/online purchase path.

  • Store-specific content – Imagery, events, offers, staff biographies and the store manager’s ‘favourite product of the week’ are all methods by which to add relevant content to the page
  • Store locator/search – Provide advanced search and filtering functionality, as well as a reliable mapping tool and directions
  • Click and collect – The ability for a customer to select their local store and collect their order is a growing expectation of savvy customers. Obviously, the business needs to support this logistically before offering the service on the site!
  • Save a store preference – Associate a store with a customer’s account to quickly allow the customer to look at stock availability locally to them

Although not injecting much personality, do a good job with their store pages in terms of information. By capturing postcode searches from people looking for their nearest store, they can potentially start to join the dots between online and offline.

Ensuring the e-commerce platform is not going to cause any headaches for search engines will give your business the best possible foundation for natural search visibility.

  • URL rewrites – Rewriting URLs in a friendly format, using words and not parameters is better for both the user and the search engines
  • HTML mark-up – Marking up HTML using can result in rich snippets in search results and improve click through rates
  • Sitemaps – Both XML and HTML sitemaps should be generated and auto update
  • Shopping feed creation – Important for shopping comparison engines, the ability to generate comprehensive feeds that auto update but can also be customised to add or change product attributes
  • Meta-information – It should be possible to specify page titles and meta descriptions for products and categories both template driven and specified by page
  • Duplicate content prevention – Advanced canonical functionality across the site can help prevent duplication of products if placed in different categories and also help pagination issues

In part 2 we’ll look at e-commerce platform features that are important at the ‘moment of purpose’ and ‘post purchase’ stages.

Article by senior natural search consultant, Ben Adam

Ten great examples of ecommerce product page functionality

Product pages are an extremely important part to any ecommerce site. Often they will be the only view and experience a potential customer has of a product. For high ticket items, such as furniture, it is even more important that a customer feels completely comfortable with the quality of an item before they will commit to purchase.

Product pages are often over looked and fall short of their purpose. They can make or break a sale so not letting your product pages fulfil their potential isn’t giving your products a fair chance.

The following post looks at what you should try and include in your product pages and examples of brands excelling at individual elements:

Product imagery

The quality of product images, and the way in which they are presented can have a big impact on conversions. It is important for images to impart a sense of contact with the product, giving the customer a stronger sense for product specifics and details. Great product imagery should include:

  • Multiple angles and perspective views
  • Close ups, showing details of material
  • Product variations as separate images
  • Controllable 360 views
  • Products in isolation and in use do this very well, offering a number of images from different angles and different zooms showing the items in use and on their own.

Product copy

Not everything about a product can be conveyed in pictures, for example the quality of craftsmanship and ethical production. If you want someone to commit to spending on a high ticket online, a reassuring, carefully constructed product description should be the least you can do. Great product copy should incorporate the following:

  • Highlight the unique selling points of each product
  • Include dimensions
  • Care instructions
  • Package measurements
  • Offer samples where applicable e.g. fabric swatches for sofas

To aid readership, I also recommend using bullet points to structure copy.

Go Modern makes a great effort to talk about the product design and includes some history, important for high cost items. There is arguably too much copy as web users don’t tend to read large blocks of text; this could potentially be overcome through the use of read more expandable text.

Product videos

Short of touching and feeling a product, videos are one of the best ways to help a customer feel connected with a product. There are many examples of online retailers who have seen conversion rates increase dramatically as a result of incorporating videos into their product pages, for example saw an increase in conversions of between 6% and 30%.

It is important that product videos are of high enough quality and that they do the job of both showing the quality of craftsmanship and the product in detail that can’t be conveyed through imagery alone.

As a bonus, product videos can be optimised for search and potentially aid click through rates from search result pages.

Again, do a good job of including product videos that show the making of and the product in use. This really helps to tell the story behind the product.

Add ‘as featured in’

With home décor publications and TV programs continuing to increase in popularity, it is important to make the most of any coverage specific products receive.  By displaying a well know publication logo this may well make people more inclined to make a purchase as it has a “seal of approval” from a trusted publication.

Logos should be added to the product description with links to copies of the publication. The do an excellent job of this: also employs this tactic on their product pages:

Cross selling

The art of cross-selling is offering a similar or complementary product to the one a potential customer is looking at. This is generally an alternative model, an item that would complement or is required for the product to function properly.
Using a well-executed cross-selling strategy will likely result in:

  • Increased transactions as customers find what they want with greater ease
  • Increased average order values as they add additional items to their basket
  • Greater exposure of your product range
  • Greater exposure to higher margin products
  • Increased customer satisfaction as related products help complete their shopping process quickly

IKEA make nice use of tabs to include an array of cross selling opportunity, matching and complementary products, similar items and more products from the same range.

