Shopping for an item online or via a mobile device is very different than purchasing an item in-store. The potential online advantages – convenience, choice, and price – must be matched with the disadvantages that come with the sensory deprivation of the eCommerce experience.
There are many elements to online sensory deprivation, including the inability to closely examine, touch, feel, sample, smell or try on an item, or to solicit a quick opinion from a sales assistant or fellow shopper.
The way online retailers and the brands / manufacturers counter this is with product or item content. The higher quality this online content, the more likely the product will be found, purchased, appreciated, and not returned by the shopper.
Unfortunately the item pages on many retail sites only offer the lowest common denominator when it comes the product content. This needs to improve if shoppers are to be persuaded to move more of their shopping from the store to online.
eCommerce is huge, but the potential is ginormous
eCommerce was worth a whopping $394.9 billion in the US in 2016, according to estimates by the US Department of Commerce. And eCommerce is growing at 15.1% in the US, which is much faster than total retail sales at 3.9%.
But eCommerce is still only 8.1% of total retail US sales. This means that North Americans are still shopping more in-store than online. This also means that today’s huge eCommerce business is only a fraction of what it will be in the future.
The key to unlocking this potential is to make it as easy and attractive to find, research, and buy each and every product online as in-store and a big part of that is providing excellent product content.
Retailers, including Target and Walmart, want better product content
Retailers want the online shopping experience to be to as rich and seamless as possible.
To achieve this, retailers need suppliers / manufacturers / brands to provide better eCommerce product content. By better, we mean more accurate, relevant, useful and compelling content.
Pure play eCommerce retailers – led by Amazon – have been hot on content for a long time. Amazon’s Vendor Central portal allows suppliers to update standard product listings and information online; this includes the addition of A+ content, which is enhanced content (which is discussed in more detail below).
However, as traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ retailers, such as Walmart (which now claims to be the second largest online retailer in the US) and Target, are aggressively growing their online presence through organic growth and/or acquisition. So these ‘omnichannel’ retailers are now also pressuring suppliers to improve content quality.
Both Walmart and Target held supplier summits earlier this year, where the importance of and expectations for eCommerce content were spelled out.
At the inaugural Target Item and Product Content Summit, held January 31, February 1 2017, in Minneapolis, the retailer shared with suppliers its digital (mobile-led) vision along with new guidelines and procedures for submitting product content. From March 1, so our source tells us, the retailer will no longer be accepting content in the old format.
Under the new guidelines, we’re told, each vendor should now supply Target with:
- Three to five key feature bullets followed by a short copy block of roughly 25-35 words.
- The primary image should ideally be backed up with two to five additional images showing the product from different angles, shots that illustrate the product’s functionality, and others that show the product being used (i.e. lifestyle).
- Enhanced product image content including videos and product tours.
Moves like this are a big step forward for content quality.
The more forward-looking brands and suppliers, particularly those with dedicated digital/ecommerce teams, will welcome these content quality initiatives. But for the vast majority of suppliers this will be a much-needed wake-up call.
So what is content quality?
Content quality is the delivery of content that is accurate, relevant, optimized for online and mobile, and conforms to retailer guidelines. Quality content adds value for the customer, improves the user experience and enables them to make an educated purchase decision.
Higher quality content will make it more likely that the product is found, purchased, appreciated and not returned by the shopper.
There are three classes of content:
1. Basic/base content.
- This includes the title/product name, an image, or images, and brief description, including bullet points or words.
- This is the basic minimum, without these things you are highly unlikely to sell anything.
- Increasingly retailers set minimum requirements, and if these aren’t met, your product will not be listed. For an example of the minimum requirement, see the terms and conditions of Jet.com, the eCommerce retailer recently acquired by Walmart. (Also pictured below).
- Meeting these basic requirements does not guarantee content quality, unless the titles, descriptions and images are accurate, relevant, and optimized for mobile.
Take images for example, does the image show the correct product, color, quantity? Is it the best resolution, correctly sized, in-focus and cropped appropriately? With so many people shopping on mobile devices, images need to intelligible on a small screen; Unilever sets a great example of this with its Mobile-Friendly Hero Images – even better, this image template is free for any brand to use.
2. Enhanced content.
Enhanced content, sometimes called rich media content, includes:
- Additional images, showing different angles, illustrating how the product works and would be used. The Levi’s Store on Amazon.com, for example, offers a number of images, and the ability to “roll over to zoom in” on each image, and brief animations/videos showing how the item looks in motion.
- Videos, including promotional, demo or how-to. See for example this Crayola video on the product page for Sketch Wizard on ToysRus.com. (Also pictured below).
- Interactive product tours.
- Documentation, including PDFs of the construction/instruction manual. See for example this construction guide for Canopy chairs on Walmart.com.
- Product comparison guides. See for example these Clairol Professional Conversion Charts on SallyBeauty.com.
- Nutrition facts, allergen information (for food products).
- Size guides (for clothing and shoe lines).
Enhanced content is the embodiment of content quality. It adds delivers real value to the consumer.
3. User-generated content (UGC)
The third class is the content that customers are contributing about products to retailer sites. This includes:
- Ratings and reviews
- Questions and answers section
Some retailers, such as Home Depot and Walmart, allow brands to respond to user reviews and to answer user questions. Take advantage of this. Never let a poor review or a customer question go unanswered.
See the following example of a response to a poor review for Scrubbing Bubbles cleaning product. (However the manufacturer has yet to respond to more recent unfavorable reviews).
This blog is part of a series on content quality; future posts will examine why content quality is so important for both brands and retailers and how to ensure your product content is of the highest quality.