Recreating the in-store experience online: the ecommerce content challenge

While some brands and retailers have prioritised stellar ecommerce experiences in recent years, our analysis of 100 top US retailers has shown that many of the industry’s biggest players have been neglecting their online content. Some may have simply underestimated its importance, while others have found themselves hamstrung by the operational complexity of creating quality content at the speed and scale required for ecommerce. But, as a 2020 Episerver report reveals, investing in ecommerce content is now critical for success and ‘poor product descriptions’ are among the top reasons shoppers give for abandoning a planned purchase.

To truly thrive in an omnichannel future, retailers must provide online experiences that are as engaging, intuitive and rewarding as their offline offerings – using content to recreate the appeal of window displays and tempting merchandising, or the reassurance of being able to see, touch and try items in-store. In the online world, content equates to experience, and if it’s not up to scratch your competition is a mere swipe, or click of the mouse, away. In economically uncertain times, fixing your ecommerce content may prove critical to your very survival – let alone future success.

Generating digital ‘foot traffic’

One of the key challenges for any retail website is visibility. Fortunately, search optimised category description content (and metadata) can serve the same function as having sought-after stores in high foot traffic shopping malls. Only a tiny fraction of consumers click on Google’s paid ads, so ranking well organically is essential to attracting new customers.

Effective category descriptions can rank well for both generic category terms, with high search volumes, typically used in the initial phases of product discovery, and long-tail category terms with high purchase intent. 

Surprisingly, our analysis showed that many retailers are oblivious to these benefits. A staggering 23% of high-profile brands failed to provide any category descriptions at all, whilst 78% had ineffective category descriptions – squandering a huge window of opportunity to net organic traffic. 

Providing all the information needed to make a purchase decision 

When shopping offline, a trip to the showroom, fitting room or beauty counter is often required to clinch the deal – providing shoppers with all the information they need to make an informed purchase decision. This is where the high-quality product description comes into its own – being able to convert even the most casual browsers into confident buyers. 

In the digital realm, product descriptions need to not only provide an effective substitute for the ability to see, touch or even smell products in store, they must also answer every conceivable pre-purchase question and persuasively nudge users towards a purchase. Indeed, as McKinsey’s latest Periscope report for retail revealed, the importance of the product description has “skyrocketed” in recent months, evolving into one of the top 3 factors for any successful online shopping experience.

Under Armour clearly understands this and has excelled at the art of the product description. Their product descriptions include high levels of detail about the item’s features and benefits, while being careful formatted and easily readable. This brand is so committed to the cause, it even encourages shoppers to rate its descriptions.

Regrettably, Under Armour was the exception not the rule. Our assessment of the top US retailers uncovered some astonishing gaps in this area, with as many as 48% supplying incomplete or unhelpful product descriptions, offering little information about their products’ features and benefits. This underinvestment in customer experience is likely to sabotage conversion rates and basket sizes while inflating dreaded product return rates. 

Throughout the sector there was also a routine reliance on duplicate product content, with identical words and phrasing being used to describe an item across multiple websites. Not only does this leave retailers undifferentiated from their competitors, but it also damages SEO efforts by resulting in hefty content duplications penalties.

Your virtual sales assistants

A retail outlet without any sales staff may be unthinkable, but online, there are no knowledgeable sales assistants to answer a shopper’s questions or offer advice. Even top-notch product descriptions won’t help those consumers who don’t have a specific product in mind and need more general advice or insights into the relative benefits of a variety of products. For these shoppers, detailed how-to and buying guides can be a compelling tool. Carefully considered guide content can help them navigate their options and boost consumer confidence while also being an effective vehicle for cross-selling and upselling.

Furthermore, by homing in on common consumer questions at the product discovery phase, search optimised how-to and buying guides can help to attract vast swathes of new customers, while simultaneously cementing your position as a leader in your field – and achieving lucrative ‘position zero’ places in search results pages. The fact that visually appealing guide content can really boost engagement (which search engines love), further supports your site’s ability to rank well for relevant keywords. 

Unfortunately, few of the retailers we audited seemed to be reaping the rewards that guides have to offer, with 43% publishing no guide content at all. Setting an industry standard, Lowe’s was a notable exception, with guides offering detailed advice on topics such as ‘Best Washer and Dryer Features to look for’, with useful step-by-step recommendations. Little wonder that the company was rewarded with impressive triple-digit online growth last year.

How does your store measure up?

On any retail website, Ecommerce Content assets including product and category descriptions, buying and how-to guides – have the potential to supercharge customer acquisition and retention. Although frequently overlooked, these forms of content will:

  • Increase conversion rates & AOVs
  • Increase search rankings & traffic
  • Reduce product return rates
  • Maintain brand integrity & a positive customer experience

Have you optimised your online offering for the omnichannel future? To find out, request a complementary Ecommerce Content Score audit of your site.

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