With cashflow pressure an uncomfortable and unwelcome presence, it’s no wonder that retailers are quick to hit the discount button; clearing unloved inventory like so much snow on the front porch. But in their haste to unload underperforming products, are retailers ignoring some of the more obvious reasons for a product’s poor performance – symptoms which might be cured by a product page health check?
If you’re not shaking your head and telling me that I have no idea, then I’d be surprised. But, unlike a million ‘experts’ more intent on selling their secret recipe for success than offering genuinely helpful advice, I’ve been a retailer for over 9 years in an extremely hard and competitive market, built a successful business and created a beloved brand, so I feel that I’ve earned the right to offer advice. Plus, well, I like to help people – it’s a disease.
Check for coding errors
Whilst all e-commerce websites use a templating system, a stray <div> here, an accidentally copied in text application formatting error there, and a formerly top-notch product page can be reduced to an abstract mess that would not shame Jackson Pollock. So, our first port of call when checking slow sellers is to look at any manually-inputted non-template text on the page: description, bullets, feature points etc, and the best way to do that is through the source code in your e-commerce application. Here’s a gif from Magento showing how to do this with the product description:
Time for an image audit
I’m a writer, so I believe the right words can help to make a sale. I also believe the moon to be made of a dairy derivative not too dissimilar to Stilton, so you might not want to trust my judgement. Yet, whatever my thoughts, I’m also an image guy with an open mind, and I KNOW that great product images help sales. How do I know? Let me tell you a story.
A couple of years back, I approached a UK brand called Carradice about becoming a retailer for its products. Now, Carradice has been making handmade bags in the north of England for decades, and their cycling bags are quite rightly revered and cherished by their supremely loyal customer base. The problem (and opportunity) was that traditionally, Carradice bags had been sold solely in bike stores which simply had no need of product images – they had the product for the customer to view as they walked in. I knew that if we were to make Carradice an online-only success, we’d have to shoot insanely good photos. In our haste to get the brand live, we actually debuted with Carradice’s photos. The response? Slow, nothing special, mediocre. A few weeks later once we’d photographed their range in full, we replaced Carradice-shot images with our own – and sales soared, and soared.
Of course, this should be no surprise to anyone who has ever lost themselves in a great picture. But we already had images up on the site before we replaced them with our own shots, so what happened? I believe that it was simply a case of better quality winning out. Our shots were special and they made the product come alive, revealing innate quality and workmanship. In short, we simply did a better job of communicating the product to our customers and were rewarded accordingly.
Retail is detail
Even the simplest product can get complicated when sold online. Weight, measurements, composition or even safety certification, the list can get cumbersome. Customers vary in their demands for product information, but the only customer you need to worry about is the one who wants to know absolutely everything; serve them, and you cover all of your bases.
When looking at your slow sellers, an easy win can be to check if this problematic stock has every piece of requisite data listed and detailed for customer consumption. Now, with any system (and e-commerce is one big system) you need a methodology. With potentially hundreds of categories, let alone products, not every item will require the same data. The key is organisation and structure: keep a spreadsheet template file for each category which references commonly required data along with the sort of ’optional’ information (hint, it’s not optional) that takes things to a Spinal Tap 11. That way, when you add a new product, you have an aide-memoire as to which pieces of data must always be included in a given category. Even better, as you gather product feedback from your customers, whether sourced on returns forms, review submissions, email support or social media-shout outs, you can add to your data templates, constantly improving them for marginal gains over time.
Un-confuse the copy
Sometimes even the best e-commerce copywriters fall into a funk of mediocrity. When inspiration fails and the coffee pot is wrung dry, one idea (other than going for a walk and grabbing a beer) is to evoke the mantra: What, who, why?
What is the product, who is it for, and why should a customer buy it? In other words, what does it solve, what is its purpose, and how will it improve the life of your customer?
If the product descriptions for your slow-selling products lack clarity, purpose, punch and don’t inform or impart worth, it could be that the customer is simply confused. Un-confuse them!
Pricing to sell
Got things in good order but the stock is still not shifting? The last area to check is, of course, price. Now, pricing is Gollum-tricksy, because whilst analytics data can tell you if an item is being added to the shopping cart, perhaps even carried through to checkout, it won’t tell you why it’s not being ordered. Asking your customers is definitely a good thing (which is one of the tasks of a first abandoned cart email), but before such direct measures, it’s better to check to see if your pricing is on point.
E-commerce price checking (and tracking)
Once you have more than a handful of products on your roster, it’s no longer viable to manually check and adjust prices. The best approach is to hook up with a price matching software provider, link via API, and have your prices fluctuate within set parameters as the market moves. This method will keep your prices competitive, require zero work after the initial set up, and provide the best sort of warm and fuzzy.
Our favoured provider (we’re not being paid nor benefiting from an affiliate scheme) is Prisync. Recently we built a Magento extension for their software which connects the two systems, whilst providing sensible ‘never go below’ limits to prevent a race to the bottom machine vs machine price wars. It’s simple, straightforward, and works as you’d hope and expect. If you’d like help with that, just drop us a line.
Hopefully, you’ve found some of this interesting, and if it has whetted your appetite for more, all the better. In e-commerce, you have to be thirsty, hungry and generally dissatisfied with failure! Check back for more soon.