Whilst Amazon excel in offering complementary items and packages.

And John Lewis makes use of recently viewed across their site

The art to cross selling is relevancy. You will only increase basket values by presenting products that truly complement the core item being purchased. Presenting a list of random products in the hope one might be selected is not the right approach to be taking here.

Q&A Content

Question & Answer content takes FAQs a step further, by letting customers ask product specific questions. This level of interaction, especially where a real time element can be added, can significantly increase conversion rates as any doubts the customer has about a product can be allayed. Q&A content is becoming increasingly popular on more technical ecommerce sites; is a good example of this in action.

Don’t forget multichannel

Keeping multichannel in mind, Dwell link to the stores where you can go and see the product, helping drive footfall and potentially securing a sale.

A nice feature that few brands are currently employing.

The challenge of course is measuring the impact of online activity on store footfall and attributing sales accordingly.


The ultimate product page would be a hybrid of all these great examples. But the specific functionality you require for your website is likely to depend on your product, its complexity, the length of the consideration period and so on.

What is clear is that product pages need to work harder than ever if you are turn interested browsers into customers.

What great examples of product pages have you seen?

Facebook ‘Likes’ and travel sites

A recent study from Usabilla looking at user experience of 800 users across 18 leading travel websites turned up some very interesting results. There was a great deal to learn from the study but perhaps the biggest surprise was the negative reaction shown towards the inclusion of the Facebook Like buttons.

Amongst the negative feedback towards the Facebook Like buttons where comments such as “trying too hard”, “unprofessional”, “infantile” and generally a lot of comments of “hate”. The comment “I am here to book a trip, not to market this company on Facebook” summarised the feedback nicely. Strong words indeed.

So don’t include Facebook Like’s on travel websites?

Not so fast. These negative responses are not likely to be purely down to the inclusion of Facebook Like buttons, more the way they have been incorporated into the site and the approach taken by the brand when trying to communicate the reason for their inclusion to customers.

So how should you include Facebook Likes into a travel site?

Don’t just plonk your Facebook button on the home page or every page of the site without any thought. There are a number of considerations that should be made when incorporating a like button:


Consider carefully where you place the button. Add to content that people will actually want to share and endorse to get the most traction. This might include:

  • Photos and photo galleries
  • Guides and useful information such as ‘things to do’
  • Blog posts or news articles


If you still want people to like your brand, try to position the button as to “follow” rather than to “Like” on Facebook and try to communicate what’s in it for them, for example:

  • To stay updated though the Facebook news feed
  • Access to special offers or deals only for followers

Additionally, consider if including an indicator of the number of ‘Likes’ will instill trust and help increase conversions.


Don’t forget about Facebook Send. There’s a nice example on the Facebook page where someone is sharing an Orbitz Hotel page with their roommates. Facebook Send is private and like a ‘Like’ can be sent to different Facebook friends or groups. Facebook explain it best:

“We designed the Send button to be used alongside the Like button. By including both on your website, people will have ability to broadcast the things they like and also send it to specific people.”

Testing and measuring

Don’t just add a button and forget about it, there are exact ways to measure the levels of interaction and identify the combinations that are performing best:

  •  Use a/b testing to change the position, size, etc to see which variation encourages the greatest level of engagement
  • Setup the Social Tracking in Google Analytics to see if people are interacting and sharing your content

Simply putting the Facebook ‘Like’ button on your homepage because “everyone else is doing it” is a big ‘no no’. Sometimes it’s better not to do things at all than do them badly so seriously consider the above carefully to make the Facebook Like work well for both your business and your customers.

Top ten Froggblog posts of 2010

As we draw towards the end of 2010, we thought we’d compile a list of the ten most popular posts from the Froggblog over the course of the last 12 months. These mainly cover advice in strategy and online retail.

Infographic – the online retail wheel of fortune

Rosie created the ultimate in infographics back in April; this is a graphical representation of the tactics, and how they are employed at each stage of the buying cycle, that go into creating a holistic digital strategy for retailers.

Why preparation is integral to success in digital marketing

Ben argues the importance of due diligence, research and planning to implement a successful digital marketing strategy.

25 questions to ask yourself before taking digital marketing in-house

Focusing on core skills, technology and resource, Ben shares a number of questions to ask of your business when deciding if in-house, outsourced or a combination of the two solutions is best for managing your digital marketing efforts.

