How small and midrange online retailers can optimize their product presentation

“I must be able to see, touch, and try out a product before I buy it.” This view is still widespread among many customers even at a time of rising sales figures in the online retail business. A comprehensive digital product presentation can help offset this alleged disadvantage of eCommerce. But small and midrange retailers are often still not making sufficient use of their opportunities.

In its monthly eCommerce Business Climate Index (e-KIX)[1] ECC Köln found in July 2017 that small and midrange online retailers frequently fulfill only the basic requirements in product presentation. Along with product descriptions in writing (84.6 percent), only product images from different perspectives (68.8 percent) and product images with a zoom function (51.3 percent) are at all widespread. Only a minority provide customer ratings (34.2 percent), product and use videos (15.8 percent) and 3D or 360° views (6 percent). Yet according to the survey around 87 percent of small and midrange online retailers are convinced that product presentation is an important distinguishing feature of an online shop. True though that is, it is hardly reflected in the status quo as yet.

Retailers may be experimenting with augmented reality approaches such as virtual fitting, but these ventures are still very much in their early days.

At first glance eCommerce would generally appear to be at a disadvantage in product presentation when compared with over-the-counter retailing. The sense of touch and smell, the size of a product or its effect in combination with other products can only be experienced by all the senses in a real store. Initial tests of how a product functions cannot be undertaken online either, and there will be no change in this situation in the foreseeable future. Some retailers may be experimenting with augmented reality approaches such as virtual fitting, but these ventures are still very much in their early days. That is why online retail will only be able to catch up with over-the-counter retailing in providing a sensual experience of products once holograms or virtual reality applications are able to offer an anywhere near adequate substitute. And that doesn’t look like being any time soon.

The Customer’s Intention Must Be Satisfied to the Best Possible Extent

Small and midrange online retailers nonetheless have a number of options to help them offset this disadvantage step by step and transform it into a strong point of their own. The focus is by no means only on the innovative concepts described above that might overtax SMBs and their capabilities. Adequate use should instead be made of the sales channel chosen to the extent of available options and the customer should be the focal point of the retailer’s content strategy – in keeping with the maxim: “The seeking, potential customer’s concern should be fulfilled to the maximum.”

A main customer concern is to find and purchase swiftly and easily the product that matches his or her needs. A detailed product presentation helps inform customers comprehensively about the chosen product in the run-up to the order. In this way the risk of the article ordered not being to the customer’s liking on delivery is reduced considerably. As a consequence the number of returns is reduced, and with it a perceptible cost factor.

Blunt keyword optimization and mindless linkbait should no longer be the focus of attention.

The above-mentioned maxim not only follows customer interest; it also boosts the retailer’s visibility on Google & Co., which is a further important success factor for small and midrange online retailers who as a rule do not have such an outstanding market position as, say, Amazon or Zalando and are correspondingly less able to rely on direct hits at their online shop. Blunt keyword optimization and mindless linkbait, long seen as the road to success, should no longer be the focus of attention. Search robots and algorithms are, after all, so well developed that they can now distinguish between content written for search engines and content that matches the user’s search intention. So the main focus must be on the user’s concern, regardless whether by means of text, image, video, or audio, in order to be “rewarded” with a good ranking by the established search engines.

The Three Main Aspects of Canal-adequate Product Presentation

To make optimal use of the opportunities offered by digital sales channels in the area of product presentation, small and midrange online retailers should concentrate on three tasks.

