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Getting Personal


The Web is no longer the underdog of the retailing world. As more senior-level management looks toward their e-commerce departments to further develop their brand and learn key insights about their target audience, Web teams are stepping up their game.

That said, one of the hottest topics in the e-commerce field right now is the growing power of online personalization and how retailers can learn from it. That was the theme echoed by Sucharita Mulpuru, senior analyst at Forrester Research, during the session, “The State of Retailing Online” at the National Retail Federation’s annual conference in New York City in January.

For example, contemporary apparel company The Wet Seal is among the retailers embracing this personalization to learn more about its consumers via a fun and interactive online feature: The company recently gave consumers the opportunity to put together their own virtual outfits. As a result, the site quickly flooded with more than 100,000 new ensembles.

“This was a great way for Wet Seal to take advantage of consumer perceptions and leverage that information to help merchants do their jobs even better,” Mulpuru said.

To do so, Wet Seal gave shoppers the chance to vote online for their favorite outfits, and surprisingly, the user-generated creations repeatedly came out on top. The retailer then took the outfits that received the most votes and the highest ratings from shoppers and populated its product detail pages with those cross-sells and upsells. This is just one of the many examples of how retailers are starting to benefit from thinking in new, innovative ways when it comes to the Web.

More retailers are also turning to online video to enhance their site experience. YouTube alone comprised more bandwidth in 2008 than the entire Internet did in 1998, according to Mulpuru. Much of that had to do with the rapid adoption of broadband households: Of the nearly 90 million households that now have Web access, more than 70 million of them have high-speed Internet access in their homes.

“This doesn’t mean that retailers need to start creating channels or content specifically for YouTube,” Mulpuru explained. “Rather, it’s about the transformation of the Web from a two-dimensional medium with just text and images on a page to a three-dimensional medium where images can come alive. It’s also a medium where nonverbal cues and emotions, such as excitement and passion, can come across in product descriptions and on product-detail pages.”

Companies such as QVC and HSN have known for years that video can be incredibly powerful in driving sales, and now other retailers are starting to embrace video technology through their sites, also. For instance, Williams-Sonoma is using video on its product page to help sell croissants on its site. At the bottom of the page, the video discusses how the bakery makes the croissants, how they smell when they are baking in the oven and various suggestions on places and times to serve them to guests.

“This brings alive some of the rich treatment that words and images alone can’t communicate,” Mulpuru added. There are other ways visual communications can be enhanced by the Web in more simple forms, too, such as embedded zoom, color swatching or faster navigation.

With 2009 still only a month in, it’s not too late to brainstorm Web initiatives that can take your entire company to a whole new dynamic level.

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