Anatomy of the Online Store

Some of these parts, electronic product catalogs, were related to structure and were developed in a variety of database-driven architectures. The online store that relies solely on a database-driven product database is weak and cannot withstand competition or support customer needs. These early electronic catalogs displayed long lists of products to online customers. They lacked intuitive organization and structure.A strong online store is dependent on having the right elements, which consist of structure, form, and navigation. It is also dependent on having the right product mix, sufficient customer research, intuitive navigation and ease of use, and a good delivery and fulfillment mechanism. Information must be adequate and appropriate. The basic elements of the store €”the web pages €”must fluidly guide the customers to desired destinations. Customer-centered web design reverses the typical development order for websites. The typical method is to take an existing product database and build a user interface on top of it to accommodate the existing category structure. The customer-centered method starts with the user interface and builds the database structures and content to accommodate the page layout and content requirements of the customer and merchant. The user interface requires specific online merchandising techniques to influence effectiveness and design simplicity.

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.

The Cost of Convenience of Shopping Online

What’s a customer’s time worth? What could be more convenient than ordering products from home or from an office and having them delivered to your doorstep or desk? Is it really easier and more convenient to get into the car, drive through traffic to a store, find a parking space, go into the store, locate the products, wait in line, pay for the items, and then drive through traffic to your office or home? That process is not convenient or time saving, yet that is what people are willing to do because they perceive that it is “easier” than shopping on some websites. Unless there is an immediate need to have a product, successful online shopping is clearly more convenient.

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.

Text, Color Schemes, Images, Copy and Virtual Bundles

Virtual Bundles—E-kits

Special product bundles have been a retail strategy to stimulate sales. Bundles consist of two or more products or a product with a special offer. At retail, physical bundles are created by putting two or more products into the same box or by strapping the products together to form a "hard" bundle. A new SKU number is created and assigned to the new "package" so it can be stocked, inventoried, and merchandised.

Online stores have an advantage over retail because they can create "virtual" bundles. Virtual bundles put the products or special offers together on the product detail page—the online "package." The virtual bundle is also assigned a new SKU number. Fulfillment can be notified to "pick and pack" those items that make up the bundle. Virtual bundles save on production costs and labor, because a physical hard-bundled product is not required. A hard bundle is created virtually through putting the separate items into the same shipping box.

These elkits require special merchandising treatments, however, because they are mot physically bundled items in one package. New photos may be required to show the bundle contents. All product categories are eligible for bundling. Dresses with handbags, crafts with tools, printers with cartridges, and dog food with dog toys are a few combinations. Bundles are limited only by the imagination and distribution capabilities. Bundles provide you a competitive advantage by providing "new" exclusive items for your target customers.

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.