The State of Online Retailing: US 2009

The average customer service cost per online order for American retailers surveyed in mid-2009 was US$4.30.

That stat comes from’s The State of Retailing Online 2009: Merchandising Report, conducted by Forrester Research amongst 119 US retailers.

Based on that research, it seems that optimizing the basics – not just adding “shiny objects” – is where retailers were prudently focusing in 2009 (and are likely to continue to focus in 2010).

Specifically, retailers set the following as priorities for their Web sites:

  • Checkout process redesign – 79%
  • Improved content on product detail pages – 73%
  • Site search and browse results – 71%
  • Home page – 60%
  • Redesigned help section / FAQs – 35%

So, what should the etailing industry expect to see in terms of specifics?

  • Check out. Retailers recognize that giving customers the full total for their purchases, i.e. calculating specific shipping and handling charges, prior to actual checkout is one key to preventing shopping cart abandonment.  A 2005 Forrester study found that over half of consumers who left items in their shopping cart did so because they didn’t want to pay shipping charges, and almost as many again noted that the total cost was higher than they anticipated.

    According to the survey, 88 percent of retailers will focus on providing more shipping information within the next year, including such details as when a customer can expect to receive a package and information about when products have left the warehouse. In addition, two-thirds of retailers (67%) said they would pay special attention to calculating the loaded cost of an order prior to checkout.

  • Product detail pages. Merchants surveyed anticipate investing more in alternative images, zoom and, to a somewhat lesser degree, lifestyle or on-model photography.  Additionally, they plan to augment product information with user-generated content such as ratings and reviews.  Streaming video, a much-discussed site feature among online merchandisers, appears for now more of a medium priority.

    Retailers are also relying on shoppers themselves to provide key information to product detail pages. According to the survey, more than half of retailers (60%) use customer ratings and reviews and 55 percent of companies will make ratings and reviews a priority for the coming year. In addition, 34 percent will incorporate automated recommendation tools by third parties for their site.

    In addition to improving detail on current pages, retailers are adding new pages to their sites to better accommodate shoppers on a budget. According to the survey, 89% of retailers say that they are introducing sale or clearance pages to their sites in the coming months.

  • Search results. Recognizing the power of the first items featured on a search results page, retailers surveyed noted that filters for on-site search are another area of focus for them.  Presenting products in terms of top-seller or top-rating status can yield strong results.  Some retailers surveyed also noted that overhauling their site search capabilities entirely will be a focus this year.

    Many online shoppers have specific items in mind and retailers are paying special attention to site search features to make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for. According to the survey, nearly three-quarters of retailers (73%) plan to add different skins or filters to their search functions, which would enable shoppers to choose multiple attributes like brand, color, price and size to their site search. In addition, 41 percent of retailers surveyed said they are evaluating introducing an entirely new search engine to their websites.

“The State Of Retailing Online 2009: Merchandising Report” can be purchased directly at

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