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

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

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

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.

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:

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.