E-Commerce is proving costly - but primary content can help

Friday, 26 February 2016

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Bradford Shellhammer, co-founder of design-centric online retailer Fab.com, recently made an eyebrow-raising claim: that bricks-and-mortar stores are becoming more cost-effective than their online counterparts.

He claimed that opening a high street store is “probably” cheaper than launching an e-commerce outlet in today’s market, even when factoring in increased overheads from rent and payroll. And the reason for this shift? According to Shellhammer, it’s down to ever-increasing marketing spend, as well as the hefty costs of postage and returns. In other words, “It costs money to make money”. According to Shellhamer, “When you’re competing for the same ad channels against guys who have unlimited coffers, it’s really difficult.”

Shellhammer contends that if a retailer has a relatively low number of employees, combined with a single premise, it’s perfectly feasible for this model to be cheaper to run than an ecommerce store. As evidence of this shift towards the “old school”, he points to an increase in the number of online start-ups shunning paid online advertising – because getting noticed has become so expensive – in favour of traditional media like direct mail and ad hoardings, where competition is less fierce.

Aside from escalating advertising costs, Shellhammer highlights customer returns as another significant drain on revenues for e-tailers. This is where clear, accurate and informative product description content can play a vital role in the customer journey and help to minimise the likelihood of shoppers returning items on the basis that they weren’t “as described”.

Aside from the well-publicised SEO benefits of producing unique product descriptions, this “primary content” should be seen as a critical sales opportunity – the equivalent of an interaction with a sales assistant in-store. Get product descriptions right and a customer will feel informed, inspired and compelled to buy; get them wrong and the customer could end up with something they don’t want.

Getting product descriptions right

Creating a product page that really assists conversions and provides as much information as possible to the buyer, lowering the risk of returns, requires smart interaction between design, UX (user experience) and content.

The basic best practice principles include:

1. Highlight product benefits as well as features in product copy. That woven-rope handle isn’t just there for the sake of it – it makes the bag extra comfortable to carry and taps into the season’s nautical trend. Appealing to customers’ emotional and aspirational sentiments, as well as providing the “nuts and bolts” of product composition and features, is important.

2. Use high-quality product imagery. Research from MDG Advertising found that 67% of consumers consider images “very important” when they buy, and this is critical for reducing the likelihood of returns.

3. Maximise your user-generated content. Analysis from Figleaves.com found that products with reviews had a 12.5% higher conversion rate than those without, while products with 20+ reviews showed an even more marked increase in conversion rate, at 84%.

4. Give as much detail as possible. When customers shop in-store, they can rely on the knowledge and expertise of sales assistants to help them make a decision. The same principle applies to e-commerce; supplementing product pages with extra information like sizing guides, care and maintenance advice, FAQs and “how to wear/use it” tips will give shoppers confidence and make them less likely to return items.


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