Is Your Website Ready?

Web Distribution Channels

Many Australian retailers are beginning to realise the importance of the web as a distribution channel and lucrative revenue stream. Only a few organisations are currently benefiting from an early adopter advantage in the online marketplace whilst the masses are still in the starting blocks paralysed by their lack of website investment. Hitwise research confirmed this trend in August 2008 when it highlighted that in the Australian marketplace pure play online businesses are streaks ahead of the competition in the online space.

The Facts – Online Consumer Spending in Australia

If your organisation is yet to be convinced by the opportunity, the following statistics demonstrate the value of an online distribution channel;
– Australian shoppers spent an average of $1,097 buying products online in 2008, with the forecast for 2009 set to defy the offline recessionary trends.
– Despite the current economic conditions, online spending in Australia is set to increase by 12 percent in 2009.
– According to IBIS World, online retailing is forecasted to be $15.8 billion in Australia. In 2006, online retailing was $11 billion – which equates to 44% growth in 3 years.

Getting Ahead the CompetitionGetting Ahead of The Competition

If your organisation clearly understands the opportunity and is looking to seize the potential of the online channel, it is important that you are not only playing catch up. To be successful your organisation will need to build a presence that will outperform the influx of new competition that I believe is on the horizon in the next 12 months.

I have detailed 3 of the most important considerations below that I feel are pertinent for successful websites wishing to gain drive significant levels of revenue from the online channel over the coming years.

Portability

Portability relates to the ability for site users to take your content and move it into their own online environment. As the internet has evolved users are becoming accustom to the many social tools available to share content freely. Thus it is important for organisations to determine how their consumers and the brand can benefit from content portability. At a very basic level content can be made portable through social bookmarking or by offering code for videos or blog articles that users can embed into their own blog or online environment to share with their network. As a more advanced approach, sites may create widgets (that deliver content) which can be placed on users social network pages or start up pages ie iGoogle or PageFlakes. This type of strategy provides users with more frequent brand exposure and provides the opportunity for organisations to benefit from viral distribution of content through user networks.

Personalisation

With Australian consumers spending an increasing amount of time on the web and less time on corporate sites, personalisation of the web experience is of increasing importance.
Personalisation is not a new concept but its lack of deployment has left most sites with a static and unengaging experiences. The BBC.co.uk demonstrates outstanding innovation in this field enabling users to create their own personalised home page. As the site is built with widgets users can re-arrange it to inline with their “news preferences” thus users are served with the content they want to see – boosting interactivity and engagement on the site. Personalisation also extends to delivering tailored content based on a users onsite behaviour.
But personalisation does not need to be so elaborate, serving users with content or products based on a users profile, geographic location or prior transactional history is a step in the right direction for many static sites. In addition organisations can use basic cookies to remember previous search queries so users are not faced with repetitious tasks like continually specifying their search query. Sometimes these subtle differences can make a world of difference when it comes to improving the user experience.

Community & Collaboration

Web Community CollaborationThe web is now characterised by many communities working collaboratively to share and exchange ideas and solve problems – so why can’t users do the same on your site. In the retail space, consumers rely on other consumer experiences to drive decision making for purchases. Many sites lose significant levels of traffic as users go in search of knowledge and assistance provided by the many opinions and reviews online. As a result it is important for organisations to consider how the community and collaboration element can be built into site architecture.

Does this mean you need to build a forum or integrate review functionality into your site? Not necessarily, for example many travel websites have benefited from integrating reviews from TripAdvisor into their site rather than building their own. The benefit of doing so is that many of these brands will never have the rich content offered by a leader in the travel review market. Brands which can integrate community elements or build partnerships to deliver this to its users will be able to add a further dimension of engagement which is needed to compete in the web 2.0 space.

Do you have any additional trends that you wish to share, why not do so below.

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digiCast – Social Shopping – Why It Will Take Off Down Under

Online Retailing

With social media cementing its position in our lives there is barely time for marketers to get their head around a new site/social channel before the next one is upon us.

Whilst social shopping is not a new concept it is yet to reach the mass adoption of other social media channels. However it seems that this is all set to change.

New to social shopping? What is it all about?

Social shopping websites/networks leverage the community and relationship aspects of social media to enable consumers to share, discuss and rate retail products.

Why will it take off now?

The online influence

Online retailing is just one of the booming digital sectors in Australia and whilst not all activity in this sector directly results in online sales – the influence of the internet in the decision making process cannot be ignored;

Research from the Australian Centre for Retail Studies (January 2008) showed that 50 per cent of Australian shoppers had researched their products online before heading into a store to complete their purchase.

Retail Search Behaviour

In addition many sectors are experiencing significant growth in search queries which depict the growing interest to research and or buy retail products online. So which sub-sectors are sparking interest on the web?

According to Google in a recent press release;
• Shopping-related queries were 22% higher in March 2009, compared with March 2008 Apparel-related queries were 34% higher in March 2009, compared with March 2008
• Queries for Clothing labels and designers were 29% higher in March 2009, compared with March 2008

Online Retail CustomersOnline Retail Spending Trends

If like most trends we are behind our US & UK counterparts, online shopping is set to grow in Australia. Online shopping comprises almost 7 per cent of all purchases in the British department store segment and 8 per cent in the US, IBISWorld figures show. In Australia, online shopping is worth less than 3 per cent of department store sales. However according to IBISWorld, online retailers will grow by 4.3 per cent per annum over the next five years, providing much-needed good news to the fashion industry.
Part of this trend is driven by the economic downturn which is driving more Australians to turn to the internet to source bargains through research and price comparisons rather than buying on impulse. However part of this is also driven by the increasing amount of time users spend online.

