Benefit Selling

Stores that are good at providing customer benefits are good at selling products. Online stores should take a lesson from TV broadcasting sales channels and infomercials. These excel at “showing the meal” and not just the ingredients.

Most online stores describe the products‘ basic specifications. It is difficult to convey customer benefits at retail, in catalogs, or online. However, there are advantages in online stores because they are not limited to the product‘s package or to a catalog printed description. New e- tools, such as video streaming and animation files, help present more information to the customer about how to use products. The right messaging can also convey product benefits.

A typical online scanner description would list dpi (dots per inch), USB connection, and other specifications for use in comparing scanners. Customers are more likely to be interested in the ability to preserve aging photos or to save time by not having to re-type text documents—the basic benefits of scanners.

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Six Functional Parts, The Home Page

The home page sets the shopper’s expectations for the rest of the site and lays out the framework. The home page performs the following jobs:

Store Framework

The store framework—or page layoutsets the expectations for the customer for each subsequent page within the website. It usually consists of the top banner of the store, the left navigational bars, the primary content area (middle), and often has a third column on the right side used typically for advertisements. The top banner and left navigational areas are usually consistent throughout the remainder of the store.

To help the customer remain oriented in the site, there are static elements that start on the home page and then remain constant. For example, the company logo and top of the page identification banner help ground the shopper in the store even though page content changes.

Company Information

The company name, logo, and positioning statement are important informational elements. In addition, a toll-free number provides another means to order or to ask questions and should be readily noticeable and available on the home page and all other pages of the store.

A link to a company information area will provide the company name, address, telephone number, parent company, and a key contact name. It may tell a little about the company itself, how long it has been in business, the types of markets it serves, and the range of products it produces. There may be a photo of the main office to establish credibility. This area can reinforce the value proposition and reassure customers that they will get the promised quality, service, or other attribute when they order.

Online Store Benchmarking

We developed and used the following process:

  1. Establish search criteria.
  2. Develop a metrics scorecard.
  3. Conduct the evaluation.
  4. Map out purchase process flow issues.
  5. Purchase products.
  6. Total the scores.
  7. Recommend improvements.

Recommendations were supported by annotated screen captures. Recommendations were detailed in an overall recommendations/assessment document that lists good and confusing aspects of navigation by area and category. It also noted best practices that reinforced what appeared to work well within the site.

A meeting was conducted with the online merchant to share key findings and deliver recommendations on online store improvement as it related to category profitability. Store executives, buyers, merchandisers, and members of the IT department attended the meeting, because all have an influence on the online store design.

The Online Shopper

Shopping process hierarchies depend on the purchase purpose, and the online store needs to address these purposes. Generally, for those shoppers who already know what they want to purchase, the process is simple and similar online to the retail process. The process normally features the following steps:

The other two types of shoppers may shop randomly. The browsing third is enticed by link, an ad, an end cap, or another promotional device. This shopper will move randomly around the store to see what is offered. The information shopper is more specific in searches and may look in catalogs, search at retail, or investigate on the web.

When Michael was seeking a specific product, he was not interested in the distraction of a pop -up advertisement. Yet, when he was looking for a vacation spot, the pop-up window did not bother him. In fact, he quite enjoyed it. He wasn’t waiting for a client, and he had plenty of time before needing to book reservations for his vacation.

Sub Category and Product Detail Pages

Because customers can’t pick up virtual merchandise and read labels, the product detail page represents the product or behaves like the product package. It must clearly communicate what the product is and what the customer will receive as a result of its purchase. Anytime a page offers a product for sale, it must provide the following information for each of the products offered:

  • What it is—the description, picture, uses
  • Relevant and complete compatibility, sizing, color, or other information
  • What’s contained in the package—what the customer will receive
  • Other items needed for immediate operation (batteries, cables, assembly, UL specifications)
  • Spare or complementary items (extra batteries, film, or a carrying case)
  • "Care and feeding" of the product (special polish, cleaning instructions)
  • The price and any hidden charges (extra shipping or handling)
  • The manufacturer’s or designer’s name
  • Sample content (for example, sample book pages)

The customer must know clearly what the product is and what it looks like. And for customers who know exactly what they are looking for, accurate descriptions and specific product numbers or models must be included so they may easily recognize the correct product. Our research across more than 25 major elcommerce websites identified incomplete or inadequate information. In many cases, the web stores did not provide complete compatibility information.

Shoppers will not purchase from a site that cannot confirm their choice or be specific about what the product is that they are purchasing.

Product detail pages let customers know what they’re getting and what else they may need or want. In this example, product features—the "speeds and feeds"—are listed. This includes products they may need to purchase in order to use the product. It also features other products the customer may want. Good clothing stores recommend coordinated accessories to give customers ideas to complete ensembles for a variety of social occasions.

Successful Websites Rule

Apply the following recommendations to ensure that you’re keeping track of the customer experience:

  • Understand that no design is perfect the first time.
  • Test your own site with real customers.
  • Test your site against competitor websites.
  • The web yourself for real tasks. Buy half of your gifts online for the next holiday season, and observe how other sites make it easy or difficult for you to buy from them.

Test early and test often. After you’ve tested, test again at planned intervals. Customer habits change, products change, and the marketplaces change. Routine testing should be built into the website schedules.

a) Customer Insight

Customers had the following to say about products cross-sold in advertisement promotional boxes:

  • Don’t try to show me special deals that are going on rather than taking me to what I’m looking for. When I’m looking for something specific. I’d rather get right to it than look at a bunch of things."
  • "If I’m looking for something specific, the ads aren’t helpful."

These customers were presented with offers early in their product search process. People will not pay attention to them until they become relevant

Create a Smooth Path to Buying

The easier it is for customers to navigate through the site, the more successful the online store. Customers return to sites at which they have an easy time.

a) Customer Insight

Customers made the following representative comments about the challenging navigation of websites:

Kind of shuffled me around in more shopping than I wanted to do:

  • The first thing I’m trying to do is see if they have any major headings that try to point me in the right direction.”
  • Node, it’s still not there. What did I miss? What’s another definition of this?”
  • Since I can’t find it after clicking through, I guess I’ll have to do a search or go to another site because the information is not readily available to me:’ Part of working with a new site is figuring out how to use it’
  • I’m just reading the descriptions because you never know what they put things under.” Predominately, my definition is not necessarily someone else’s definition. Once I understand someone else’s definition, it makes sense, but mine is not theirs. I’m now just looking under some items. It’s not furniture, it’s not accessory, and it’s not technology… I’m looking for another link since that one didn’t give me what I was looking for.”