Digital marketing benchmarking report for premium home and garden retailers

This was the first of a number of studies looking at premium retailers’ use of, and attitudes towards digital marketing. The second report looking at food and drink retailers is due for release in January 2011.

How multichannel retailers can benefit from Google’s new search results layout

Rosie looks at how retailers can take maximum advantage of Google’ advanced search layout.

Applying store decompression zones for online retail

Rosie looks at how the theory of store decompression zones (the area just inside the entrance of a physical store) can be applied to websites.

Online strategy: to discount or not to discount?

Traditionally considered a method of clearing stock, discounting has now grown to be a significant element to online marketing strategy. Ben looks at what you should consider when incorporating discounting into your online marketing strategy.

Christmas retail: gearing up for Cyber Monday (part 1- research and planning)

With contributions from various Leapfrogg experts, this five part series looked at how online retailers can maximise sales over the Christmas and New Year period. Beginning with this post covering research and planning, advice was then given in website optimisation, paid search, editorial link building and social media.

Google Place Search – the potential impact on retailers without physical stores

In October, Google made some significant changes to how local search results are displayed. Andy takes a look at what it might mean for retailers, particularly online-only retailers, who by their very nature do not have a physical store, or ‘local footprint’ if you like.

What to include in a brief to a search marketing agency

Before approaching an agency, be sure you are prepared with the information they are likely to need in putting together a focused proposal. Ben provides some useful advice.

Keep following the Froggblog in 2011 – we’ll continue to provide regular advice and commentary on all things digital marketing and online retail, as well as some insightful studies and benchmark reports planned.

Christmas retail: gearing up for Cyber Monday (part 1- research and planning)

Back in January, Logan Tod‘s Annual Online Shopping Index predicted that online sales will hit £1.26 billion during the Christmas 2010 shopping season, with UK consumers intending to do 23% more shopping online than they did in 2009.

If you’ve not yet put plans in place to take full advantage of Christmas 2010, you’re not too late…just. Although we’d usually recommend retailers start planning for Christmas during the height of the summer, there’s still enough time to execute tactics to make this Christmas your most successful yet.

Every day this week, we’ll be publishing a post looking at a different area of your online strategy, covering website optimisation, paid search, editorial link building and social media. If you’re in the early stages of your Christmas planning, we recommend you follow suit by dedicating a day to each of your main online marketing channels for brainstorming, planning and execution…but do it quickly…the clock is ticking!

The culmination of your efforts should be aimed at maximising sales on Cyber Monday, recognised as the biggest Internet shopping day of the year. It is the first Monday in December, this year falling on the 6th.

With that target in mind, we start by looking at research and planning.

So, down tools, take some time out and let’s get started:

Day 1: Research and planning

To maximise sales over the Christmas period you need a solid plan in place. Before looking at specific channels, such as paid search, we recommend focusing some thought on five key areas; products, target audience, key messages, marketing channels, and ensuring your business is prepared for the uplift in sales you can expect by executing your tactical plan.

By taking some time out to consider these five areas it will provide much needed focus for your Christmas marketing efforts, ensuring you are selling the right products, to the right audience, at a profit.


Think about the products that are most commercially viable to push over the Christmas period. There is a lot to consider here; first and foremost, are you price competitive, especially compared to major players such as Amazon? If you don’t consider Amazon a competitor, think again; they sell products crossing virtually every market from consumer electronics to clothing…and they do so at very competitive prices. This highlights how you might need to re-think your competitive landscape; run searches across Google for your key product lines to see who is present and their price points.

Also, think about your margins as these are likely to be squeezed as marketing costs, such as those for paid search advertising, increase over the ultra-competitive Christmas period. Once you factor in these costs, you may find that the products you thought you wanted to push may not be the ones that make commercial sense to do so.

In summary, consider products that are unique to you, where you can compete on price or where you offer such a compelling reason to shop with you that price is of secondary importance. Based on this analysis, select your ‘hero’ or ‘champion’ products; those that have the potential to perform best for you, and focus your Christmas marketing efforts around them. And then consider other products that compliment your ‘hero’s’, using cross selling techniques on your website; dynamic merchandising for example, to increase basket values. We’ll look at this further on day 2.

Target audience

Once you have established your ‘hero’ products, consider who you are trying to sell these products to; appreciate that your target audience may be different at Christmas to other times of the year; adjust your web content and marketing messages accordingly to appeal to this new audience. For example, if you sell ladies clothing, your audience will typically be female. But in the build up to Christmas, your site is likely to attract a male audience searching for that perfect gift. Think about the motivating factors for this audience. Unlike your typical female shopper, who may be happier to spend time browsing, men will typically be looking for ease and immediacy. Consider how you can tweak your messaging to account for this. Also, begin to consider additional content you can create to aid the target audience, in this instance helpful advice or buyers guides you can offer to men. Again, we develop this further on Day 2.

