Three steps to transform the digital shopping experience

Vendors must integrate information from a variety of vendors into their e-commerce sites, as well as into other sales channels such as mobile applications.
Written by Eric Chaffee, and Mike L , Contributor
Commentary - Increasingly, retailers are realizing that they need to improve how they manage their product data as they integrate information from a variety of vendors into their e-commerce sites, as well as into other sales channels such as mobile applications. For them, the process of collecting product images and information from vendors and internal systems to publish to e-commerce sites is a time-consuming and costly endeavor that slows time to market and compromises other sales and marketing efforts.

One of the biggest challenges retailers face is gathering all of the pieces of content that are needed to put a product on an e-commerce website. These include digital assets such as product images but also product attributes such as price, color, size, and availability , which may change daily. This kind of real-time data synchronization is difficult, but a necessary growing pain that many retailers and vendors are going through. Vendors who can quickly transform product data into rich, compelling product information – and deliver that information to the retailer in a format they like – will instantly differentiate themselves from the competition.

Step One: Communicate electronic data quickly and efficiently
Retailers are all looking for similar types of information. How they want to receive that information though can greatly vary from one retailer to another. Vendors need to be able to demonstrate that they can get their product information, inventory levels and shipping details to the retailer in a timely manner. That means they need to have product description and logistics information at the ready – things like size, dimensions, weight, etc. – so shipping costs and limitations are well understood.

The more sophisticated retailers will have fairly in-depth guidelines as to how vendors are supposed to ship. The vendor’s ability to understand what those shipping rules are, be EDI-compliant, be able to drop ship, be able to create retailer-branded labels, etc. are things that they should highlight to a retailer and say, “Yes – I’m capable of doing that. I can provide you with inventory information, an electronic invoice and updates as far as shipment data goes.” The drop ship example is used here because even though it only accounts for a small percentage of all e-commerce fulfillment, it’s something every retailer is trying to expand.

Step Two: Provide accurate and compelling copy
A website’s product copy is one of its most important elements – especially in the world of e-commerce. Too often, great products are designed and produced without adequate sales copy to inform and influence potential customers. Ultimately, these products languish on e-commerce websites and other distribution channels until strong, descriptive text – sometimes called romance copy – is created that alerts customers to benefits of the basic specifications that too many retailers regard as adequate. For example, if are you selling a television, you’ll likely list the manufacturer’s features and specifications. But the more you can communicate to your customers how those features are going to improve their lives, the less the sale of that television will rely on things that directly effect your bottom line like price, shipping, and return policy.

The devil is in the details when it comes to making the online shopping experience as positive and informative as any real-world one. If a vendor’s copy largely consists of two or three sentences describing each product, this probably isn’t going to be enough to entice customers. Although quality content is best, what vendors usually need is more content – including product images – delivered in a format that the retailer can quickly consume and reuse.

Step Three: Take stock of your digital assets
A picture is worth a thousand words (or 915 if you ask a product copywriter). Since people shop visually, product photography is the single most important design aspect of any e-commerce website. Without the ability to touch, hold, smell or handle the products they’re interested in, customers have only product images to interact with.

Shopping online is a comparative experience and quite different than going to a store or flipping through a catalog. Images on a website have to work even harder to convey the true look and feel of a product. As such, the more photos a vendor is able to provide the better, because customers generally want to see an item from every angle possible which can be evidenced by recent studies that showed a larger number of high-resolution product images can increase conversions up to 34%. All retailers want more, higher quality product images from vendors without the arduous task of pursuing them.

There are plenty of product photography services available for retailers, whether for print or e-commerce. While outsourcing photography can be an expensive undertaking, for those who have honed the process, the return on investment is generally worth it. It’s difficult for vendors to create the same level of high quality, zoomable images themselves, or think about photography in terms of marketing collateral. Instead, they usually just want to get a photo up and get the product out there as quickly as possible, at the lowest possible cost. It leaves the retailers in a bit of a bind and means they have to shoot the images themselves if no good images are available.

Video is by far the most expensive of all product marketing collateral, but it shouldn’t be overlooked because it certainly moves product. Retailers such as Zappos and onlineshoes.com credit video for a lift in conversions upwards of 40%. It’s another digital asset to consider providing, if a manufacturer has the budget, resources, and wherewithal to produce it.

Across nearly every channel, competition is increasing and distributors, vendors and retailers all have to be more efficient in how they share and communicate quality product information. By providing retailers with the assets they need to deliver life-like shopping experiences online, vendors will enhance their own value proposition and differentiate themselves in a changing e-commerce market.

Eric Chaffee is Director of Product Management at SPS Commerce, a leading provider of on-demand supply chain management business solutions.

Mike Lapchick is the founder and CEO of Shotfarm, a free, centralized platform where thousands of vendors manage and share product images and information with resellers.

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