Consumers use e-commerce websites to supplement their offline shopping needs

Growth in the e-commerce market has given customers a variety of avenues to acquire their favorite products. For businesses, however, it’s hard to analyze exactly where their sales come from and whether or not an online and brick-and-mortar presence can be mutually beneficial to future growth.

Consumers are moving toward a blend of offline shopping supplemented by a period of online research. While online sales have been on the rise, only 15 percent of Americans make purchases online on a weekly basis, according to a study from the PEW Research Center. About 45 percent of Americans have used a cellphone within a physical store in order to look at reviews or other product information. Consumers have long relied on the ability to get recommendations and reviews, hence the rise of websites like Yelp! and FourSquare.

 

On the other hand, some consumers are more skeptical than others when it comes to the validity of online reviews. According to the same PEW Research Study,48 percent of U.S. consumers believe it’s often hard to tell if online reviews are truthful and unbiased.Consumers more often than not will use websites to compare prices and products and then visit stores to get a reassurance of product quality before committing to a purchase. Even if shoppers don’t directly purchase from a website, businesses benefit from empowering their customers with the tools to do their own research and be confident in their purchase.

Such buying habits don’t necessarily adhere strictly along generational lines. A study conducted by RetailDive found 26 percent of U.S. adults frequently research products online prior to shopping for them in brick-and-mortar stores. The report then emphasizes the importance of a “compelling digital experience.” Certain things can improve the customer’s researching or shopping experience to create a seamless omni-channel shopping experience.

Dirxion online catalogs give businesses a strong tool to allow their customers to do their own research. The search feature allows users to find the exact product they’re looking for without having to search through tabs and pages of results. Dirxion’s integration capabilities can bring a business’s existing e-commerce website into the catalog. Customers are able to interact with linked images that open to Quick Views or iFrames of the e-commerce site. Customers can then read pictures, look through photos and even add to their cart without having to leave the online catalog.

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E-commerce sales grow for online catalogs customer MSC Industrial Supply

Recently, MSC Industrial Supply announced strong Q2 results highlighted by increases in net sales (2.9% year-over-year), operating income (7.6%) and diluted earnings per share of $0.93, which exceeded expectations. A majority of this revenue, 57.8% of it, was accounted for by e-commerce operations.

This is a growing trend for MSC, whose e-commerce has been a significant chunk of its revenue for a few years now (it was 55.4% in the year-earlier quarter). According to Digital Commerce 360, mscdirect.com, the company’s e-commerce site, is No. 97 in the B2B E-Commerce 300, a list that ranks companies on their annual Internet sales.

The same article points out that CEO Erik Gershwind said that MSC will continue to invest in its e-commerce, by adding about 150,000 product SKUs in the current fiscal year and expanding above 1 million SKUs available online.

Dirxion is proudly involved in buffering MSC’s e-commerce performance through the creation, linking and customization of the company’s online catalogs. The primary project that Dirxion and MSC build together is its Virtual Big Book, a full collection of MSC’s product SKUs organized and displayed through over 4,000 print catalog pages.

Each product number in the catalogs are linked directly to MSC’s e-commerce pages, with an iFrame of the product page displaying the corresponding information directly in the online catalogs interfaces. The image below shows the iFrame view opened on a desktop computer.

MSC Industrial Supply Online Catalog

 

Uniquely displayed on their website pages, the Virtual Big Book is embedded in a tab pull-out that can be found on the left-hand side. This custom presentation is enabled by custom coding created and shared among Dirxion and MSC’s website developers. The embed is made easier via HTML5 rather than Adobe Flash technology, which Dirxion successfully moved away from four years ago.

MSC does a great job of maintaining fast-loading e-commerce pages, in spite of such a large database from which to pull information. The same standards of speed and loading efficiency are applied to its online catalogs.

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Updated bookshelf search streamlines B2B online catalogs experience

Dirxion customer Barnett recently implemented the updated library search function, which allows customers to choose whether or not they want to search through their current catalog or the entire catalog. The previous version of the search feature would require two different tabs: one to search the catalog and a separate one to search through the entire library.

Barnett Catalog

The library search feature was originally designed to streamline the catalog shopping experience. B2B e-commerce consumers respond positively to an easy-to-use shopping experience, raising the probability they’ll convert to a loyal consumer. According to E-Commerce B2B, 76 percent of customers say the most important factor in a website’s design is that “the website makes it easy for me to find what I want.”

The updated bookshelf feature empowers consumers and aids them through the research process of B2B buying. Usability Geek describes the relationship between design and consumers as being “more focused around the content and information, making sure the user stays informed throughout their entire journey.” With the large quantities of data involved with B2B e-commerce, it’s important to implement features that allow new and seasoned consumers alike to navigate online catalogs with ease.