Key messages

Talking of key messages, what is it that will make you stand out on Cyber Monday and over the Christmas shopping period as a whole? Are you offering the cheapest prices, the widest selection of products or no quibble returns? Competition is fierce over the Christmas period – establish these key messages as they will be integral to your web content, paid search ad copy, press releases and so on.


Consumers expect the ability to connect with your brand across a number of channels…seamlessly. You must therefore ensure that if running promotions around Cyber Monday, for example, that they are timed to hit all channels, and therefore customers, simultaneously whether they are on your website, following you on social networks, using your mobile app or of course, in-store.

Ensure your channels are well established before dedicating too much time and resource to them. I would argue now is not the time to be moving into mobile marketing, for example, unless planned well in advance. Focus on those channels you are familiar with and that you have already demonstrated provide the business with a return.

Be prepared to deliver on your promises

For consumers, Christmas is a stressful time. Many view shopping online as means of avoiding the high street, instead enjoying pain free shopping from the comfort of their armchair.

Use this to your advantage by ensuring information concerning delivery and returns policies are highly visible across the website. But, be absolutely sure you deliver on these promises. Failure to do so at any other time of year might be forgivable – but let down a customer in the build up to Christmas and they are unlikely to show you much in the way of festive goodwill. Any future relationship you hoped to build will be destroyed in an instant, not to mention the likelihood of their anger being vented across social networks, thereby spreading this negative experience to a wider audience.

Therefore, ensure the business is prepared for the uplift in sales you can expect. Are you well stocked with the items available on your website (especially those ‘hero’ products), do you have appropriate staffing levels in place and can your fulfilment channels cope with a sudden increase in demand?

With time dedicated to thinking around each of the above areas, you should feel ready to move onto day 2; getting your website ready…

Until then, happy planning…

Applying store decompression zones for online retail

Paco Underhill, the author of “Why we buy” is a master in the “Science of Shopping.” I have recently been reading his book and considering how many of his ‘bricks and mortar’ theories can be applied to the online store.

Last night I was revisiting the section on ‘decompression zones’ within a store and how to use them effectively. If you’re wondering, the decompression zone in a store is the area just inside the entrance. It is the area that is used to welcome and acclimatise customers and drive them to the right part of the store. It is key to maximising sales from each customer.

Paco says that as customers enter this part of the store they are:

“busily making adjustments-simultaneously they’re slowing their pace, adjusting their eyes to the change in light and scale, and craning their necks to begin taking in all there is to see. Meanwhile, their ears and noses and nerve endings are sorting out the rest of the stimuli-analysing the sounds and smells, judging whether the store is warm or cold. There’s a lot going on, in other words, and I can pretty much promise you this: These people are not truly in the store yet.”

What Paco is saying is that it takes a while for customers to adjust to being in the store. Therefore to bombard them with merchandise, messaging or staff too quickly will be a waste of effort, or in some cases a big turn off.

In the online world, it is only the sense of sight that has to adjust to entering a website, but often there is still a sensory overload that needs to be processed by the brain in exactly the same way. Therefore, should there be an online decompression zone to allow site visitors to acclimatise before being bombarded with merchandise or messaging?

Is the home page your key selling area, or should you save your core messaging for inner pages and let the home page act as a decompression zone to then drive people to the right areas of the online store to make their purchase?

Studies have shown that in the bricks and mortar world those companies that have got the decompression zone wrong have found sales massively effected. Companies have placed sales literature in that zone only to have it ignored. Companies who have had staff greet customers straight away actually ended up alienating them. This is similar to having a pop up on your home page. How do you think interrupting visitors before they have had a chance to acclimatise to your online store will affect conversion rates?

Applying decompression zones online

Paco makes suggestions of what you can do with the decompression zone within a store that I believe could be applied online.

“You can greet customers – not necessarily to steer them anywhere but to say hello, remind them where they are, start the seduction”

This recommendation can absolutely be applied online. It is fundamental that when people enter your site that you greet them or welcome them, make them feel wanted and also let them know what they can do in the store.

“You can offer a basket or a map or coupon.”

OK, so the basket may not be so useful online but having a coupon/offer on the home page could increase the basket size by encouraging the visitor to buy something else in addition to the product they came in for. Offering a map to the store is of course crucial online, whether that is just a prominent link to a site map or more importantly having well laid out navigational links to make it really easy to find products. A well constructed site will have both.

