Ruby and Frank Maestas have been together since seventh grade. When they made the decision about a year ago to buy a shoe boutique in downtown Colorado Springs, it was a perfect fit. The name fit their relationship – Sole Mates.
The idea was that someday their daughter would take over the business, but she recently moved to Kansas. And after making monthly trips to Kansas to visit their kids and grandkids, the couple decided to give up the shop.
“It’s not the bridge or the bad weather. I’m a firm believer in customer service is what builds your business,” Frank said. “We built the business up 16 percent from last year.”
The store had a loyal following.
“I’m sad to see them go,” said Brandy Lachocki. “They make me look good. I come from Atlanta, so this is upscale. The only other place that has a similar shop is The Broadmoor and they don’t know me.”
As more shoppers grasp the high-tech online shopping experience, retailers are seeing the need to provide a more consistent, sophisticated experience.
According to the 150 retailers surveyed for the second part of The State of Retailing Online 2007, the 10th annual Shop.org study conducted by Forrester Research Inc., top priorities include fixing Web site design and performance issues, improving the efficiency of online marketing, and enhancing cross-channel integration.
“Today’s online shopper is extremely Web-savvy and expects more than ever, forcing retailers to raise the stakes,” said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org. “Companies are investing in new features that will keep customers coming back, and homepages everywhere are getting a major facelift.”
Fixing product detail pages will top retailers’ Web site to-do lists for the next 12 months.
According to the survey, 88 percent of retailers plan to focus on improving content presented on product detail pages, with 80 percent adding alternative images, 72 percent incorporating lifestyle photography and 63 percent integrating customer ratings and reviews.
Retailers also are focusing on their homepages, integrating top sellers and “what’s new” sections, and making their Web sites more sophisticated, with dropdown menus and rollover lists in navigational areas.
To differentiate themselves from competitors, online retailers are making customer service a priority, with 33 percent of companies planning to invest more in live chat and 53 percent planning to enhance their guest checkout process during the next year.
Paid search continued to be the most effective marketing tactic for customer acquisition, and e-mail marketing retained its position as the most effective – and budget-friendly – tool for customer retention.
According to the survey, retailers find that e-mails about new products are more successful than simple transactional and sale messages. Seventy-three percent of retailers e-mail customers about new products and 51 percent rated the method as very effective.
Retailers understand the value of operating in multiple channels. Survey respondents said that 43 percent of catalog customers have purchased from their online store and that 35 percent of online customers have purchased from their bricks-and-mortar store.
“The perception that catalogs are a dying breed could not be further from the truth,” Silverman said. “For online retailers, catalogs are an incredibly important tool for acquiring new customers and providing current customers with their first look at new products. Retailers understand that many consumers get a catalog in the mail, then buy the item online.”
Joan Johnson covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.