Trend: E-tailing Group Explains Experiential Shopping

E-tailers are increasingly using rich media, reviews, guides and suggested products to jumpstart sales, according to a study that also provides tips for getting started if you haven't already.
Online holiday sales were bolstered by two trends: an increase in features that deliver a more guided shopping experience and an uptick in those that helped customers find and buy what they wanted quickly, according to a recent study. To help e-tailers learn how to do this, the report outlines examples of sites that used these features successfully, and offers a checklist for those who have yet to get started.

The e-tailing group's "10th Annual Mystery Shopping Study" measured 200 metrics on 100 e-commerce sites in the fourth quarter of 2007, finding that both an increased presence and better execution of features that either deliver a "richer, more robust experience or faster, more efficient shopping."

"Depending upon the situation, shopper styles change. At times expediency is the driver; on other occasions more information or guidance is required for shoppers to make confident buying decisions," says Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group.

The first report, just released, highlights features that helped with "experiential merchandising," or providing customers with more information and options to compare products and share that information during the shopping transaction, while the second edition, due out later, will focus on the "express" concept.

For Richer, Use Rich Media
First, the report says that the use of rich media, including video reviews, are becoming more popular. The breakdown of rich media on product pages is as follows, with year-over-year increases as such the following:
  • zoom up five percent to 86 percent
  • alternative views up nine percent to 66 percent
  • color changes up 11 percent to 57 percent;
  • audio up six percent to 47 percent
  • and video up seven percent to 45 percent

The study cited the Discovery Channel Store as an e-business that did a stellar job of employing rich media to help shoppers better understand complex products. In addition to video product demos and alternative views, the company also used the following: customer ratings and reviews; up-sell and cross-sell suggestions; downloadable PDF product manuals, bulleted product information, "e-mail a friend" features, deferred billing and charts of specifications.

Up, Up, and Away with Suggested Sales
The use of "suggested products" also scored big among e-tailers in the study, which found an increase in suggestive selling via up-sells and cross-sells on both the product page (96 percent and 90 percent, respectively) and in the shopping cart (79 percent and 72 percent respectively).

Harry and David's online store was highlighted as a standout example of this, as the site offered a "Go Deluxe" option, tempting shoppers to upgrade gift baskets and so on. The online purveyor of fruits, nuts and candies also employed these other notable features: zoom/larger view, address book access, delivery date information, e-mail a friend and personalized greeting card.

R & R: Ratings and Reviews Still on the Rise
Customer-generated ratings and reviews, which increased 50 and 38 percent, respectively, show that social shopping is still gaining momentum. "eBags home page execution excels at the use of ratings and reviews as a selling tool," according to the study. "Their 'best of the best' designation, identified with a ribbon of merit icon, identifies products that customers have given an overall rating of 9.0 or above plus 90 percent or more have said they would buy the product again."

The research goes on to show that the use of shopping by specialized category, such as "shop by outfit," that allows customers to swap out accessories, is also a trend favored by consumers.

Show and Sell
Finally, the study says that product comparisons, interactive tools, guides/how to's and tips/glossaries are becoming more commonly used by merchants who want to educate their customers.

An example of this is Lancome's comprehensive "Color Explorer," states the study, which starts with a visual chart to interactively assist in choosing the appropriate hues, then saves selections and ultimately links to related products by shade.

Checklist for 'Experiential' Shopping
The report sums up the following tips for e-tailers:
  • Understand what it truly takes to sell your product from both a product page and category education perspective and place your merchandising bets accordingly.
  • Assign a line item for rich media in your overall e-commerce budget.
  • Test rich media tactics on top sellers before extending to entire assortment.
  • Strategically place and monitor upsells/cross-sells from the product page to post-order communication to assess their contribution.
  • Begin to integrate user-generated content to build a more robust user experience.
  • Measure the ROI for all rich media to assess the performance of your investments.

Michelle Megna is managing editor of

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