Visual merchandising is understandably a fundamental part of the decompression zone:

“Right inside the door of an H&M, Gap or Wal-Mart, there’s what’s known as a “power display” a huge horizontal bank of sweaters, or jeans or cans of Coke, that acts as a barrier to slow shoppers down, kind of like a speed bump. It also functions as a huge billboard. It doesn’t say “Shop me.” It says “Just consider the idea.” Is serves as a suggestion, plan and simple, and it also gets you in the mood for the rest of the store. You can catch up with the product later, at another time, typically in another section of the floor. Remember that more than 60 percent of what we buy wasn’t on our list. And no, this isn’t the same as an impulse purchase. It’s triggered by something proposing the question “Don’t you need this? If not now then maybe in the near future?”

This is how visual merchandising should work on your site as well. If you view your home page as a decompression zone then consider the way you want to merchandise within that section. You want to allow visitors to acclimatise to the site but also make subtle suggestions of what they may like to buy, in addition to what they actually came for. Don’t bombard them with products, just give subtle suggestions, whilst clearly directing visitors to the relevant part of the store they require.

An extension of this in an online store is ‘dynamic merchandising’. Average order value is proven to increase with the visual suggestions of products that “complement” or products that “other people bought”. This would be too much to do on the home page/decompression zone but a great sales tool as visitors move through the site into categories and product specific pages.

How do some of the major retailers stand up?

So let’s look at some of the major retailers and whether they have applied my ideas around the decompression zone online:

John Lewis

There is definitely an air of the decompression zone on the John Lewis site. When you enter you are not overpowered with sales messaging or a multitude of products. There is a suggestion of specific products that you may have not been intending to buy but they do not form a barrier in moving to the part of the site you are looking for. Once you are used to the site there is sales messaging towards the bottom (in the red box) but its positioning allows you to acclimatise to the site first.

One thing missing is a welcome message to help you feel comfortable and at ease.

Marks and Spencer

The M & S site certainly does not allow you to decompress before hitting you with sales messaging, although it does not bombard you with a myriad of products straight away.

The sales messaging hits you straight away but the links within the image to product sections prevents the image from being a barrier to moving to the relevant parts of the store.

The offers appear very high on the page, akin to being placed right inside the door of a physical store. Perhaps as a result of this they may be missed by a number of visitors. Perhaps M & S are missing a trick here with no subtle product placement. It would be interesting to revisit once the the sale is over.


Gap have been sighted as using the “Power Display” in the decompression zone in store as a billboard for suggested products and to slow down movement through the store.

This type of activity is also present online with the “Back to School” power display on the home page. You may not have entered intending to buy school uniform items but the thought is now present in your mind that you need to get that sorted over the summer break, perhaps even right now!

The sales messaging is on the right hand side giving you a little acclimatisation time before your eye hits it.

The pop up hits immediately which does act as a barrier to moving through the site. It is important to gather email addresses for marketing purposes but hitting people with it immediately may be off putting and disruptive to the passage through the site.

I Want One Of Those

I Want One Of Those is a pure online retailer and has a very different home page layout. The page is packed with products and hotspots bombarding the visitor as soon as they hit the online store. There is little chance to acclimatise to the site. I wonder how this affects the online experience. How many of these messages are being missed as people head through looking for a particular product and perhaps ignoring the promotional banners present on the homepage.

There does not seem to be any strong welcome to the site before the visitor is hit with merchandise.

Not On The High Street

Not On The High Street is another pure online retailer and again the home page is very product focused hitting the visitor with a range of products as soon as they enter the store. Sales messaging is displayed at points on the page that are viewed slightly later however I wonder how much acclimatisation is made before the visitor feels overwhelmed. Does this lack of decompression zone affect the store experience and if so in what way? They may sell more of the promoted products but by putting them in the way of the customer are they preventing them from also purchasing the products they entered the store for in the first place?


I am not drawing any firm conclusions from this very brief study but I do think it is interesting that those retailers that have a large offline store presence do seem to be setting up their home pages in more of a offline-decompression-zone-style than those pure online retailers that will not be used to using this tactic in physical stores.

Is a decompression zone even required with an online experience? I would argue yes, there is a definite need to allow visitors to acclimatise in some form before hitting them with sales messaging and merchandise. The home page should never be a barrier to finding products but more an entrance zone that will welcome you to the store, help you move through the site, suggest additional purchases and provide incentives, such as vouchers, all aimed at improving the shopping experience.

