RIP HMV and the British high street

Being a child of the 80s, and a music fan, I spent a huge amount of my teens and twenties in Our Price (gone), Virgin Records (also gone) and HMV (you get the idea) leafing through the CD racks, sniffing out special offers and making new discoveries. There was no better way to kill an hour while waiting for friends than rummaging through the shelves, anticipating that moment where you’ll find the CD or movie that will change your life forever.

But with the announcement this month that HMV has entered the hands of the administrators, I do start to wonder whether that whole way of experiencing retail will soon be a thing of the past. These days you just go to Amazon or eBay, search for what you want, add it to your basket and you are done. In the online space, the shopping experience has been designed to minimise time spent searching, and to help you zero-in with very little time and fuss. This is the golden rule of ecommerce – help the customer find their product with the minimum of clicks and minimum of distractions.

But does this somehow limit the experience of the shopper? Sure, sometimes you just want go into a shop, find the thing you want and get out as quickly as possible – and anyone who has been clothes shopping with me will be able to attest to this. But there are other times when an online visitor will be up for an explore – perhaps they are looking to spend a gift voucher, or maybe looking for a suitable present for their mum – and you’ll need your website to cater for these sorts of customers, as well as the ones who just want to get in and get out quickly.

Fortunately there are loads of ways you can turn a website into a quality browsing experience for your visitors:

  • First up are lists of ‘related items’ and also lists of ‘also boughts’ (i.e. ‘customers who bought this also bought…’). If you have a few of these on each product page, they are a great way to guide your customers to other parts of your store that they might not ordinarily visit. Related items need to be set up manually by you, and most ecommerce solutions support it. They can be a lot of work to configure, but definitely worth it. Also bought lists are convenient because they are automatically produced from your customers’ buying habits so it saves you the work of setting them up. However, the reality of people’s buying habits mean that most also bought lists end up being full of things like batteries and refills, so a little manual tweaking of the lists is a good idea.
  • ‘Filtering’ tools are also good for visitors who are looking to browse. Filtering tools allow you to present your visitors with a page full of products, and then the visitors can filter that page so they only see products of a certain brand, or within a certain price range. This means casual visitors who might have a certain set of criteria in mind can browse just those products that fit what they are roughly looking for – rather than having to wade through your entire product range.
  • Another good idea to encourage browsing is a ‘sale’ or ‘special offer’ department of your store that is continually updated. It’s no good just putting a few products in there and then forgetting about them. You need to update it each week, and if you do mailouts you need to make sure that your special offers are included in the mailout. This encourages your regular visitors back to the store, and provides a good way for new customers to get a quick flavour of the sorts of products you sell, and maybe even find a bargain to boot!

So in conclusion, although retail stores themselves are having a rough time of it, there are still people out there who want to spend time browsing and exploring – and by using the right tools on your site you can make sure those visitors have a brilliant experience and hopefully convert themselves into customers.