Press Releases

Merchandising Results from the e-tailing group’s 13th Annual Mystery Shopping Study


Reduce the Clutter, Raise the Bar, Embrace Technology; Reach Beyond the Website

February 8, 2011

“Merchants are challenged to engage shoppers in today’s drive-by shopping environment so the right experience must be applied to merely gain the customers’ attention let alone capture their wallet,” observes Lauren Freedman, President of the e-tailing group. “In this age of ecommerce anywhere, anytime, it is critical that shoppers can quickly find, sort, and buy product,” she advises. “Accordingly the 100 merchants (EG100) we evaluated in the e-tailing group 13th Annual Mystery Shopping Study are reducing the clutter, raising the bar, embracing technology, and reaching beyond their websites to deliver a more polished customer experience.”

Key Page Engagement

Knowing it is not just what they sell, but how it is presented that can turn browsers into buyers, retailers have found creative ways to optimize key pages. They are honing in on essential features and functionality while utilizing real estate more efficiently to create a simple-to-shop environment.

Home Pages are richer and more relevant. Slide shows are being implemented by 57% of the merchants in the EG100. Clearly it is an effective way to present more products and promotions with visual appeal. Among the 70% of merchants who employ drop-down navigation menus, 69% of them are merchandised (i.e. new, sale, promos), further enabling the creative and meaningful grouping of products while maintaining the integrity of uncluttered layouts on the home page plus other key pages.

Category Pages are replete with compelling merchandising. Page layout is a newly tracked category page metric where 84% are merchandised while 27% simply present items in a grid format. Merchants often use a combination of the two techniques to more effectively engage customers.

Product pages are evolving into strategic selling destinations with more relevant information and content. Among the features fueling confident consumer decision-making, ratings and reviews have even greater impact thanks to the influence of social sharing. A slight decrease in the presence of product zoom (86% vs. 89%) may be attributed to merchants presenting and overall larger image and an array of images via alternative views (80% vs. 76%). Video usage grew to 73% from 55% last year as merchants invest to inform.

In the shopping cart and beyond the selling continues. Significantly, more carts are being merchandised (87% vs. 81%) with more relevant items (3.88 vs. 3.39) on a five-point scale.  Pre-populating customer information in the checkout process has attained 96% penetration, up from 89% last year.  We expect this will become standard practice as it is one of the most efficient time-saving features a merchant can provide. Also adding to efficiency, more merchants are including a picture in the cart of the product being purchased (91% vs. 82%).  As the online checkout process becomes smoother, clicks-to checkout continue to decline coming in at 5.13 down from 5.42. Post-order, better branding and merchandising of email confirmations indicates that merchants appreciate the marketing value of these communiqués as 89% of the EG100 now use HTML, up from 79% last year.

Revenue-Generating Promotions

While the economy is slowly recovering, shoppers are still wary, and merchants know that in order to effectively engage them, merchandise discounts and free shipping offers are requisite. This was especially true during the holiday season when our mystery shoppers were actively engaged.

Free shipping is the consumer expectation although still far from being universally adopted, more aggressive steps are being taken by some which impacts all retailers. Of note, the percentage of merchants offering unconditional free shipping increased by 75%+ in 2010 to 7% from 4%. On a broader front, conditional free shipping for all products increased 52% vs. 40%. A new metric indicates that 25% of the EG100 are granting free shipping to their frequent buyers thus rewarding their most important customers.

With daily deals being the hottest promotional tactic right now it is no wonder there is a 25% increase in limited-time sales/specials, now offered by 50% of these merchants, up from 40% last year.  The tactic engages shoppers and instills an urgency to buy as do Internet-only sales/specials (29% vs. 24%).

From a creativity perspective, 48% of merchants confer promotions other than those that we typically measure, in contrast to last year where just 36% deployed “outside the box” deals.

Forward-Thinking Technology

Technology is evolving at a frenetic pace not seen since the advent of the Internet. As social and sharing conventions become an important part of our culture, they are also pervading and becoming integrated within the online shopping experience.  Notably, 83% of the sites in this study encourage shoppers to connect with their brands via one of the social media venues, up from just 60% last year. Nearly all of these merchants have a Facebook presence (96% vs. 85%) and 87% are established on Twitter vs. 73% last year.  Commensurate with the overall escalation of video penetration, it makes sense that YouTube is hosting videos for 43% of this subset vs. 35% a year ago.

The breakout social tactic is the “like” button, not even in existence on ecommerce sites in 2009. Our 2010 study finds it integrated on 36% of the EG sites, with more joining the ranks every day.  “Sharing” icons are still factors too, rising to 75% penetration from 67%.

Retailers lament the difficulty of maintaining fresh and compelling content onsite yet blogs are present on one-half of the EG100 sites, up almost 39%+ from last year’s 36% penetration.

The mCommerce phenomenon continues. Last year only 13% of the EG100 merchants had mCommerce sites. That tally is now at 44% with more sites going online daily.  The use of mobile alerts for customer engagement and communication is also being adopted but at a slower rate (29% vs. 21%). Investments required to pursue mobile are typically much greater than social marketing initiatives, so early numbers may be lower. This should not however negatively reflect or serve as an indicator of mobile’s expected importance to both consumers and merchants.

Report available for purchase

A report detailing benchmarks from the e-tailing group 13th Annual Mystery Shopping Study is available to purchase and download via PayPal or at for $395.

About the e-tailing group, inc.
The e-tailing group, inc. serves as the multi-channel merchant’s eye, bringing a merchant’s sensibility to evolving the multi-channel shopping experience. A Chicago-based consultancy, they provide practical strategic perspectives and actionable merchandising solutions to merchants selling online as well as to enabling technology firms.

For more background about this research study, including a list of merchants surveyed or for additional information on the e-tailing group, inc. please contact Lauren Freedman at or visit the e-tailing group website

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