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It’s well known that when we go to a supermarket we are being influenced in our decisions at all times. The store layout is structured to maximise profit and the way a customer moves, stops, sees, smells and thinks are not left to chance.
Giving optimal positions to products with the highest profit margins, grouping complimentary products together to persuade users to buy more and even pumping the canned smell of baking bread 24 hours a day through the entire store are just a few of the well tested tactics employed by the supermarkets to maximise the value of each and every shopper.
How did the supermarkets get to this point? One word: data. Many ideas about shopping habits have been generated over the years but the theories that are in use now are the ones that were tested, analysed, refined, tested again and then implemented.
So what can digital marketers learn from this?
Take control of who owns the conversion process
It is still a very grey issue as to who owns the look, feel and layout of the site, with IT departments still in control of the majority.
However, would the supermarkets have uncovered the optimum aisle placements, pricing strategy based on location and product grouping techniques if the construction team that built the store were making the decisions?
Unearth how visitors use your site
There is a wealth of tools and tactics that can be used in ecommerce to deliver the sort of key insight that drove the decision making when planning the layout of a supermarket.
Heat maps, customer surveys and usability audits are vital in telling us how people are using and navigating around our sites, in the same way it has been identified how supermarket shoppers navigate the aisles. "Understanding the customers’ shopping behaviours is critical and should form the basis of all e-commerce strategies", John Brodie says.
Identify and remove customer journey roadblocks
Reviewing user feedback and analysing site data can help uncover where the conversion barriers sit on a website and what is preventing visitors turning into customers.
We need to identify and remove these roadblocks in the customer journey whilst displaying key messaging and pushing core, high margin product lines in the same way that supermarkets do not block shoppers’ way, but do push the products that they want to sell.
Position products to maximise sales
Whilst it needs to be easier for users to find what they want online than in a supermarket (it’s a lot easier to abandon an online store than a physical supermarket when you already have a half full trolley), e-commerce sites can take a lot from the meticulously planned positioning of stock on supermarket shelves and the method of giving prominence to the most commercial products that have the highest profit margin can be easily employed.
According to Fiona Low:
The concept of positioning complimentary items next to each other can work incredibly well for e-commerce sites. In the same way a supermarket shopper buying flour to bake a cake needs eggs and sugar, an online customer buying a dress can also be cross sold the shoes and accessories they need to make a complete outfit.
Test, refine, then test again
Whilst there is a multitude of best practise layout and merchandising rules that should be followed online, it is vital we test and subsequently optimise the key customer journey points throughout e-commerce sites, just as the supermarkets tested their instore concepts.
Even testing small elements of web pages, such as colours of messaging and positioning of calls to action, can have a huge impact on user behaviour. Research shows that simple things such as improving your web page loading times will all have an impact on your overall conversion rate.
And with tools such as Google Website Optimiser that are completely free to use, the testing process can be carried out with minimal costs, hence delivery massive returns on investment.
There are also, however, offline principles that simply do not work when used online, and in a purely practical sense we obviously can’t use the supermarkets famous smell aids (although I am sure someone out there is working on a scratch and sniff usb).
But on balance and despite these differences there is a lot that ecommerce can take from a supermarket’s persuasive manner of making shoppers not only buy, but buy more than they intended to.
With the average retail conversion rate around 3%, 97% of visitors never buy anything. How would a supermarket or any bricks and mortar retail store survive on that return on footfall? E-commerce still has a lot of work to do to.