Press Releases

Merchandising Results From the e-tailing group’s 12th Annual Mystery Shopping Study

For Immediate Release:

February 4, 2010

Efficiency, Differentiation and Involvers are the 2009 Merchandising Trifecta

Merchandising results from the e-tailing group’s 12th Annual Mystery Shopping Study find leading merchants focused on reaching the bar and raising stakes to improve the overall customer experience and boost sales,” noted Lauren Freedman, President of the e-tailing group. “Throughout our review of 100 websites we observed merchants being attentive to efficiencies for ease of use, differentiators to drive conversion, and involvers to engage customers as evidenced by the increased penetration of core metrics year-over-year (2009 vs. 2008) that we have summarized in this release.”


Search has become increasingly sophisticated with category-centric complexity

Merchants see the value of on-site search and are investing to ensure more accurate results. Keyword search has become the norm as 100% of the EG100 sites now offer this metric while advanced search penetration increased slightly from last year (18% vs. 15%) due to a majority of merchants implementing in-depth refined search results (90% vs. 85%), as well as providing guided navigation (74% vs. 63%), and landing page sorts (87% vs. 77%), all of which help reduce click-throughs and expedite finding desired products. Surprising is the relatively low number of merchants who recognize the need to further merchandise these search results pages (15% vs. 24%).

Enabling shoppers to view all (53% vs. 46%) or choose from a number of category-appropriate “shop by” attributes streamlines the customers’ experience. With an increase in shop by color of 11%, shop by brand/shop by price 8%, and shop by size 7%, merchants obviously realize that if they force customers to run the gauntlet in order to find items, site abandonment is likely, in favor of a competitor that offers more efficient search/shop options.

SEARCH/SHOP e-tailing 100 4Q 2009 e-tailing 100 4Q 2008
Keyword Search 100% 100%
Refine Results 90% 85%
Landing Page Sorts 87% 77%
Guided Navigation 74% 63%
View All 53% 46%
Advanced Search 18% 15%
Merchandised Search Results Page 15% 24%
Source: the e-tailing group 12th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, 4Q’09

A more natural shopping environment is conducive to spending time/money on a site

In the past once something was added to the cart, merchants virtually pushed customers through the checkout line and “out the door.” With the proliferation of perpetual carts (92% vs. 77%) and fast buy/direct to cart buying (62% vs. 39%) customers are fully aware of cart contents as they browse the site, adding product along the way. The increase in perpetual carts also keeps shoppers on product pages (41% vs. 29%) rather than landing in the shopping cart (59% vs. 71%), giving them additional flexibility and more time to shop the site.

With 7% more merchants offering deferred payment plans, predominantly BillMeLater (47% vs. 40%) and an 11% increase in the presence of PayPal (34% vs. 23%) year-over-year, merchants realize that offering alternative payment options will likely increase a customer’s propensity to buy.  In the case of PayPal, this also helps attract shoppers who are still skittish about exposing their credit card number to potential online predators and extends audience reach.


Merchants need a way to set themselves apart from their competitors

In these tough economic times merchants are deploying a variety of tactics to differentiate their unique product mix and individually target shoppers. From channel and/or merchant exclusives (72% vs. 65%), to product personalization (37% vs. 24%) they are creating a reason for shoppers to come to their websites.

A new metric reveals that 35% of the EG100 are now promoting product awards received; leveraging publicity to tout items and validate their presence as “players in the industry.”

Onsite, such positioning is apparent by the 22% growth of top sellers/customer favorites (72% vs. 59%) that showcase preferred products, suggestively giving customers confidence to buy what others have given their “stamp of approval.”

Generically and on product pages video entertains and educates

With the popularity of social networking trending upward, 49% of the EG100 merchants are availing themselves of streaming video/audio to host branded content, often on social platforms as well as their websites.  Merchants who offer guides and how-to content are also embracing this technology, as evidenced by 24% more of these tools available in audio/video format than last year (61% vs. 49%). This year we also specifically benchmarked the penetration of video product demos on product pages which 55% offer. Categorically, all of the Mass Merchants as well as those selling Books/Music/Media, Technology, and Office Supplies provided these helpful tools, in many cases supplied by their vendors.

