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Three areas to focus on to boost e-commerce sales: NRF’s Big Show

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In 2005, Stein Mart was a venerable retailer with a 100-year history, hundreds of stores, a presence in 31 states and a very small e-commerce business.

Mark Bishop, a senior director over e-commerce at the retailer, explained at NRF’s Big Show on Monday how the retailer is aggressively working to change the last of those attributes. Two years ago, e-commerce made up 1.7 percent of Stein Mart’s revenue. Not so today.

Bishop took a room full of retail professionals through the company’s moves to replatform while vastly improving its checkout process and adding creative ways to boost cross-selling. But wait. There’s more. Stein Mart also emphasized ways to encourage customers to purchase more to meet its free shipping threshold and switched to infinite scroll on it’s website.

The strategy appears to be paying off. Bishop said results for the first quarter with the new platform were up 31 percent. He said that during the holiday season, e-commerce sales increased to 2.5 percent of total revenue. And he said Stein Mart’s e-commerce sales increased 44 percent, year-over-year, as a result of the increased focus.

Of course, no two operations are the same and your mileage may vary, as they say. But Bishop did suggest three main areas to focus on for those looking to boost their e-commerce sales:

Fulfillment: Yes, a whiz-bang omnichannel strategy is as important as it’s ever been, but Bishop says retailers need to make sure they get the basics right. If you’re going to ship packages to customers’ homes, you better do it really well.

“I call that an out-of-the-box experience,” Bishop said. “It’s almost like opening a present. You get your box. You bring it in and you’re reliving that purchase experience. If the box doesn’t show up, well, it’s not a good experience. It’s not going to leave you with a good feeling.”

It’s also important that your digital sites let shoppers know what’s available in your physical stores. “That really helps drive store traffic,” Bishop says.

Make it smooth: Start by ensuring that your site performance is up to speed. “If your site  isn’t snappy and it doesn’t load quickly, a customer isn’t going to want to do business with you,” Bishop said.

And it’s not just the speed of the site that’s important. Think about your checkout process. Adopt a single-page form. Make paying easy with secure payment services provided by the major credit card companies and others.

Returns can be another sticking point. Make sure the process is simple — online and in-store.

Personalization: It’s time to get serious about personalization. “That starts with a view of the customer. You know who the customer is and having that intimate view allows you to focus on the customer experience and, again, being able to have that relevant content.”

So, how do you get to know your customers? Same way you get to know anyone: Listen to them. And, of course, pay attention to how they behave.

“Surveys really help,” Bishop says. “Your call center is someone who is talking to those customers.” And, of course, store associates, who deal with customers on a one-to-one basis.

What it comes down to is a notion as old as retail: “Focus on excellent customer service,” he says. Be consistent with customers online and in your stores, so customers “know who they’re dealing with and they know what to expect.”

Of course, it doesn’t all just happen. Bishop suggests writing a roadmap to success and reviewing it regularly internally and with the partners you’re working with. Make sure it’s widely understood and embraced in your organization. Oh, and one more thing: Where that roadmap calls for investment?

Spend the money. If your plan is a good one, it will pay off.

Photo by Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.