What sites are out there?

There are already many social shopping networks and bookmarking sites that are popping up. I have detailed some of the popular sites for you however this is becoming a popular space and there are many other alternatives;

Kaboodle
Very popular on a global scale Kaboodle attracts more than 12 million visitors per month. Kaboodle is a social shopping network where users can discover new products and recommend items to their friends.

According to Alexa, Kaboodle sits within the top 1000 sites in Australia. 1.6% of their total monthly visitors are from Australia which equates to nearly 200,000 Australian visitors per month.

Online Shopping BookmarkerStyleFeeder

StyleFeeder is said to be more of a social bookmarking service for shopping to enable users to bookmark items of interest and gain ratings from their friends.

According to Forrester Style Feeder generates 1.2 million unique visitors per month, of which 1.8% are from Australia – representing approx 22,000 unique Australian visitors per month.

ThisNext

ThisNext positions its site as a shopcasting network to discover and broadcast a users interest in products. According to Alexa, Australian traffic to thisnext was approx 45,000 in September of 2008 and given the sites growth this number could be substantially higher.

Tribesmart

Tribesmart is a social shopping community which has a strong emphasis on product reviews as well as offering the opportunity to gain user opinions and have discussion with tribes. Accordingly to Alexa Australians represent a total of 10.6% of the sites total traffic. In December 2008 the site only generated 42,000 unique visitors thus only 4,200 Australians visited – however I have listed it as one to watch given the portion of Australian users.

So what opportunities exist?

If you are managing an eCommerce site in Australia and are new to social shopping the first step is to start to observe community behaviour and interests to determine which site/s are best for your target audience.

These sites offer many benefits to marketers from more traditional online opportunities such as affiliate programs and online advertising, through to other benefits derived from social media platforms such as group development, ability to demonstrate specialist knowledge in niche product categories through Q&A type functions, product feedback gathering along with gaining market intelligence to identify future/upcoming trends.

If you have experimented with social shopping sites, or want to add an additional popular social shopping site for Australians why not share your thoughts below.

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Improving Your User Experience With Onsite Search

Webs Search Onsite

With 11.8 million Australian searches conducted per month on Google, my guess is that users dependence on search engines is playing a major role in shaping our expectations for onsite search capabilities.

This is not to say that Google has created the optimal search function, on the contrary users still struggle to find what they are looking for. However there are some key learnings that we can take from Google to improve our onsite search capability which will be explored in this article. Along with this I have thrown in some others factors that are not always considered but can have a significant impact to improving onsite search.

What Google Has Taught Us

One of the key benefits of Google is its ability for users to conduct a search and results are returned instantly. This has made us a nation of impatient web users. Speed that rivals Google is of course unattainable for many but it is very important to benchmark processing speeds in your sector to ensure that your onsite search function is performing better than your competitors.

Speed Did you mean?

Spelling MistakeIt’s one thing for users to type in a spelling mistake, but it is another for your site not to recognise that mistake. Google has spent a lot of time looking at this exact issue. Matt Cutts indicated in a recent article that approximately 10% of user search queries contain a spelling mistake.

So you may be thinking this is an obvious consideration. I conducted a search on 10 of the top 100 Australian sites as listed by Alexa and only 7 out of 10 had optimised their site for this issue. Of those that hadn’t 2 of them gave me hints to improve my search by checking my spelling in fine print. If I miss this I may just assume that these sites didn’t have what I was looking for.

The above rationale may not only be applied to spelling mistakes but also for acronyms.

Simple But Advanced If Needed

Users search differently and whilst some users like a quick search function to easily identify information of interest, others want to start with a more targeted/advanced search.

Google’s own Matt Cutts stated in a blog post late last year that many users do in fact click on their advanced search function demonstrating the importance of it. However even Google sometimes gets it wrong with many of its users defecting from the advanced search landing page. So what can we learn from Google;

1) It is important that naming conventions for search are self explanatory – don’t confuse your users before they have even hit the results page.
2) Too many search options can over-complicate the search function for your users. If you already have an advanced search function on your site review which fields are rarely used as this many assist you to refine your advanced search function.

For full details on Google’s advanced search page testing click here; http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/11/art-of-field-study.html

Other Onsite Search Tips

Google is not of course an e-commerce site, so to model your onsite search solely based on what works for search engines may negatively impact your user experience. Some additional considerations for onsite search are;

Managing Expectations

If your site needs to offer several search criteria or you have a niche offering, your users may often be faced with no results. Rather than allow user to be served with no results consider deploying techniques which enable them to determine how their search selections before the user reaches the results page. Carsales.com.au does this for its users when the visitor is selecting their make and model. To deploy such a technique requires a structured dataset however the benefit to users could outweigh the additional work involved and could increase site conversion.

Onsite SearchNo Results – Expand My Search

There is nothing more frustrating than conducting a search to be presented with few or no choices. And no matter how many products your site has, obscure user searches will always be under-catered for. Domain.com.au solves this issue well – if I search for properties in an area and there are no results based on the maximum price I have specified, Domain will provide results in surrounding areas within my price bracket. This is one way of approaching it, whilst another alternative is to provide hints to users ie if you expand “X” criteria you will receive “Y” results.

Don’t Make Me Repeat My Query

If as a user I have to come back to your site on several occasions and perform the same search query then a shortcut to my previous search is going to save me time – seek.com.au does this perfectly. This kind of functionality is useful for recruitment sites, property sites and possibly car sales sites where a user is regularly returning during a given timeframe to a search for new listings in a particular area in the case of property, or for a certain type of car or role.

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