Product research has increasingly shifted online. Forrester estimates74 percent of B2B buyers research half or more of their work purchases online. But consumers aren’t just researching in a singular place. While Google remains the most popular option for purchase research, consumers will go to multiple points in the web to compare prices, products and other deciding factors. Empowering consumers and giving them the tools to conduct their own research in an easy-to-use and streamlined way increases the likelihood of converting new customers to returning, loyal ones.

Dirxion has consistently been the leading innovator in the online catalogs industry. As the first company to move their online catalogs to HTML5, Dirxion has since then never ceased to set precedents and industry standards for the online catalogs experience. With Dirxion features such as Quick View integration, minimal UI and, most recently, an improved library search, Dirxion has continued its tradition of industry revolution and the promise of delivering a personalized, on-brand online catalog.

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Retail stores undergoing era of adaption, aided by online catalogs and e-commerce

The physical retail marketplace continually changes due to its susceptibility to multiple variables such as consumer preferences and the automation movement. The initial emerging narrative spelled doom for legacy physical retailers and constructed a future in which e-commerce dominates the retail marketplace. However, new studies and data suggests retailers who have learned to adapt to market trends will persist as consumers find a middle ground between e-commerce and physical retail options.

Against the common narrative, more retail stores are opening than closing according to a study conducted by IHL Group. The type of stores experiencing closures provide an explanation for the direction in which the market is headed. Radio Shack’s bankruptcy and fashion retailers account for a large percentage of the closures.

Many legacy retailers could afford to remain out of touch with their customers before the rise of the internet and prevalence of e-commerce. Consumers now use e-commerce, especially m-commerce options, as research tools to supplement their shopping experience. Such shifts in consumer expectations increased the rate at which certain retailers declined, yielding the retail apocalypse narrative.

 

“The mediocre brands that were protected by scarcity of information, distribution and access are getting blown apart as the customer can now get the same product anytime, anywhere, anyway — and often for less money.”
Steve Dennis, Forbes, 2017

Legacy retailers have had difficulty changing as compared to newer businesses who have leeway to build their business model structured around trends and shifts within the market. E-commerce and the influence of the internet within business is far from a trend as consumers have become accustomed to unlimited information and price comparisons that e-commerce offer. But the majority of retail sales, roughly 80 percent by 2025, will continue to be done in-store according to Forbes.

Businesses have begun to develop an omni channel shopping experience to tap into new trends and the presence of e-commerce. An increasing number of retail sales are influenced by digital avenues,over $2 trillion according to Forbes. For some retailers, this meant re-opening, re-investing or completely revamping their catalog experience. Business such as Patagonia underwent a more journal-styled catalog whereas Restoration Hardware focused on a refined aesthetic.

Dirxion online catalogs have successfully combined the aesthetic and familiar feel of a print catalog with the connectivity and versatility of the e-commerce experience. Dirxion offers custom features such as minimal UI and embedding within an existing domain to create a seamless transition from website to digital publication. And because these online catalogs live within a website URL that is accessible anywhere with an Internet connection, shipping costs are essentially eliminated. Most decisions are a matter of how and when to send an e-mail blast or promote the material on social media sites — an opportunity cost, but not heavy expense.

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Visuals continue to influence consumer decisions, enhanced through online catalogs

Visuals, in an underlying way, have influenced consumer decisions — mostly within retail — as advertising dollars are disproportionately spent within that market. Psychology and shopping have long been connected, and new research has found connections between consumers and visual stimulants that imply the connection is stronger than originally thought. Regardless of the market, whether retail or B2B, visual assets continue to play a factor in the consumer purchase life cycle and plays a key role in creating an omnichannel shopping experience.

Appearance plays directly into a customer’s sense of trust within a brand, with visuals often driving those internal impulse decisions that can lead to a purchase. Visual techniques implemented at the physical retail level can still pertain to and assist the digital market. For instance, with physical store locations, consumers are more likely to make an impulse purchase of a product if it’s highly visible to them. The same concept applies to e-commerce, professors at the University of Miami and UCLA concluded through their studies that the better looking an image is, the more likely a person is to take action.

Their research, Using Aesthetics and Self-Affirmation to Encourage Openness to Risky (and Safe) Choices,  focuses on consumer behavior and shows how a person seeing photos of something attractive, for instance images of their past purchases, “affirms” them because seeing something attractive triggers their personal connection to something good-looking.” — Steve Olenski, 2014

Digital content that’s treated in a similar manner as offline or print content creates a sense of brand loyalty and generates a higher rate of returning customers. Social media marketing has taken a pro-multimedia and visual approach and has seen the benefits in doing so. For instance, web users tend to spend exponentially more time on social media platforms that are more visual-orientated (photo or video) as opposed to those that are more focused on text.