  1. Structure master data for product search, selection, and choice
    Meaningfully structured product master data and classification and assignment of attributes that match the product categories not only ensure that customers find the products they need swiftly and easily. By means of the data provided prospective customers can also efficiently identify the features of suitable articles and easily compare different products on the basis of these characteristics. In this way online retailers can even gain an advantage over over-the-counter retailers. In a store you must first find your way around, especially if you are not a regular customer, asking a sales assistant if necessary, and make your way to the articles for which you are looking.
    Once you are there, you can usually touch and feel the product and maybe read the packaging to find out more about it. A comparison based on a large number of attributes is easier said than done, and if as a customer you don’t yet know exactly what you want or would like to know more about the product, its functions and the differences between it and alternative articles you will need the help of a sales assistant. Their availability and knowledge vary widely, however, and if an online retailer can offer user-friendly navigation, search and selection tools based on valid, comprehensive and suitable product attributes his online shop will be well ahead of his over-the-counter competition in terms of product data.
  1. Choose suitable product presentation formats
    Once a customer has shortlisted an article he will want to know more about it. As noted above, online shops cannot offer the touch and feel product experience, but they do have a large number of formats at their disposal that come as close as possible to the experience. They range from detailed product descriptions, customer ratings and experiences via a wide range of product image formats (ambience, details, in use, functions, size reference, combinations, choice of color and motif, 3D models, panorama, etc.) to a variety of product videos such as product presentations, use and assembly instructions, care advice, customer statements, and 3D or 360° animations. In addition, customers can be shown test reports, certificates, product tests, technical details, and Press articles.
    This abundance of information will usually be sought in vain over the counter. As only a few products are described in detail in a product presentation or a flyer, a detailed look at the product information (and often the sales talk with the sales assistant) will be limited to reading the packaging. If, however, digital content by way of product presentation and description fits harmoniously into the customer journey and if it is distributed not only via the retailer’s own sales channels (webshop, app, etc.) but also across all the external user touch points, here too the online retailer has a clear advantage.
  1. Enable individual product advice online
    The availability of personal advice is frequently cited as the most important reason for shopping over the counter. A range of applications has taken the wind out of the sails of this argument. With live chats, a callback service, and advice, product presentation and use videos professional advice at a constantly high level can be guaranteed around the clock in contrast to over-the-counter retail opening hours. So online retail can now offer in this area too a customer service experience that is at least comparable to the in-store experience.

Have No Fear of Producing and Updating Content of Your Own

Content creation and updating are without doubt the most serious challenges.

In view of the many ways of improving product presentation in your own webshop you may wonder how you are to create and continuously update the content. After all, small and midrange retailers have only limited budget and personnel capacities. That is why content creation and updating are without doubt the most serious challenges that they face. Fortunately, this work can be made easier at many points:

  • A sufficiently large central product database that is geared to the requirements of the industry in question is the basis for uniform and constantly updated product data.
  • Data provided by suppliers and manufacturers is the basis of the content managed in the product database. Many industries already have uniform product data standards that can be used to guarantee consistent data presentation. Alternatively, supplier portals that provide product information by means of standardized processes can be connected directly. In a second step data integrated in this way can be continuously enriched with further information and additional content of one’s own in order to further improve the customer’s shopping experience.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution for the choice of a suitable format for one’s own content. Instead, the format must be right for the industry or target group. Put more graphically, the bait must be to the fish’s liking. Be it video, blog, a recipe or instructions for use, the content must strike a chord with the customer, be authentic and convey passion and competence. Examples of how this can be achieved at no great expense are the taster videos of the whisky trader and the video of an ax being made by John Neeman Tools. And why must one always stick to the same formula in one’s own online shop? A magazine-style shop like helps to combine product content and facts worth knowing in such a way as to upgrade the retailer’s perceived overall competence. Users are also happy to revisit this kind of product presentation to browse and be inspired.
  • Integrating content creation directly into article creation is an obvious option. The result is usually standardized shooting and video processes for a limited budget. In view of the sheer variety of products in the shop it is not always possible, however, to integrate all articles into the additional content creation. In that case the investment focus should be on products by which you set yourself apart from the competition such as own brands, specialties or top-selling items.
  • Incorporating user-generated content such as customer ratings or social media content provides an opportunity to integrate third-party opinions and authentic end customer impressions into the product presentation.

Conclusion: High-quality Range Navigation and Product Presentation Can Make the Difference

Pure online retailers have many opportunities to offset the lack of ways to provide a touch and feel product experience. With a clean and comprehensive product categorization for navigation, search and selection, individual content enrichment, and carefully considered connection to authentic external sources of content you can even create added value that over-the-counter retailers are unable to offer.

The online retailer’s high-quality individual content created in this way thus compares well with the advisory expertise of a professional local retailer. Just as customers always revisit a local retailer for the quality of his advice, online retailers must succeed by means of good and unique content in convincing prospective online customers to search and use their webshop and its content time and again as a source of sound product advice and presentation. By means of this strategy they can set themselves apart from not only over-the-counter retailers but also the large established portals that can and will never develop comparable competences in clearly defined niches.