E-Commerce Insights: Use Online Testing to Increase Print Catalog Response Rates
This article assumes that insights gained from Web testing lead to effective print catalog presentations. That is our “Big Assumption.” If you disagree, skip to the next article. No hard feelings; see you next month.
Still reading? Good. There are two decent reasons to accept this Big Assumption.
First, the Web is so prevalent that the demographics of Web shoppers are pretty much the same as the demographics of all direct shoppers, making the Big Assumption reasonable.
Second, the Web offers catalogers their first chance to do real testing. While many catalogers think they’ve been testing for years, they really haven’t been able to do so effectively. In-the-mail testing is too slow. It’s also inflexible and expensive.
All of that makes the Big Assumption attractive.
What You Can Learn
Accepting the Big Assump-tion, here are five starter ideas on using online testing to improve your catalog:
1. Use online testing to determine which element of your unique selling proposition is most powerful. Suppose your firm offers fair prices; cheap, fast shipping; a liberal return policy; great phone support and decades of experience. All well and good. But which of these is most effective at getting prospects to buy? Web testing can answer that quickly and inexpensively.
2. Use online testing to determine product breadth. Should you sell the single best product in each product category? Should you present a three-level, good/better/best selection in each category? Or should you sell every SKU your merchants can source? This is a big question with big implications and different answers for every retailer. You can use online testing to run head-to-head tests of product selection. If tests across different categories yield similar results, you can take those insights back to your paper pagination.
3. Use online testing to develop taglines and copy for your “hero” products. I know at least two best-selling authors who used online testing to pick the best titles for their books: Tim Ferriss, “The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich”; and Ian Ayres, “Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart.”
4. Use online testing to evaluate promotions. Which holiday promotion works best: “Free Shipping on Orders More Than $100,” or “Buy Three Widgets and Get the Fourth FREE?” I don’t know. You don’t, either. Web testing lets you observe the response lift and the discounting costs of each promotion before committing to something in print.
5. Use online testing for pricing tests. For the brave, but possible.
Of course, not all online insights generalize to print. For example, I wouldn’t use homepage layout to inform catalog cover design; they’re simply too different. But if you grant me the Big Assumption, you can bring many Web messaging insights back to the printed page.
To get going, all you need are some ideas about what to test. After being shackled for years by the chains of in-the-mail testing, you and your team likely will have ideas in abundance.
You need testing software. You can get great Web testing software and spend five or six figures. You can also get great Web testing software for free (see below).
That’s it. You could be running tests on your site by the end of next week.
How It Works
There are many fine testing platforms available, including software such as Offermatica, Optimost and SiteSpect. Let’s say you choose to use Google’s Website Optimizer (GWO), which is free for AdWords advertisers. You don’t even have to install software or buy additional hardware; GWO runs on Google’s servers.
Next, you set up a test by selecting a page or region common to multiple pages, such as top navigation. For a split test, create multiple versions of the whole page. More interesting are multivariate tests (MVT), where you choose several areas on the page to vary at the same time. After loading these regions and versions into GWO, you turn on the test.
Each visitor will randomly experience one of the different page combinations. GWO will keep each visitor in that specific treatment for their entire visit and subsequent visits so users won’t experience any inconsistencies while they surf. GWO tracks which tested treatments produce the highest conversion rates. It provides statistical confidence intervals on its results. It also parcels out the contribution from each tested region.
For a sample test, click on “The 3x3 Experiment” under related content to the right of this story.
Make Better Decisions
You can run tests with several MVT regions and several versions of a region. You can run tests across multiple pages or tests that compare site processes, such as one-page vs. multipage checkout. And you don’t have to use GWO; similar experiments can be run with most paid MVT testing tools.
Imagine the power of settling catalog design disputes by watching your customers. If small tweaks are proven to increase conversion rates, the same winning formulas could help your catalogs.
For multichannel merchants, the age of online testing has arrived. The tools are powerful, easy-to-use and — at least in one case — free! Catalogs aren’t going extinct any time soon. But as in-the-mail response rates continue to fall, and postage and fuel costs continue to rise, savvy mailers must learn to lean on online testing to give their books every advantage. «
Alan Rimm-Kaufman is CEO of the Rimm-Kaufman Group, a Web agency providing pay-per-click search management and site effectiveness testing for online retailers. You can reach him online at www.rkgblog.com.