Customer retention strategies benefit from a visually-driven business model as well. In the book “Brain Rules” by John Medina, he reveals if a relevant image is paired with a piece of information, 65 percent of that information is retained within a three day period, as opposed to 10 percent of the information being retained within that same period of time if an image is not provided. In the highly competitive and open market of e-commerce, consumers having a high retention rate for a company’s product raises the probability that they will return to that particular site and follow through with a purchase.

The e-commerce market has played a role in the melding of physical and digital aspects to create the optimal omnichannel shopping experience for customers. Dirxion online catalogs place an emphasis on visuals as each PDF loads at quick speeds and is optimized to perform and look their very best. The online catalogs combine the appeal of the print catalog with the interactivity and integration possibilities of e-commerce.

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B2B sales teams and e-commerce work in tandem, increases productivity

The Internet has created a new dynamic and structure for B2B businesses in which marketing teams, sales teams and e-commerce tools converge to maximize revenue. Some industry studies have painted a bleak future for sales teams, one in which they’ll be phased out entirely and replaced with automated e-commerce stores. The assumption is often backed up with data indicating a shifting consumer preference towards e-commerce. Even though Internet accessibility and overall technological adaption rates are increasing globally, e-commerce and traditional sales roles have integrated together. New studies and industry reports have now suggested B2B businesses can reinforce their existing channels while simultaneously integrating new technology such as e-commerce.

In a Forrester Research study of B2B businesses, 89 percent of businesses surveyed indicated that implementing e-commerce increased their annual revenue. The modern business world is dominated by efficiency: who can attract the most customers, who can capture new markets the fastest and who can get the highest return on their investments. E-commerce websites have allowed sales teams to become more efficient, especially within the B2B market. Sales team members save time and become more productive when an e-commerce website is available for customers to fill out their own orders through a spreadsheet ordering format.

Proface America Online Catalog

Allowing e-commerce software to take some of the tasks that were previously completed manually by sales teams and digitize them increases productivity. Founder of B2X Partners Justin King analyzed B2B sales from Forst & Sullivan, which are expected to reach $12 trillion by 2020. “If a sales team is looking at e-commerce as a threat or as a hit to their personal income, they won’t get behind an effort like this,” says King. “Bringing them into the fold early and incorporating them into your e-commerce team early is important.”

“In most cases, a few sales reps will naturally latch onto the idea. Bringing them into the fold early and incorporating them into your e-commerce team early is important.” — Justin King, 2017

E-commerce can be used as a tool for B2B sales teams. E-commerce websites can take large amounts of data and condense them into a portable fashion, essentially allowing your sales representatives to access your entire inventory from anywhere. Dirxion online catalogs serve as both a reference tool to sales representatives and a familiar, fully-integrated e-commerce experience for customers. For instance, Dirxion customer Proface America uses spreadsheet ordering functions in their online catalogs, which allows customers to independently place orders, freeing sales representatives from having to complete the process manually. Dirxion online catalogs can also be easily updated, thanks to in-house production and development teams, ensuring all sales representatives, no matter where they are, has access to fully-updated product lines and prices. In doing so, Dirxion customers mitigate production, printing and distribution costs previously associated with constructing print catalogs.

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Simplicity raises consumer responsiveness to e-commerce, online catalogs

Whether or not consumers enjoy having many product choices has been a question businesses, especially in the e-commerce market, have struggled with. Businesses refer to this as the “paradox of choice” and “choice overload” — the relationship between consumers and the amount of choices they’re presented with. It has been under scrutiny in recent years. Studies from the Harvard Business ReviewNPR and Stanford have alluded to a connection between the two in which the less likely a consumer is to be overwhelmed, the more likely they are to build loyalty with a brand or company.

Studies from the Harvard Business Reviewdeveloped a metric for determining the effectiveness of consumer engagement and how that translates into how “sticky” a consumer is (how likely they are to remain loyal to a particular brand, product or company). The metric is a “decision simplicity index” and gauges how easy it is for consumers to navigate and understand information about a company or product, how much a consumer can trust the information they find and the readiness of comparable options. The higher the decision simplicity index, the more effective the brand is at making a consumer connection. The studies concluded that brands ranking in the top quarter of the study were 86 percent more likely to be purchased, 9 percent more likely to be repurchased and 115 percent more likely to be recommended to others.

“The next thing we looked at is in which case were people more likely to buy a jar of jam? Now we see the opposite effect. Of the people who stopped when there were 24, only 3 percent of them actually bought a jar of jam. Of the people who stopped when there were six, well, now we saw that 30 percent of them actually bought a jar of jam.” — Sheena Iyengar, NPR 2017

Sheena Iyengar, in an NPR TED Radio Hour, explored the paradox of choice in an experiment involving different types of jam and consumer choices. The experiment looked at two different scenarios: a display with 24 types of jam and a display with six different types of jam. It took into consideration two different variables: how many people stop at a display and how many people purchase jam. The studies discovered the two variables were inversely related to each other. More people stopped at the displays when there were 24 types of jam (60 percent as compared with 30 percent) but more people bought jam when there were six types of jam (30 percent as compared to six percent).

