Online Merchants Targeting, Tweaking and Testing

According to the e-tailing group's 8th Annual Merchant Survey in the first quarter of 2009, 34% of surveyed merchants anticipate that their Internet revenues will be down or flat in 2009 versus 2008. The balance of respondents continue to see growth but only 39% project revenues up in the 1%-15% range.

Lauren Freedman, President of the e-tailing group, notes that  "... 190 senior level merchants with e-commerce responsibility... recognize that the online channel is core to multi-channel success... (as) the pressure for performance is greater than it has ever been... (while) customers demand more... "

Impact of Economy on eCommerce Investments


% of Respondents

No change


More than 2008 ("fastest growing part of business")


Same as 2008


Less than 2008 (current business state)


Significantly less than 2008


Source: eTailingGroup, April 2009

?With conversion numbers trending down, merchants are challenged to get customers to convert, but viewing other success metrics and benchmarks in the broader context of multi-channel shopping. In the 2009 model, researching, comparison shopping, and seeking store information may be as prevalent as purchasing online, though their impact is not factored into conversion numbers.

Conversion Rate Comparison to Prior Year (% of Respondents)




Significantly higher



Somewhat higher



About the same



Somewhat lower



Significantly lower



Don't know



Source: eTailingGroup, April 2009

More so than in prior years, customer behavior may significantly impact performance as shoppers are slower to purchase, limit purchases, as well as research both product and price before making commitments. Testing is central to understanding what works in this climate where analytics and performance data substantiate decision-making. Sources of information to make merchandising decisions now rely on:

  • Analytics (92%)
  • Sales history (73%)
  • Conversion data for (68%)
  • Competitive benchmarking (50%)
  • Customer ratings/reviews cited by (39%)

As merchants tweak their sites for optimal performance and ROI there is continued emphasis on targeted email, refining onsite search and upgrading site design including enhancing onsite merchandising.

Selected Initiatives Planned for Improved Website Performance in 2009 (Multiple response OK)

Planned Initiatives

% of Respondents

More targeted email


Adding/improving onsite search


Site design/upgrades


Enhanced merchandising features


Cross selling/Up selling


Content development


Add customer generated content


Overhaul shopping cart




Source: eTailingGroup, April 2009

These diverse initiatives, added to the survey this year, reflect the current merchants' mindset as they look in every direction for site improvement:?               

  • 51%    A/B Testing?               
  • 44%    Social Networking?               
  • 39%    Content Management  ?               
  • 39%    Alternative Payments 

Customer retention and top ranking customer service tactics include:

  • 58% who say site redesign/enhancements
  • 50% pricing/promotional strategies
  • 47% exemplary customer service
  • 41% targeted and/or segmented email campaigns
  • 31% streamlined checkout

Versus 2008, little change was seen in the order of ranking, but the most relevant metrics did receive greater endorsement. The top five ranking features as "very to somewhat valuable in 2009" are:

  • Keyword search... 94%
  • Sales or specials... 93%
  • Cross selling... 92%
  • Email merchandising... 90%
  • Seasonal promotions... 88%

Targeting and segmentation via email are important as merchants ratchet up efforts from personalized to triggered email including abandonment efforts. Additional key steps merchants are taking to improve email performance include:

  • Better segmentation... 76%
  • Compelling messaging... 80%
  • Improved creative... 73%
  • Increased focus on analytics with A/B testing... 64%. 

44% of these merchants anticipate changing e-commerce platforms within three years, but 42% report that they have no plans to make such a change. Given current resource constraints and economic instability, the report concludes that tweaking will be the order of the day.

Freedman summarizes by saying "Platform upgrades may be on many wish lists but 2009 will be remembered for refinement of navigation, onsite search and website tweaks...  "Merchants who truly optimize e-commerce and multi-channel potential... will... thrive as the dominant players in their categories."

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