Commerce sites ignore branding at their peril

Real estate on a web site is precious. That’s one reason why many e-commerce sites cram as much merchandise as possible into the home page. You can’t blame them. Shoehorn one more offer onto the page and you see sales of that item go up. But does this practice erode overall sales?

The research of Kevin Hillstrom looked at overall sales from pure selling sites (example) vs branding sites (example) vs hybrids that split the difference (example). The sites evaluated were those taken from the largest businesses represented in the Internet Top 500 retail sites.

I was most interested in how hybrid sites would fare in the study. Although these hybrid sites featured home page offers, they also used much of its real estate to reinforce the brand. White space was more common, and often these hybrid sites didn’t even require you to scroll down to take in the entire home page.

A business that regards its e-commerce site as nothing more than efficient catalog would argue that the hybrid site approach is misguided, since it is not focusing enough on specific offers. But do the numbers bear this out?

The conclusion from this study says no, although it does find weakness in a pure branding approach to the home page:

It appears likely that a hybrid strategy is most likely to maximize the net sales of each visitor to the website. Selling sites may overwhelm visitors, while branding sites may not present enough merchandise to entice consumers.

Many have preached this hybrid approach, but it’s nice to see this validation. It only stands to reason that consumers need to know two things before they buy:

  1. What are you selling?
  2. Are you to be trusted?

Raising levels of trust, through your site’s branding, is the best way to maximize sales in an environment where competitors are only a mouse click away.

Published by Jeff Larche

With a background that includes direct marketing and customer relationship management (CRM), Jeff Larche brings an unusual approach to his work. What these other two disciplines have in common is database marketing, and they continue to strongly influence his work as marketing technology leader.