***New user experience research suggests that on average, keyword searches fail to find 57% of products that are actually available on the site via link navigation; pioneering study features analyses of top UK retail sites including Amazon, Argos, Tesco and Figleaves***

How can I increase online sales without spending a small fortune on marketing? What are the crucial factors that will influence the decision to purchase, or walk away? How can I persuade my customers to spend more?

These are the questions E-consultancy keeps hearing from online retailers, so we challenged customer experience specialist Dr Mike Baxter, director of Sales Logiq, to investigate the structure and performance of the UK’s top online retail sites in order to unearth some answers.

The resulting 62-page report, ‘Online Retail User Experience Benchmarks’ (http://www.e-consultancy.com/publications/online-retail-user-experience-benchmarks), is an invaluable study into online retail at a critical time in the evolution of the marketplace, which now accounts for about 7% of total UK retail sales and is worth around £17bn.

The first ever benchmarking analysis of the online customer journey features 14 separate analyses incorporating 86 website metrics and contains over 50 recommendations. By understanding and acting on this research retailers of all shapes and sizes can expect to generate more sales and improve conversion rates without needing to increase their marketing spend or user base.

Some of the findings are extraordinary:

• More than half of all products are not found by keyword searches return even though products can be found by link navigation. By making improvements to internal search, the average retailers should potentially double keyword-driven sales overnight.

• Lack of standardisation. Customers can expect a markedly different experience depending on which site they visit, which is very confusing for novice e-shoppers.

• The three critical areas of focus in terms of site and revenue optimisation are: Search, Support and Promotion. All retailers can make vast improvements in these areas to help inform users so they feel comfortable about buying products online.

• Promotion and persuasion leads to increased spend. Retailers are largely ignoring deep promotions such as bundles, special offers and Amazon-style free shipping. Consumers can be persuaded to buy more products.

• Users can be categorised in the following ways: tracker, hunter or explorer. Our research shows that all customer types can be catered for with interactive product guides, advanced filtering options for search results and online customer service tools.

• Half of the sites we looked at do not adopt liquid page layouts, meaning web users need to scroll to view content even though there is about 20% extra page width unused.

E-consultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein comments: “This report will help retailers understand how the consumer thinks and behaves online. The findings are extremely important as they prove beyond any doubt that the success of an online retail operation is inextricably linked to the Holy Trinity of Search, Promotion and Support.”

Dr Mike Baxter added: “Our report shows clearly that some aspects of online shopping are still struggling to reach basic levels of performance – search effectiveness, for example.”

“Other aspects are, however, beginning to offer added value to customers that would be difficult to match even in a face-to-face discussion with a skilled sales-person. Our usability data suggests that the first site to implement the full range of best practices revealed in this study will see immediate and substantial improvements in sales conversion.”

Friedlein concludes: “By focusing on - and investing in - the customer experience, retailers can expect to generate more sales and raise conversion rates. Early-adopters of this research are likely to gain a competitive advantage in the online retail space and we look forward to publishing some real-world case studies in the 2005 version of this report.”

The full report is priced at £99 (free to E-consultancy subscribers) and can be downloaded from:
http://www.e-consultancy.com/publications/online-retail-user-experience-benchmarks. A 15-page sample is also available for non-subscribers.

***Journalists, bloggers, analysts and retailers can contact E-consultancy editor Chris Lake for more information on the findings (e: chris@e-consultancy.com / t: 0207 0718612)

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About E-consultancy:

E-consultancy is the UK’s leading online publisher of best practice internet marketing reports, research and how-to guides. It also publishes buyer’s guides and has a directory of 100,000+ third party internet marketing white papers.

Since launching its paid-content model in 2003, E-consultancy has amassed thousands of paying subscribers, 25,000+ registered users and 115,000 unique users sessions per month. Subscribers pay from £99 per year to access the exclusive and highly practical content, which helps internet marketers get the most out of their websites.

E-consultancy hosts more than 40 events per year, including roundtables and monthly ‘Beauty Parades’, allowing suppliers and highly-targeted buyers to meet under one roof. It also provides a range of in-house training programmes, such as seminars and workshops.

E-consultancy also offers a range of web consultancy services to companies including major FTSE100 brands and small start-ups, including market and competitor research, website optimisation, customer journey analysis and strategic planning.

E-consultancy was co-founded in 1999 by Ashley Friedlein and Matthew O'Riordan. Ashley is a twice best-selling Internet author. E-consultancy's shareholders include Philip Redding, former Managing Director of Wheel, which he helped grow to become the largest UK new media agency.

About Ashley Friedlein, CEO, E-consultancy.com:

Published on: 12:00AM on 3rd November 2004