Should the idea of the decompression zone be applied to every page? Or is it unnecessary when people are entering specific product pages having already searched for the product?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts. Is the decompression zone a concept that should be applied with the online retail experience or is the online experience so different that to hit people with merchandise and messaging straight away provides the highest conversion rate or average order values?

Digital marketing benchmarking report for premium home and garden retailers

Over the course of 2010, Leapfrogg is conducting a series of surveys investigating premium retailers’ use of, and attitudes, towards digital marketing. We are looking at a number of very specific niche markets beginning with home and garden. Further surveys will look at premium fashion, health and beauty, and food and wine.

This first survey was sent to 80 premium home and garden retailers with just over a quarter taking part. Respondents included well recognised high street brands and smaller retailers.

The full report is available to download here. Below we have included some of the key findings:

Use of marketing channels

The top five online marketing channels being ‘heavily’ or ‘partially’ used by premium home and garden retailers are articles and press releases (75%), email marketing (67%), search engine optimisation (67%), paid search (66%) and voucher codes (48%).

Respondents are ‘just getting started’ with social networking (38%), micro-blogging i.e. Twitter (33%), blogging (30%) and involvement in forums and communities (25%).

Interestingly, respondents have ‘no intention of becoming involved’ in the creation of audio (55%) or video content (35%), mobile marketing (33%) and shopping/comparison engines (33%). And although a number of retailers are adopting the use of voucher codes, a further 33% have no intention of using them.

It is suggested that premium home and garden retailers take the time to investigate the opportunities presented by video and mobile in particular. Video and the use of mobile technology to access the Internet, read product reviews and download coupons/vouchers are experiencing significant growth with consumers.

Importance of marketing channels

The top five online channels that are considered most important to the success of the business are search engine optimisation (76%), email marketing (50%), articles and press releases (33%), paid search (30%) and reputation management (25%).

The areas that are felt to be unimportant are voucher codes (33%), social networking (30%), audio (27%), mobile marketing (24%) and shopping and comparison sites (24%).

Understandably, premium brands may feel the use of voucher codes ‘cheapens’ their offering. However, Leapfrogg would consider it a concern that so few companies rate the importance of social networking and mobile marketing, in particular.

Channel rating according to return on investment (ROI)

The key channels that are claimed to deliver return on investment are search engine optimisation (SEO), email marketing, and articles and press releases.

In respect of the other 13 online channels the majority view is that the return on investment is indifferent.  Social networking is perceived to have a very poor return on investment by one quarter of the respondents, suggesting that premium home and garden retailers have not yet implemented appropriate systems to measure their social media marketing efforts with accuracy and in line with business goals.

Channel resource plans

The online activities where resource is being increased in 2010, compared to 2009, are social networking (65%), email marketing (60%), micro-blogging (58%), SEO (57%), activity in forums and communities (43%) and blogging (44%).

Plans to increase resource in social networking is interesting when it is considered that a quarter of respondents perceived social networking to have a very poor return on investment, whilst a lack of internal resource (see later section) was also deemed a significant barrier to the success of social media efforts. It is therefore suggested that premium home and garden retailers need to carefully consider objectives from social media activity, set up appropriate systems to measure performance and ensure adequate levels of in-house resource are dedicated to managing social media effectively.

Multi-channel marketing

Results indicate that respondents combine more traditional online activities, such as SEO, PPC and email when running multi-channel campaigns. Social media and blogging also represent popular channels, yet integrating mobile is very low, despite consumers growing use of smart phone technology to access the Internet.

It is recommended that premium home and garden retailers consider all the ‘touch points’ between brand and consumer and implement multi-channel marketing campaigns that ensure a consistent offering and message is present across all of them.

Management of marketing channels

Marketing is the department responsible for managing all online activities except PR, of which there is either a dedicated department or it is outsourced.  IT is responsible for search engine optimisation (SEO) in just over one third of the retailers who responded, which might suggest it is viewed as a technical discipline as opposed to a marketing activity.

Knowledge of customers

Generally, premium home and garden retailers feel that they need to know more about the behaviour of their customers online. 82% do not know how their customers behave on social networks and 66% do not know what their customers are saying about their brand online.

The latter is a particular point of interest as consumers are increasingly willing, and easily able, to share their thoughts with hundreds, possibly thousands of others through blogs, forums, reviews sites and social networks. In turn, purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by the positive and negative reviews a retailer may receive online. It is therefore suggested respondents investigate the use of buzz monitoring tools to quickly identify the conversations happening around their brand and products.

55% feel informed about their customer’s behaviour on their website suggesting respondents have implemented, and are using analytical tools to good effect. However, 45% appear not to be using tools, such as Google Analytics, to great effect therefore limiting the opportunity to make informed decisions on optimising site performance.

