How SA’s retailers should make shopping easier

2015-06-02 19:39

Hypothetical scenario: I’m a female consumer between the LSM 7 and 10 and am wanting to buy winter boots. My initial thought process is to research pricing and styles online. Where to from here?

Enter Google search.

My initial search term starts as “winter boots”. I then notice that only one local website ranks in the top 10, which is I realise that I need to refine my search so I search for “winter boots south africa”. Thanks Google, my search results become a lot more localised. However Google is giving me a mixture of men’s and women’s boots, so I refine my search further to “ladies winter boots south africa”. Ok, now I have a selection of websites that will most likely provide the style and price I’m looking for.

What are the challenges facing a website ranking for the above-mentioned search phrase?

Challenge 1:

Fashion items are very personal. Consumers come in various shapes and sizes (literally), so the buying emotion is a lot less online. Both traditional retailers going e-commerce and stand alone e-commerce websites face this challenge.


Have a very good returns policy. The facts help us better understand the consumer mindset in regard to returns. Recent surveys and studies have found that over 85 percent of consumers want a convenient returns policy, with about 55 percent seeking the most affordable return shipping option (when return shipping fees are assessed). Amazon and Zappos have thrived by adopting generous returns policies that customers trust. In fact, Zappos -- which offers free two-way shipping and a 365-day returns policy -- found that its customers with the highest return rate are also its best customers.

Challenge 2:

Show enough product variety to ensure visitor satisfaction. In this hypothetical scenario, having one female winter boot on your website is not enough. If an etailer only provides one boot, then the assumption is that the visitors think that there is only one boot in store. Am I going to visit a store to look at one boot? The answer: an overwhelming NO! I’m going to keep browsing the web until I find a website that offers me a variety of related products.


A very efficient CMS. The challenge for etailers is the management of products, especially since they are so seasonal. Uploading a product catalogue in XLS format is a really good solution for website content managers.

Challenge 3:

Really good filter options to add / remove products. This will prompt further exploration and pageviews across the website, which also provide upsell opportunities for complementing products i.e. in this case, a winter jacket.


It’s easy… Provide a very powerful search algorithm carefully placed on the landing page that prompts engagement. Heatmapping, measuring exit rates after the search and analysing search trends will help improve on-site search/filter strategy.

What are the online challenges facing traditional retailers?

Challenge 1:

Traditional retailers have decision makers who are scared or at least uneducated in e-commerce (this is a general statement, I’m sure there are a few local retailers who have already embraced e-commerce however, this is all too slow in a South African context).


Employ millennials who understand e-commerce. Let them work alongside management. There are strong personalities in retail so their voice might be drowned out by senior management. So another option is to seek external advice from reputable digital agencies and LISTEN… and then execute.

Challenge 2:

Traditional retailers aren’t competing against online retailers but rather software companies.


E-commerce companies have built their websites around strong internal dev and design resources. Traditional retailers will need to change their culture to attract ‘hot shot’ developers and designers.

Challenge 3:

SEO strategies and user behaviour reporting.


Internally, traditional retailers need managers who understand but are not necessarily experts in digital. Managers in a traditional retail environment need be asking and challenging digital service providers with pertinent digital marketing questions. This will ensure a process of continuous improvement. If retailers want to outrank up and coming e-commerce websites who are a lot more agile, their online strategies need to be watertight, with a clear vision which is backed with a decent budget.

Challenge 4:

Getting visitors to the store locator page.


Implement A/B split testing with designs and analysis of Google Analytics (user behaviour). This challenge can be seen as an opportunity. Millennials in first world countries still prefer to be shopping in brick and mortar shops. So traditional retailers need to be building websites that can bring this message across to the website visitor.

Lessons for the web 2.0 retailer

Do come with a clear vision of where you want the company to go and promulgate that vision rapidly and forcefully through your website.

Do put a lot of emphasis on building a software company culture.

Do have a mixture of internal digital managers and outsourced specialists to ensure your digital strategy is complimenting the company vision.

Do take Google’s algorithm changes seriously.

Do use on-site analytical data to make content and business decisions.

Don’t be satisfied with analysing only local competitors, look abroad for the latest digital marketing techniques.

Do build a segmented email database. Targeted emails are all the rage and consumers appreciate it.

Do always be testing… and testing again…

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

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