From the Trenches: A Web 2.0 E-tailer Round Table
Web 2.0, the latest phase of the Internet that encompasses collaboration and community-building tools and technologies, continues to draw the most attention in e-commerce circles these days. But how do e-tailers today really view it? Are they using Web 2.0's signature tools, such as blogs, wikis and other more advanced forms of online interaction? Just how do they define Web 2.0? What benefits are they reaping from it and what are some of challenges they face as a result of it?
eM+C recently hosted a round table with three small to midsized e-tailers for the specific purpose of examining how they use and view Web 2.0 tools. The participants included Allan Dick, chief marketing officer and senior plumbing evangelist for Hazleton, Pa.-based Vintage Tub & Bath, a marketer of reproduction bathroom fixtures; Jack Kiefer, co-founder and CEO of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.-based BabyAge.com, an online seller of infant and juvenile gear; and Julie Swatek, founder and president of ScrapYourTrip.com, an Orlando, Fla.-based online scrapbook store.
Jack Kiefer: At a very high level in terms of how I define Web 2.0, we are working on bringing more content to people without them having to move from page to page within our site. As a result, we've built a page on our site that has parametric searches built into it. They enable our customers to have a better, more complete searching and buying experience.
For example, a customer may be on a stroller page on our site, looking at a specific stroller, and the parametric searches allow the rest of the products in the category to scroll by on the top of the page. Also, as customers add something into their shopping carts, the feature enables them to dynamically see products on the right-hand side of the page they're on that they are most likely interested in based on how they're browsing.
So, you're able to have products continually coming to those people without them having to move from the page they are on to view them. We're going to see a material increase in conversion by being able to do this because the more people move from page to page on a site, the lower the conversion.
We're also going into a beta test this year with one-page checkout, which will keep one person on one page of our Web site and allow that customer to seamlessly step through the checkout process without moving off of that page.
We're also continuing to extend our implementation of video. In the longer run, this will be really cool, because I don't think people on the Web like to read anymore. They want to watch videos. Video will also help us sell unique products that may be complicated to explain with words alone.
For example, we sell a crib mattress on our site that has small fans built into the base of it that brings airflow through the mattress. It's really cool, but when you read the description, you don't really understand exactly what this product does. But when you see the Flash video, all of a sudden it makes sense.
Allan Dick: Because our industry is not the most forward-looking, we're just sticking with the basics right now. We want consumers to be able to look at a product that they don't typically understand, see how it works and what it looks like. [As a result], we're looking at implementing videos and better quality product photos.
Julie Swatek: I would almost have to say that we've been doing Web 2.0 before they named it that. I am a female business owner who deals with female customers 99.9 percent of the time. I'm also dealing with people who are trying to memorialize their life, their kids, their family trips and the things that they hold the most dear to them. So on our site, we've built a community, which is a big part of what Web 2.0 is.
And since very early on, I've just done what comes naturally to me: I send a handwritten thank-you note on every order that goes out the door, and it's never the same to the same customer. We know who our customers are, and they know who I am.
My e-mails were like a blog before our blog became a blog. So it was really easy for me to move to that. It's just been very cool to see a relationship build between my customers. I built this whole community thing, and partially it's because we're women.
AD: You are absolutely right. You have to tell a story, to be engaging and make people want to buy from you. Of course, price is still important, and product selection is important as well. But it's just as important to tell an engaging story.
JK: There were a couple of things you said that I can really relate to. When I first got started, whenever there was a delivery to the town that I lived in, I made a hand delivery. The reactions I got were amazing. One person kicked me out, but another woman who I delivered a car seat to was blown away. I'm not sure if this is Web 2.0, but it definitely helped build a community around my company and brand.
Another thing we have done is put up a blog called CelebrityBabies.info and are just blown away by the amount of traffic we get. We created the blog because we were getting inundated with questions from our customers and visitors about what types of strollers and baby products were being used by celebrities. It's kind of bubble gum, trashy, celebrity and gossipy, but it's absolutely incredible. For a little blog we get 1,500 unique visitors a day.
JK: No, no. We memorialize what is going on in our vertical. And it has started to build up in popularity. I don't see it really as a major revenue generator. It's more a way to kind of capture an audience. It's about connecting with the customers, understanding what your customers want and delivering whatever they require.
It's important to keep blogs somewhat pure. I can't stand it when I go to a blog or a small content site and I'm trying to read an article and get slammed with advertising and links. In my mind, this downgrades the value of that content. However, if I go to a small content site and it's more geeky and sterile, then I automatically think these people are actually developing content — they're not just trying to get you to click on something.
AD: Our blog started four years ago. We haven't been consistent with it — we keep giving it to interns and other staff help out on it, and we've never had the time to sit down and decide what we are going to do with it. I'm certain by the end of this year we'll organize ourselves to put more of a focus on it. It's done well; I mean, I can't complain. It's generated revenue and has traffic. But, I just don't feel it's quite where it can be.
AD: When you're working with vendors in this space, know what you are getting yourself into. So much of what people are going to tell you are the buzzwords, "corporate speak," and nonspecific, nonactionable, general guideline nonsense that means nothing. As a result, one of the things I like to do with vendors is to ask them in one sentence and in plain English, "What do you do?" If they can't answer that then they don't understand their business, and they're certainly not going to understand mine.