Telling It Your Way

Telling a story about how a product can help the customer is a very traditional marketing technique. Astute salespeople pick up on what’s important to each prospect, then use that knowledge to tell their story in a particular order. They guide the prospect through a process of understanding how the product would benefit them. They do this because it’s effective in closing sales.

Many web sites provide much of the same information that salespeople provide, but then those same web marketers allow the web visitor to pick and choose which parts of the company’s story to read. It seems logical to me to apply the same techniques to the web that have proven to work in traditional sales and marketing. So, why would we want to control the order of how information about products are presented on the web?

Consumers shopping online from home, and people looking to make purchases for their company have different purchase criteria depending on their needs. Some shoppers are price conscious and look for the lowest price, while others are value conscious and compare features and price. Still, another view is to look for the best set of features regardless of price. If a product sells best when the prospect understands its features before learning the price, then it’s good to control when the price of the product is displayed to the web visitor. In this case, a prospect should first see the features, benefits, or uses of a product before seeing the price.

For consumer e-commerce sites where product features, benefits, and price are normally displayed on the same page, the order of displaying product information is not so important. Yet other issues about display sequence come into play. Mass merchandisers have tested a variety of merchandising techniques in their stores for many years and have data indicating that displaying products near certain other products increases the sales of both products. Mail order catalog companies use similar merchandising techniques in determining the placement of products near one another as well.

The web offers marketers an opportunity to apply these and many other merchandising techniques. Unfortunately, many web marketers allow web visitors to control the order in which product information is displayed by allowing them to choose which links to click — perhaps missing important information that would have closed the sale.

There are many ways to control the order in which information is displayed on a web site. One of the simplest approaches is to put links to material that should be seen late in the sales cycle only on pages that should be seen just before selecting that material. In other words, to ensure that pricing is seen last, put links to price pages only on the product description pages and not on other pages in the site. However, this is not a very good approach because people returning to your site to find just that additional material to complete their files will be annoyed at having to drill down through several pages to find one item.

Another approach is to use cookies or dynamically created pages to determine when to display links to material. There are several ways this can be done, such as by counting the number of pages seen during the session, or observing that particular pages have been displayed.

For sites that create individual profiles and can track visitors from session to session, it’s easy to display new links at just the point in the selling process when it’s most appropriate to show a visitor the additional material. For instance, in a business-to-business site where a company competes better on value than price, product features may need to be shown before price. A visitor’s profile can store the fact that one of the feature pages has been displayed (or the prospect can be asked a question), such as which is the most important feature to them. Once the visitor has indicated they’ve seen the product’s features, the web site can take them to the next level — in this case, seeing price information.

Many consumer e-commerce sites display products in seemingly random order, or at least without trying to position products near complementary products that can increase the chance of consumers buying both. Guiding web visitors through product information to easily create understanding can help visitors make a good decision quickly, and can help improve web site effectiveness.

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