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The online challenges facing retailers today

By Retail Technology | Wednesday August 7 2013

Online search expert Andreas Voniatis offers readers insight into trends shaping the digital marketplace

Over the last 15 years, independent and High Street retailers have been stuck between a rock and hard place as new technologies emerge and more unforgiving consumers trust the web in order spend their hard earned money online. Andreas Voniatis, founder and managing director of Alchemy Viral, a specialist in international search engine optimisation (SEO), outlines the challenges that lie ahead and how they may be overcome.

With the advent of analytics, he said there is no excuse for online retailers, large and small, not to know where their online sales are coming from and which pages are converting well. “Even the humble start up retailer can install web analytics for free to find out which of their advertising campaigns or search engine keywords are driving sales,” he said. “The major retailers will already be doing this by having dedicated online web analysts looking to squeeze more revenue from the right marketing channels and increase site conversion rates.

“Retailers must also use their ‘big data’ and apply audience demographics to help consumers feel that retailers know what they're thinking and suggest relevant products in the online store and beyond. Tesco, for example, is able to use Experian data and credit check consumers as they land on the website before deciding to show Pay As You Go or Pay Monthly mobile offers.”

It’s been emotional

While most online retailers are obsessing over revenues per visit using analytics data, Voniatis highlighted how the online habits of consumers are changing. “Such habits are not only changing the revenue generating patterns of online search, but also the way sites need to go about winning market share online,” he observed. 

As search engines become more successful at being reputation based, keyword site optimisation plays a diminished role. “The emphasis is on usable website technologies that leave the consumer with a ‘wow’ experience of the online brand,” he explained. 

“That means viral content, slick presentation of shopping items, and providing virtual bespoke recommendations to people online. Businesses need to be the coolest at what they're doing. Take a look at the website, for example – it is not laden with SEO text yet the site ranks high in Google for major competitive searches like ‘men’s fashion’ partly thanks to their personal ‘style engine’.”

Everywhere and nowhere

In addition to having bricks and mortar shops and websites, consumers now have multiple ways to engage with online retailers and expect them to ‘be there’ when they are ready to shop or to respond to complaints or compliments. It’s simply not enough to have a presence on social media platforms with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts. Consumers expect these accounts to be maintained and populated with original content that is regularly updated. “This can present a formidable resource challenge for start-ups, while major retailers hire dedicated community managers to service those channels,” said Voniatis.

Major retailers will also have the added advantage of ensuring their e-commerce and web systems are talking to the point-of-sale systems. “Apple for example, has its own user account system that allows Apple store shop staff to know everything about the customer’s online shopping history from the website,” he added.

Touch not click

Consumers no longer just point and click to make purchases online either. The number of UK users of smartphones grew 58% in the 12 months following the launch of the iPhone (Comscore). “The advances in touchscreen technology mean that consumers just ‘touch and go,’ which would explain why mobile apps and smartphone devices have been well received,” he continued. 

“As consumers become more spoiled by more richly interactive experiences, they also become quite responsive towards retailers that keep up with the technologies. GAP for example, has found that 45% of customers using their iPad apps proceed to checkout.” 

Voniatis concluded: “With so many technologies having come on-stream in all manner of guises – including faster internet, smartphone computing, instant sharing via social media – online retail needs to keep up.” 

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