Last night, EcommerceCamp Toronto kicked-off their first event of 2011 in front of a packed house at Fionn MacCool’s. Well.ca, an innovator in Canadian eCommerce, founded the event in 2009 along with MMarketing and Chris Long - a former Well.ca developer who is now at Points.com. According to Paige Malling, VP of Marketing at Well.ca, the event is a “not-for-profit initiative aimed at helping Canadian eCommerce players to have a venue to share ideas and connect in much the same way that the start-up community has such events.”
The number of attendees for EcommerceCamp has tripled in size since the first event and is growing by roughly 25% more attendees per event. Clearly, there is a growing appetite in Canada for community-driven discussions around developing new strategies to improve our current eCommerce infrastructure.
Yesterday’s panel discussion, which was sponsored by Wishabi and CommerceHub, was focused on trends and best practices for online merchandising in Canada. I’ve summarized some of the most important issues that were discussed last night below.
Great content is crucial for merchandising products online.
Tanbir Grover, Director of eCommerce at Hudson's Bay Company, kicked-off the panel discussion by explaining to the audience why “content is your most important tool as a retailer.” He said that the best way to see if your content is impacting sales is to look at your return rates. He explained that "if you have high return rates, it’s a great indicator of bad product content on your website."
Seth Stover, Director of Business Development at Wishabi.ca, explained that products on their shopping comparison website often rank higher because they have better product descriptions or reviews, rather than just having the best price. The entire panel of speakers agreed that good content consists of great product descriptions, consumer reviews with social media integration and even video demonstrations, multiple photos from different angles, and product breadth.
Rusty Marsh, Director of Strategic Accounts at CommerceHub, elaborated on the content issue by telling the crowd that there are actually “very few databases for product content on the market today.” For example, he said that "if you research a particular digital camera online, you’ll find the same information about that product on almost every website." He went on to explain that if you want your retail website to stand out from a big competitor like Amazon, you have to provide much richer content than the standard database of product descriptions that are readily available.
Andrea Lown, Founding Partner at SmartBrideBoutique.com, said that her website takes a fresh approach to content development by educating the sellers on their website about what will make their products sell faster. SmartBride instructs their sellers to include very detailed descriptions and photos. Lown said that "it’s not enough for sellers to say that a wedding dress is a size 6." She explained that sellers need to “include information like the former bride’s measurements to ensure that the buyer will actually fit into the dress."
The customer must always be at the center of the multi-channel retail universe.
Seth Stover from Wishabi.ca said that in order to eliminate consumer barriers to purchasing products online, retailers must adopt a true multi-channel retail approach. This means that the process of buying a product online and returning it in-store must be seamless. Stover mentioned Harry Rosen’s multi-channel retail shopping experience as an example of a great success story. Apparently, Harry Rosen has learned that they receive a 40% higher basket size when consumers are able to buy online and then pick-up or return products in-store.
Another key to making the multi-channel experience better for Canadian consumers is free shipping. Tanbir Grover from HBC said that many Canadian retailers have yet to figure out a model to make free shipping cost-effective. He explained that it is a bit of a “chicken and egg scenario where higher sales volumes online would help Canadian retailers to make the rationale for free shipping" and vice versa.
A lack of product assortment and free shipping will drive Canadians to US retail websites.
According to Rusty Marsh from CommerceHub, one solution for Canadian retailers to provide more product breadth online is via drop-shipping. He said that while it might be scary for a retailer to turn over the inventory management for thousands of vendors to one intermediary like CommerceHub, the benefit is that the “retailer can shift their focus to the online marketing and pricing strategy of their products.” All of the panel speakers agreed that without better product assortment and higher quality inventory on Canadian retail websites, their customers will definitely go to US websites to find what they need.
Tanbir Grover also pointed out that with the Canadian dollar being at parity with the US, there is even greater risk of Canadians shopping on US websites. Many Canadians find ways to buy on US websites and then ship the products to friends or family in the US to avoid the shipping fees.
Andrea Lown from SmartBride said that there “really is no excuse not to be selling all of your products online today. There are so many tools out there that a retailer can now use.” She explained that if the retailer doesn’t do a good job of selling their products online, the vendor may be able to just do it themselves. Lown referenced a Wired.com article which explained how even the sex trade has been affected by these new online selling tools. Apparently, a lot of sex trade workers have been able to cut out the middle man (their pimps) and “self-incorporate by creating their own web page with lots of photos and also create their own Facebook pages.” Lown said that because of these new online tools, “pimpin’ ain’t easy anymore.”
Therefore, Canadian retailers need to figure out their online merchandising strategy quickly or risk being left behind.