The explosive growth of transactional and online shopper data means consumers are swamped with information. In just one internet minute, there are now 2m Google search queries, £83,000 in sales on, 100,000 new Tweets and 6m Facebook views.

The retail industry is no exception. Whilst in-store product ranges are limited by the physical constraints of shelf-space, online retailers can display ten times the amount of products on their sites.

This leaves consumers with overwhelming choice. Yet research shows that most products are going un-noticed. As highlighted in a study undertaken by RichRelevance, only 44% of products online are getting attention; leaving 56% bypassed.

Furthermore, just 10% of products on an online retail site garner 75% of page views.

Bringing this back to the in-store metric, this is leaving over half of the shopping aisles in the dark. 

Measuring product strength to illuminate the dark aisle

By 2014, over half of all sales will be influenced by the internet (Forrester). Shoppers are now using retail sites to research and discover products, read customer reviews, and search for online deals, vouchers and coupons.

In order to ensure that brands and products are not on the ‘dark side’, customers must own the digital aisle.

Whilst retailers have great knowledge of where and how customers shop in-store, they are not so well-informed online.

An abundance of customer data presents an opportunity to identify the products and brands customers are engaging with, and how these are viewed and purchased.

Understanding the products that are getting attention and engagement will ensure that retailers not only better personalise the shopping experience but also expose new products and illuminate dark aisles.  

The paradox of choice

Consumers want an experience that is designed to listen. Retailers that listen, will not just present their consumers with the entire product range or simply cherry-pick the ‘top viewed’ products, but will expose those products that matter the most.

Retailers must listen to the particular brands, styles, attributes, colours and price-ranges of the goods that consumers are engaging with, whether that’s a slim-fitting shirt, a shade of eye-shadow, a technical specification or sensitivity to a price range.

If retailers are sensitive to customer’s needs, then they can start exposing better ranges to the right people.

Many brands are starting to streamline their sites to meet the needs of their customers. For example, Asos now has a dedicated online consultant who acts as a personal stylist, replicating what can be done in-store.

L’Oreal Paris USA on the other hand has recently launched a website that allows customers to create their own profile – asking for colours, tones, styles and trends that matter, so that it can present shoppers with relevant and personalised products, promotions and content in the form of customised videos and articles.

The future of shopping

In addition to exposing relevant product ranges online, businesses must always strive to respect their ever-evolving shoppers.  Brands like Asos and L’Oreal know that the future of shopping rests on the incontrovertible fact that the ‘customer’ as we know it, is now changing.

Female consumers now drive over $12 trillion in global spending, and according to Ogilvy and Mather, 22% of female consumers shop online every day. A range of demographics and pressures play a part in how women like to shop, varying with age, career, level of disposable income and time availability. 

In recent years, two female segments have emerged and now dominate the market:

  1. “Money-rich but time-poor” female heads of household. A dual-income head of household with limited time for her family and business, she is looking for an efficient yet relevant shopping experience for herself and her family.
  2. 50+ well-heeled career woman.  A connected women who knows what she wants and is looking for a bespoke shopping experience, customised to her lifestyle and age.

The businesses that will grow with women’s advancing economic power are those that acknowledge their influence, tailor approaches to women’s purchasing decisions and ensure a comfortable in-store and online user experience.

A good way to sell to women is by engaging imagination: women enjoy visualising what role a product will play in their lives, and how it will enable them and their families to enjoy a certain kind of lifestyle. 

A business’ ability to expose content that will ignite this imagination and influence the purchase funnel will help bring dark aisles into the light, and build loyalty among its customer base.

Personalisation as a long-term strategy will help retailers illuminate their dark aisles. Retailers need to capitalise on it, while always respecting the shopper, to ensure that their brands and products are seen by the right people.

Darren Hitchcock

Published 1 May, 2013 by Darren Hitchcock

Darren Hitchcock is VP of the UK/European Region at RichRelevance and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Darren on Facebook or Twitter

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Comments (4)

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

I wonder how much of the darkness is due to lack of demand as opposed to 'findability' issues. With so many sites still suffering from poorly implemented search and faceted navigation controls, it's little wonder the vast majority of products are doomed never to be discovered.

about 5 years ago

Pete Williams

Pete Williams, Managing Director at Gibe Digital

Retailers are going to have to learn that ecommerce is their only growth area and that if they don't employ the same resources online as they do in store then they will continue to loose market position and sales. As ecommerce developers we need to devise new ways to promote products that are in the dark in the sameway end of isles or eye line positioning works in supermarkets. Too often I see sites that don't change their home or landing pages on a regular basis and then retailers wonder why the products not being displayed aren't being purchased!

about 5 years ago

Darren Hitchcock

Darren Hitchcock, VP of the UK/European Region at Rich Relevance

I agree on both views; Retail has long had more focus on sales related concepts; online has been to throw more product at it. Pete the age of dynamic or real-time concepts that have not typically played in the Retail vertical but more in Finance, Automotive and Media is being addressed with a lot of testing happening right now. The impact on bounce rates, time on site and in many cases in session revenue demonstrates a need to focus more in this area.
Albie; your view on 'relevance' and 'product discovery' is very true. The subject of relevance keeps coming up as to a users' preference, versus merchants product promotional wishes, versus keyword search strength and finally navigational assistance. The point is that data is still not yet clever enough at catalogue level across the board to help (e.g. attributes).

about 5 years ago


Best Ecommerce design

Some best experts always must be hired for reliable Ecommerce design. Then there would be no dark side.

about 5 years ago

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