By Hugh Kimber, Optimize Sales Manager, Webtrends

From shelf psychology to the trick of triangular balance, optimising retail floor space to increase spend in the offline world is nothing new. Things have become increasingly sophisticated since the days of pumping the smell of the bakery at the entrance hoping to entice shoppers that have made the mistake of shopping on an empty stomach. Retailers now have more insight and understanding of their customer than ever before. Whilst billions of pounds are spent every year in the UK to encourage consumers to buy more and opt for the more profitable products, the question must be raised as to whether organisations are taking their robustly tested merchandising tricks from the shop floor and tailoring them to the online retail world, which is expected to grow to a staggering £50bn* in 2011 alone?

The majority of digital marketers have a level of data and insight available to them that retail space planners would hit somebody over the head with a freshly baked baguette for. Taking many of the age-old merchandising winners such as clever positioning of profitable impulse buys and eye-level displays for the highest margin goods, combined with online data and the opportunity to test different strategies can equal a winning formula.

Recognising the importance of optimising online and drawing lessons from offline retail is the key to increasing performance and profitability of your site. Welcome Visitors New and Old with Open Arms.

Online retailing offers a unique opportunity to recognise your visitors new and old – creating the chance to ensure your visitor’s experience is like walking into their favourite boutique or corner store. While it’s something which can also only truly be achieved online, many organisations fail to ensure that users are remembered by their cookies and that the right content is delivered. It is an opportunity to incentivise new visitors to register – for example - offering free delivery on your newly acquired customer’s first order.

First Impressions Count
Over the past few years, we’ve all picked up something that we didn’t intend to buy the moment we’ve walked into a store. Be it a DVD you hadn’t planned to throw in your trolley, this season’s must have jacket and coordinating shoes or perhaps a Krispy Kreme to help the torture of a weekly food shop. It’s a fact that people only worry about the cost of a shop when the basket is full, not empty. The tactics deployed in a high street chain or supermarket, can easily be used on a home page with the use of data and understanding of optimisation. Ensuring that the home page has the latest fashion look, the most highly viewed items or most profitable goods ensures that a visitor is already adding things to their basket the moment they enter your online doors.

Eye Level is King
A supermarkets’ key weapon is the use of eye-level display. Experiments over the years have shown that when customers walk down an aisle, they look at only the shelves that are level with their eyes. That’s why merchandisers ensure the items with the biggest profit margins are placed at eye-level, while the cheaper less profitable items are away from ‘natural view’. If your customer wants value brands, they’ll find them, eventually, but they won’t buy them on impulse.

Whatever product you sell online, this is a technique that can be adopted to increase order value and sell more profitable products and services. Like the eye-line in-store, more profitable products can be strategically placed above the fold line of the page so eyes are drawn to these products straight away rather than the less value ones below.

Creating the Last Minute Up-Sell Opportunity
A checkout area is also a good example of how optimisation can work well both on and offline. These areas in a store are the monthly engine of the business and the promotional calendar is often driven by their performance. Be it magazines that pass the time while queuing, leaflets on the latest supermarket finance products or those ‘that’s a bargain’ fashion accessories, the checkout is a prime opportunity.

Online retailers are becoming increasingly clued up on using this same principle by testing different low cost products to complement a customer’s purchase as they move towards the checkout. Is a customer able to resist that must-have necklace to match a blouse they are about to buy? I think not.

Wave Goodbye to Distractions
But let me finish on an example where, in some cases, optimising your visitors experience to remove distractions at the purchasing stage can work very well, dependent on the type of product being sold.

Looking at one the world’s biggest (albeit subtly) retail outlets, lessons can be learnt from Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It may be a theme park, but every corner and turn is filled with a merchandising opportunity. However, when Walt Disney designed this financial goldmine he took the decision to create a layout that prevents visitors from seeing another ‘land’ except the one in which you are standing. The advantage? Visitors are in the moment and they don’t acknowledge that there are other experiences they will want to have material memories of just around the corner. The result? They buy a souvenir key ring or pay for the rollercoaster picture now. This method focuses the consumer to the job in hand. Keep it clean at the vital conversion stage of your site and it can prevent abandonment.

Test the Theory
Organisations are spending millions on offline optimisation. Why? Because it works. And as a result digital marketers are increasingly recognising the benefits of applying optimisation techniques online. Online optimisation offers the opportunity to test and refine. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s cheaper and in some cases it can generate as much, if not more, revenue as offline. If it has worked – and very successfully – for all these years in our everyday world then surely it would be madness to not take those lessons and try them out online.

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