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Ecommerce for Technology Vendors: Maximizing Your Online Channel

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This post is a recap of yesterday’s webinar Ecommerce for Technology Vendors: Maximizing Your Online Channel. The replay is now available on-demand. The webinar is the first in a series of software and technology related topics based on the top issues we have found working with and speaking to enterprise firms in this industry. In the webinar we took a deep-dive into the issue of “owning the conversation” and bringing all relevant content and information to bear on each transaction.

5 Considerations

  • Manufacturer strengths / weaknesses
  • Governance
  • General design / site architecture
  • Source and nature of traffic (segments, personas)
  • Leveraging user-generated content

Manufacturer strengths

The software and technology marketplace involves a mix of retail resellers and their online counterparts, manufacturers selling direct to consumer/business and affiliate websites like comparison shopping engines and technology reviews (think Cnet and PC World Magazine).

These channels are all important to the technology brand, as they will all attract different types of customers and cast a wider net for more sales. Of course, maximizing revenue driven through a manufacturer’s own ecommerce project is the goal – not only for higher margin but the opportunity to remarket to these customers through renewal and upgrade emails, cross-sells/upsells etc. Brand strength But the beautiful thing for technology manufacturers is when a customer knows what product he or she wants, there is a high likelihood that the customer will go directly to the manufacturer’s web site. According to Forrester Research, 58% of consumers researching an online purchase will begin their research at the manufacturer’s website. An additional 16% will use a search engine, and when searching for a product or brand name, will likely land the customer on the manufacturer’s site also. So potentially you have 75% of customers beginning research at the brand website. For software that offers a direct download, we expect this figure even higher, as research has shown customers prefer to receive an instant delivery than a packaged product. ContentManufacturers also have more content to leverage than resellers, including rich product information (videos, tutorials, screenshots, demos, .pdfs), comparison tools, product finders and even community forums and knowledge bases. All this content supports the researcher and can help “sell” your product.

Manufacturer weaknesses

Unfortunately, all this great content creates complicated information architecture. Most commonly among software and technology sites, we find the .com site has rich product information along with a separate “store” (subdomain or subfolder) that has its own product pages – often with different design, copy and calls to action. Furthermore, stores often don’t have the rich content like product finders and comparison charts that can be found outside of the store. The more fragmented the content is, the more difficult it is for the customer to reach all the necessary information to make a purchase decision, and the more effort it takes to navigate from product page to store to checkout.

Above, top: The .com product page is text-heavy, but calls to action for the store are very subtle, perhaps too subtle to be noticed by the reader. Above, bottom: The transactional page has a simpler design, more like a retail store page, but may not provide the depth of information necessary to make a confident purchase decision.Surveying 82 of the top technology and software sites, I found that 70% have separate stores. The 30% of sites that did have a consolidated store (one product page with a “buy” button linking directly to the shopping cart) were “smaller” in the sense that they serve only one market, with one line of product or were gamer sites like Atari. Why do enterprise sites have separate .com content and store content? The main reason for large companies is governance – the .com (informational site) is owned by Marketing while the store (transactional site) is owned by Sales.

Governance

Organizational structure can often get in the way of what drives a really effective ebusiness. When you have segregated groups with each group chartered for different purposes (this could be IT, Marketing, Sales and Web Analytics or Product A vs Product B vs Product C), strong advocates for certain web changes will be motivated by their own interest. For example, Product A pushes for a certain change that may lift his division’s product revenue by 10% – but would the resources required to support that change be better applied to something that could lift revenue across the board? The best scenario is when there is a holistic approach, when a tightly integrated team is working toward the same targets with plans completely aligned, and there are little organizational differences. In addition, an ecommerce business should be data driven as opposed to opinion driven. This requires a core team that makes decisions independent of how the rest of the company is organized.

Site architecture

Menus and navigationRemember that a home page’s goal is not to convert a customer to a sale but to get a click deeper into the site. Content must be well organized, menus usable and intuitive, and labels clear. Home pages that make it easy for a customer to “self identify” will enjoy reduced bounce rates.

There is danger showing products and offers when you don’t know who your customer is or what they are looking for yet. The word “Download” is often ambiguous. A download may refer to a full product, trail version, upgrade or .pdf file. The site below displays all available products under the Download menu, but also under the Products and Store links. This makes it confusing for customers looking for something specific. If you want to download a full version immediately, do you use the Products, Download or Store menu?

SearchEnterprise technology sites have so much content, including product pages, store pages, .pdf files, press releases, blog and forum posts. Any and all of this content may be matched in site search to a query. Often large software search results look like this:

These results look a lot like Google search results, but do not help a customer looking to buy a product. Technology companies can improve search pages by including product thumbnails for “transactional” product pages (pages with a call to action to add to cart), prices, brief product descriptions and filter/sort refinements, like a traditional retail store like Best Buy would:

Source and nature of traffic (segments, personas)

Targeted selling refers to showing different content and offers based on what you know about a site visitor (we have a whole webinar on targeted selling if this is new to you). Some of the ways you can gather this information is thorugh: Browser/OS Detection – As I blogged about a couple weeks ago, software vendors can leverage operating system detection to deliver the right products based on the platform the customer is using. User Authentication – If a customer is logged in, you may draw upon purchase history, download history, profile information (hardware he or she owns, interests, industry he or she works in) and even forum participation (is the customer a power-contributor or a newbie?) Campaign/Referral Source – Leverage referral information like email campaign, search engine and keywords and serve up relevant messaging, banners, landing pages and so on. Site Behavior– Keep track of events like clicks on offers, clicks on product categories, time on site and number of visits in cookies to build a profile of customer intent. You may, for example, reserve your live chat agents for customers who have spent X number of minutes on a site, viewed X number of pages or made X number of visits vs. a visitor who has spent 5 seconds on your site.

Leveraging user-generated content

A final consideration is an emerging concept rather than a trend. I did find Apple leveraging user generated content on its software product pages, including customer reviews and support forum posts:

Many manufacturers hold back on adding reviews because they are not always positive. It’s easy for a Best Buy or Walmart to be “transparent” – they sell a wide range of brands. Negative reviews on a software product site can be damaging to conversion, as can forum posts. While this content can enrich a product page, care must be taken that all content be supporting to the product decision and not superfluous or damaging to the brand. Another question is if using content off other sites like general tech forums, if it relates to your brands, is a good idea for product pages. That depends on the legal issues of using another site’s content, and whether the content will help or hurt your conversion rates. Certainly there should be a dedicated resource working on moderation of all user generated content that appears on a product page, and this idea should be tested against having no user generated content on the site at all.

Next webinar

App Store – a new way to sell software, media and anything digital Join Michael Vax, Chief Technology Officer and Matt Dion, VP Marketing of Elastic Path Software on March 30th to discuss the current state of Application Stores, future trends, and how technology companies and network operators can leverage this new business model to drive adaptation of their platform and generate additional revenue. Date: Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 Time: 9am Pacific / 12pm Eastern Date: Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 Register at www.elasticpath.com/apps

Linda Bustos
Linda Bustoshttp://www.elasticpath.com
Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.
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