Go Back to Basics, Forrester Tells U.K. Online Retailers

[London, ENGLAND] In a new report, Forrester Research has
said that U.K. online retailers must return to merchandising
basics if they are to succeed in an increasingly tough

One of the key factors is the urgent need to reduce range
sizes, says Forrester. The huge choice of products enabled
by the Internet is confusing to customers, especially to
mainstream shoppers who lack product knowledge, the
researchers point out.

With the absence of online space constraints merchants have
been able to replicate offline concepts such as destination stores
and category killers. This is a mistake, according to Forrester
analyst Mike Honor.

“This belief ignores the fact that large assortments in one
place are less attractive online than off. The concept of a one-stop
shop is rooted in the offline world, but the Web is poor for browsing
masses of products,” said Honor.

By contrast, low online switching costs make the Web a perfect
comparison destination — and it is this aspect of e-commerce
that online merchants should be exploiting, Honor added.

The latest observations by Forrester, coming in the midst of
a substantial shake-out in the world of e-commerce, will be
seen by many as being the product of hindsight. Yet they
surely contain plenty of common sense, the lack of which has
led to some bizarre attempts by retailers to sell a million
and one items to dazed shoppers who frequently “chicken-out”
at the checkout.

While saying that the introduction of constructive merchandising
tools is essential, Mike Honor points out in the report that
as a first step merchants need to understand how to integrate
these tools into an easily navigable site.

“Merchants must segment their range, let shoppers choose the way
they interact with the category and make needs-focused browsing
the default. They must gauge their current level of merchandising
and prioritize appropriate improvements,” said Honor.

Only after becoming “constructive merchandisers” should retailers
even consider expanding their ranges, according to Forrester.
The priority is to create a site that can be used by all types
of shopper, experienced and inexperienced alike.

Much the same message has recently been expressed by top
computer experts at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science.
Director Michael Derouzos has criticized developers for
demanding high skill levels from users and failing to
create “human-centered computing.”

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