AUDIO/STREAMING VIDEO e-tailing 100 4Q 2009 e-tailing 100 4Q 2008
Guides/How-To Content with Audio and/or Video 61%* 49%*
Video Product Demos on Product Pages 55% N/A
Video Content – Non Product Page or Guides (Branded or Other) 49% N/A
Source: the e-tailing group 12th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, 4Q’09                                      *Subset of survey

Relevant, strategic up-selling and cross-selling are evergreen differentiators

Merchants have always known the value of merchandising via up-selling and cross-selling but have not always devoted the time and effort to get it right. In a tough economic environment we are seeing more retailers enlist these tactics and excel at their execution from the product page (98% vs. 95%) to the shopping cart (78% vs. 73%) although relevancy rankings on a 5-point scale did drop slightly, respectively scoring 4.09 vs. 4.50 and 3.39 vs. 3.67. Of note this year, up-sells show substantially more traction than cross-sells in both of these locations as well as in order confirmation emails (84% vs. 49%).

Category-specific tools replicate the in-store experience as closely as possible

The presence of view-in-a-room has increased significantly (42% vs. 27%) because merchants realize the need for consumers to clearly see product details, size, and space orientation. As merchants streamline product pages, color change increases penetration (64% vs. 60%); eliminating the need to show multiple images in a variety of colors. The growing use of alternate views (76% vs. 68%) and 3D (21% vs. 10%) also make online purchases more likely in many product categories.

Cross-channel features use the web to drive store traffic

Store channels are a factor for 71% of the EG100 merchants and they universally provide store locators on their websites. Today more are actively merchandising (45% vs. 35%) these pages in an effort to get single-channel shoppers to become multi-channel shoppers. Store pickup continues to slowly increase penetration too (28% vs. 24%) but logistical issues hamper many from offering this service.


Merchants seek engaging ways to foster e-commerce via community and social media

Stalwart in this arena, ratings and reviews with a 28% increase in presence (74% vs. 58%) demonstrate that customers want to know they are making the right buying decision and seek confirmation from their peers to help validate purchases. Top rated products share this astounding ascent as 49% of merchants identify them vs. 24% last year; a 104% increase.

Post-order targeted emails that request reviews or product ratings are also a factor with 22% of merchants soliciting this information from shoppers; often with incentives to increase the chance of a response. Blogs realize a 38% increase over last year (36% vs. 26%) as people become more comfortable with “sharing” information/experiences and merchants leverage SEO benefits.

Among the EG100 sharing increased exponentially by 139% over last year (67% vs. 28%) and we believe this is just the beginning as merchants look to further understand the power and viral effects of community. The leading communities tracked are Facebook (97%), Delicious (88%), Digg it (88%) and Twitter (75%). Links to social networking sites, new metrics this year, are already evident on almost 2/3rds of the sites (60%).Lastly, mobile commerce is just in its infancy with 13% of the EG100 participating, but we expect to see stronger numbers next year as smaller merchants follow early adopters.

Wish lists engage and maintain relationships with gift recipients and givers

Although year-over-year penetration does not spike like newer social features, wish lists show steady growth and are valued retention tools for more than 1/2 the EG100 (55% vs. 49%).

e-tailing 100 4Q 2009 e-tailing 100 4Q 2008
Ratings/ Reviews 74% 58%
Top Rated Products 49%* 24%
Post-Order Email Requesting Review/Rating 22% N/A
Blog 36% 26%
Mobile Commerce 13% N/A
Share 67% 28%
Facebook 97%* 89%* 88%* 86%*
Digg it 88%* 86%*
Other 73%* 50%*
My Space 73%* 39%*
Twitter 75%* 32%*
Google Bookmark 51%* 32%*
Favorites 43%* 21%*
Link to Social Networking Site 60% N/A
Facebook 85%* N/A
Twitter 73%* N/A
You Tube 35%* N/A
My Space 3%* N/A
Wish Lists 55% 49%
Source: the e-tailing group 12th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, 4Q’09     *Subset of survey

“With adoption of more social media, showing monumental increases from last year, together with established merchandising tactics, merchants are positioning for growth as the economy improves,” summarizes Freedman. “Making websites easier and more efficient to use, differentiating oneself from the competition, and engaging customers all are strategically essential initiatives to achieve bottom-line growth goals.”

Report available for purchase

A report detailing benchmarks from the e-tailing group 12th 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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