Leveraging Web 2.0 Technology to Please the Spoiled Consumer

With the number of retail sales channels through which consumers interact expanding - in-store, online, catalog/call center, kiosk, special order, TV, and mobile - consumers expect a more unified shopping experience regardless of the type of channel or the number of channels accessed. The cross-channel experience has created today's 'spoiled consumer' and it raises the bar for every retailer.

Thanks to Web sites that utilize Web 2.0 technology such as Amazon and eBay, it is no longer enough for retailers to create a Web site that is essentially an electronic catalog and order taker. Online shoppers today expect a richer, more interactive buying experience - like they'd get in a store. To achieve this, retailers are turning to cutting-edge Web 2.0 technologies such as AJAX and Flash, video, and social networking capabilities. But, by implementing sophisticated selling and merchandising capabilities in addition to these technologies, retailers not only can deliver an optimal shopping experience but also increase customer loyalty, share of wallet, and overall market basket size.

Better Interactions Get the Customer What They Want
The spoiled consumer doesn't want to be misled in their shopping experience, and they want to easily find, review and purchase the right products. Web 2.0 technologies, such as AJAX, can help a retailer create a personalized shopping experience or leverage social networking capabilities to navigate through product assortments and proactively figure out what they want. By combining Web 2.0 technologies with the power of personalization services and peer-generated reviews, a retailer can lead consumers to more completed sales.

With AJAX, Web sites do not have to reload an entire page with each click, thereby increasing the interactivity, speed, functionality and usability of the page. It also makes site navigation more intuitive, enabling consumers to find more of the information they are looking for without having to navigate away from the primary product page. Information like color swatches, store inventory, product dimensions and more can all be accessed without the page needing to reload, leading to greater customer satisfaction and more completed sales.

Beyond providing quick navigation, AJAX can be combined with a content management system to deliver a richer shopping experience. For example, AJAX can be integrated to the marketing database or dynamic imaging server where each item in the catalog has assigned additional views/images that can be called up, enabling consumers to drill down to more detailed views of the product without having to leave the product page.

Retailers also can enhance the shopping experience by providing peer reviews. Shoppers want to hear from their peers about how a product holds up and if it meets expectations. Rather than asking your consumers to navigate away from the product page and visit a third-party review site, retailers benefit from incorporating this type of social networking into their site. Peer reviews deliver relevant information about products and services. Not only are shoppers more apt to trust peer-generated reviews, they are increasingly looking for them to aide in the purchasing decision. Retailers that provide this depth of information, even if it's negative, are apt to be perceived as a thought leader and a trustworthy member of the community.

However, there is a fine line retailers must walk when offering these reviews on their Web page. Consumers want to hear only from legitimate peers, not from marketing people in disguise and they are very good at figuring out what is real and what is marketing. If a site is too plagued with company interjections then it loses credibility with the user and defeats the purpose of having it - to keep consumers on your site.

Richer Buying Experience Deepens Shoppers Connection to Retailer
The spoiled consumer wants the same experience whether they're shopping in the store or online, and so providing interactivity is an important consideration for Web sites. Key strategies for delivering the in-store experience online include guided shopping and product personalization.

Guided shopping (or guided selling) applications replicate the in-store experience with a sales associate by asking online shoppers questions about the type of products they are seeking, how they intend to use them, brand preference and price range just like with an in-store sales associate. Paired with knowledge about the customer, guided shopping becomes the ultimate personal shopper by tailoring recommendations based on what the customer wants combined with information about the customer's behavior and preferences gathered over time across all sales channels. The same guided shopping applications can work across channels to enhance the store and call center experience by making personalized recommendations accessible via kiosk, in-store, or through the call center.

Product personalization is another form of interactivity that retailers should consider as part of their Web 2.0 strategy. Through product personalization, consumers gain that personal touch they'd feel with the attention of a store associate by having the Website show recommended products they are likely to buy based on previous shopping interactions or what shoppers who have bought similar items also purchased. What makes product personalization appealing to e-retailers is that it provides a cost-effective way to offer relevant products that consumers seek. Personalization allows retailers to establish merchandising rules for their diverse product assortment and make product recommendations based on a rules-based approach.

The key to demystifying the intricacies of Web 2.0 is to remember its premise of delivering a richer, more interactive shopping experience that builds on the collaborative atmosphere found in the store. By keeping this in mind, retailers can select the appropriate Web 2.0 technology, combined with advanced selling and merchandising capabilities, to enhance their business and deliver a more interactive shopping experience that increases sales and engenders deeper customer loyalty. Once you've mastered that, be aware of the next challenge. This blurring of the lines of demarcation between the Web and the store is driving yet another customer expectation -  the ability to navigate seamlessly across channels.
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