While large amounts of content and information might attract larger audiences and drive more traffic to a company’s e-commerce website, conversion rates lower at a marginal rate because of that. However, Dirxion online catalogs can deliver content in a simple, easy-to-use format that doesn’t overwhelm users, especially when developed around Dirxion’s Minimal UI. The interface was designed with online catalogs in mind, giving an emphasis on the pages and information and eliminating potentially distracting factors.

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Older generations adopting more tech, widening market for online catalogs

Recent reports from the PEW Research Center have characterized a more digitally-connected elderly population. In the U.S., a record 46 million seniors (people ages 65+) account for 15 percent of the population, expected to increase by another 7 percent by 2020. Seniors have begun to close the gap between themselves and the rest of U.S. adults in the tech world. About 67 percent of seniors have or use the Internet, compared with 90 percent of all adults and the amount of seniors who report owning a smartphone having quadrupled in the past five years.

Smartphone Adoption

The adoption trends of seniors mirror those of the rest of the population with certain devices.Tablet ownership eclipsed e-readers, with 32 percent reported owning the former as compared with the 19 percent who own an e-reader. Within the broader population, tablet ownership has steadily increased since 2010, with 45 percent of the population reported owning a tablet (a 42 percent increase since 2010). The decline for e-readers was sharper than MP3 players, falling 13 percent since early 2014 to rest at 19 percent ownership among U.S. adults.

The more tasks that migrate online, the more the unique barriers of entry to senior citizens become apparent. The learning curve for technology is steep for seniors, who have spent the majority of their lives in an offline world. Only 26 percent of seniors feel “very confident” in their ability to use and learn their way through devices such as computers, smartphones and other electronics. But once connected, seniors have once of the highest interactivity rates, making the Internet a daily part of their lives. About 51 percent of seniors reported they use the Internet “several times a day” and 8 percent use it “almost constantly.”

“Similarly, a 2016 report from the Center found that ‘digitally ready’ Americans – meaning those who are confident in their digital skills and in their ability to find trustworthy information online – tend to be disproportionately under the age of 65.” —PEW Research Center, 2017

Dirxion online catalogs turn PDF print catalog pages into an interactive e-commerce service in a familiar format. Using Dirxion’s integration capabilities, online catalogs can live directly on an e-commerce website, within social media platforms such as Facebook and wherever else consumers interact with their favorite companies and brands. The Dirxion online catalog experience is built with user experience and ease-of-use in mind. Since the move to HTML5 years ago, Dirxion has continuously made improvements in the interface and capabilities all while keeping consumer preferences and experiences in the forefront of the design and development process.

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Inbox clutter is a challenge that online catalogs can help email marketers tackle

Despite the increasing technological growth in e-commerce, email has more or less remained unchanged since the late 2000s. A recent article published by Mashable analyzed recent attempts at changes to the email experience, what it entails for email marketing and how consumer expectations for the platform have changed.

The role of email evolved from a peer-to-peer messaging system to an “asynchronous message” platform to include newsletters, receipts, bank statements and more. In doing so, email became its own identity and information hub but cluttered users’ inboxes in the process. For its 3.7 billion worldwide user base, the Radicati Group estimatesroughly 269 billion emails are sent per day and the average office worker will receive 121 emails a day.

Multiple technology companies have made attempts at tackling the cluttered inbox issue, with overall mixed results. Google developed a mobile-first email app “Inbox,” Microsoft implemented Clutter to display only users’ most important emails while IBM attempted to combine to-do lists, calendars and documents into the app “Verse.” User feedback, however, was less than optimal, as Clutter was downgraded to the “Focused Inbox” feature in Outlook and Verse has an average two-star rating on its current version in the App Store.

Gmail Screen shot

 

Like most aspects of the open-market competitive nature of the Internet, users have been shown to respond to content that’s personalized, strategic and intentional in design. According to Aberdeen, personalized email messages improve click-through and conversion rates by an average of 14 and 10 percent, respectively. Because of the now-cluttered state of most inboxes, businesses have to fight harder to get the attention of users and entice them to open and interact with their email marketing strategies. Targeted email marketing campaigns increase effectiveness and have become an industry standard, as large databases of data have made it easier to align campaigns with consumer interests and habits.

Dirxion online catalogs can aid a business’s email marketing strategies as the familiar layouts and designs give a campaign an additional layer of depth and interactivity. Printing and shipping charges are eliminated with Dirxion’s services, which give businesses a new and engaging method to attract customers.

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