Knowledge of search engine ranking factors

Premium home and garden retailers rate keyword placement (67%), website architecture (57%), Meta tags (55%), the user experience (48%) and external links (43%) as crucial to achieving high search engine rankings. Rich media content and blogging were considered by the majority as important but not crucial to improving search engine rankings.

A quarter of respondents were unsure of the impact on search engine rankings of choice of technology and social media activity. Concerning the latter, it is recommended respondents investigate the relationship between search and social media as these channels cannot, and should not, operate in isolation of one another.

Goal setting

Half of premium home and garden retailers used past performance as a benchmark for setting goals for digital marketing activity along with basing predictions on financial goals.

One third of respondents do not currently set goals for digital marketing activity. It is highly recommended that premium home and garden retailers work to establish objectives using SMART methodology to ensure there is direction and focus for digital marketing activity. In addition, appropriate tools and processes should be put in place to measure goals accurately.

Ability to track goals accurately

Respondents rated their ability to track search engine rankings (57%), online conversions (48%), email marketing performance (47%), behaviour of site visitors (35%) and affiliate marketing (33%) as good.

Areas not being tracked accurately include conversions from social media activity (74%), mobile marketing (73%) and customer lifetime value (71%).

59% do not currently track overall return on investment from digital marketing activity.

This would indicate there is still a great deal of progress to be made in the area of measurement. Retailers should be implementing the appropriate tools and processes to measure the impact of each online channel. Better tracking will not only enable return on investment to be calculated from each channel but also provide invaluable data for forecasting and developing future strategies.

Agency relationships

The split between managing work in-house and the use of external agencies is 50:50 with a slight preference for conducting more of the work in-house but using specialist agencies where needed. Those that use external resources use specialist SEO agencies, full service digital agencies, web designers, affiliate marketing and PR companies.

Premium home and garden retailers rated the ability to deliver results (95%) as the most important factor when working with an agency. Specific knowledge of the customers’ market (76%), and having open lines of communication (67%) also rated particularly highly.

Premium home and garden retailers believe it is ‘crucial’ that an online agency has knowledge of the clients’ target audience (80%), their key performance indicators (73%) and knowledge of the business plan (53%). Yet only 40% believe an agency should have knowledge of the clients’ offline marketing strategy (40%).  This indicates that premium home and garden retailers need to better communicate offline activity with their agencies therefore ensuring a consistent, and properly integrated online/offline marketing strategy.

Barriers to success

The barriers that prevent premium home and garden retailers from maximising their online marketing efforts are lack of internal resource, lack of budget and a lack of understanding.  Board approval and not having an appropriate measurement tool are also cited as significant barriers.

The ‘lack of internal resource’ is of particular interest as a high number of companies choose to manage digital marketing in-house yet do not appear to possess the necessary capacity to do so to maximum effect.

Download the full report here. If you would like to discuss any aspect of the report findings, please get in touch. And remember to keep a look out for future reports covering premium fashion, health and beauty, and food and wine.

Infographic – the online retail wheel of fortune

With ever-increasing competition online and the demand to deliver a multi-channel shopping experience, online retailers have a never ending list of actions they need to take in implementing a successful digital marketing strategy.

Add to that the growing sophistication in how search engines display their results; the introduction of blended search, personalised search, social search and real-time search demand a much more holistic approach to search engine optimisation (SEO); an approach that combines traditional activities, such as keyword selection and link building, with more contemporary tactics in social media and content marketing.

A successful online retail strategy is therefore made up of many parts that are continually growing and repeating throughout the customer buying cycle. This can at times be overwhelming as retailers struggle to find the resource, time and skills to succeed in every necessary area.

Understanding this, we thought we would lend a helping hand to online retailers by creating the infographic to end all infographics; the online retail wheel of fortune. This is a graphical representation of the main elements to be incorporated into your online strategy to maximise success.

And here it is! Now being rather large, and very detailed, you will need to download the pdf version to digest it fully, which you can access by clicking here.

As you will see we have split our graphic into four main sections, representing key stages of the customer buying cycle as follows:

Covering the top line projects and tactics aimed at maximising your online exposure, therefore enabling you to connect with as many prospects as possible, which in turn drives more of the right traffic to your website.

The tools and techniques you can use to ‘talk’ to your audience once you have found them.

How to turn those engaged prospects into customers by optimising the user experience on your site, for example.

The actions you need to take to encourage repeat sales and develop advocates of your brand.

For each key stage of the buying cycle, we have detailed areas of attack, top level projects, specific actions within those  projects and some of the key benefits you will experience. Start with ‘reach’ before working your way out and then around to the next stage.

We realise it is a lot to take in…but this should also highlight just how much is involved in researching, planning and implementing an integrated digital marketing strategy for retailers.

We’d love to hear from you with your comments.

25 questions to ask yourself before taking digital marketing in-house

From time to time, our clients will decide to take their entire digital marketing strategy, or perhaps certain activities, in-house. As an agency we have no problem with this. We accept that relationships built on transparency and trust will inevitably see some clients learn enough from our team, and develop the confidence, to eventually feel they can take things forward without the use of an agency.

Where this is the case, we like to help clients on their way by ensuring they fully understand the range of required skills, technology and resource to manage their online strategy to maximum effect. We do this by working with them to assess their capability and capacity through a series of questions, often with a workshop tagged on for good measure.

The agency vs in-house conundrum is one that you may well face at some stage. To help you decide whether in-house, outsourced or a combination of the two solutions is best for you, I thought I’d share a number of the questions we pose to our clients when they’re considering their options.

You’ll notice the questions tend to be more general than highly specific as responses will inevitably lead to further discussion. What we try and highlight to clients during this process is that search engine marketing has become increasingly complex over the years. This means a greater amount of expertise, experience and resource is needed than ever before if they are to maximise the effectiveness of their in-house efforts.

So with that in mind, here are 25 questions to help you assess whether you have the skills and resource to manage an integrated search, social media and content strategy in-house:

Search engine optimisation

1) What is your knowledge and understanding of search engine algorithms?

2) Are you aware of ‘blended search’, ‘personalised search’, ‘social search’ and ‘real-time search’, and what they mean for your search engine marketing efforts?

3) Do you know how to research and categorise search terms? What is your experience of incorporating these terms naturally into highly engaging web copy?

4) How will you be continuously building links to your website? What is your experience / knowledge of good practice in this area?

5) What knowledge do you have of user-experience and the impact this has on both search engine rankings and conversion rates?

6) Do you understand what needs to be considered when the time comes to redevelop your website, such as the choice of technology / content management system (CMS) and how to migrate from the old site to the new without negative impact?

7) What is your experience of using freely available tools, such as those in the Google Webmaster console and their role in analysing search engine performance?

Paid Search

8 What experience do you have in setting up and managing Paid Search campaigns?

9) Do you know how to analyse campaign data on an ongoing basis and optimise campaigns with a view to maximising ROI?

10) Do you have experience in landing page testing with the aim of improving conversion rates?

11) How much time can you dedicate each day to managing your Paid Search campaign?


12) What provisions/plans/schedules do you have in place for creating content, on a regular basis, in formats, such as articles, press releases, blogs and video?

13) Do you know how to properly optimise all of the above formats?

14) Do you know how to most effectively distribute the above formats to maximise reach?

15) Do you know how to measure the impact of your content strategy?

Social Media

16) What research tools do you have to identify the websites, blogs, forums and communities where your target audience is most active?

17) Have you got a social media strategy in place based on this research?

18) Do you understand the ‘rules of engagement’ when it comes to using social media tools, such as Twitter?

19) How will you be monitoring where your brand is being talked about online?

20) Have you had experience in dealing with negative comments about your brand or service online?

21) Do you monitor buzz on your industry so you can proactively respond?

22) How will you monitor / measure the success of your social media efforts?

23) What efforts do you make to retain customers and develop advocates of your brand?


24) How will you set and measure goals and objectives? Do you have the appropriate experience, tools and processes in place to measure the variables that really matter, such as conversions, cost per conversion, lifetime value of customer and ROI?

25) Do you have experience in studying web analytics to make informed decisions about your website aimed at improving conversion rates?

As well as the above questions we also recommend people consider how they are going to keep pace with latest trends and developments  i.e. how much time can they dedicate to reading, attending conferences and so on? This is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of managing things in-house.

One point I would like to highlight is that even though I operate agency side I do not automatically assume outsourced is the best solution. It is entirely dependent on the organisation in question. It is rare amongst SME’s in particular, that one solution is more effective than the other. Usually, companies will have certain in-house skills and a certain amount of capacity to look after aspects of their strategy. But an agency will usually have invested in technology and a team of people possessing a wide range of skills that can be brought to the table to complement those possessed in-house.

Another equally important point to consider is that even when outsourcing to an agency, your involvement in the project is integral to its success. Digital marketing is never 100% outsourced because to a certain degree the success of a project is dictated by you, the client. I’ll be exploring this in more detail next time around.

Until then…