eCommerce_Body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.

There are three reasons why retailers should want to use the recommended product feature on their websites, explains Dave Huckaby, author of the Grabapple Guide to E-Commerce. “You increase conversion rates, increase ticket size, and increase user engagement,” he says. “Amazon is the king of product recommendations, and we can all learn from their example.”

Carol Friedman, owner of Books to Bed, which sells children’s sleepwear, agrees. “I wanted the Amazon effect,” she says. “After adding the recommended product feature to our website, we saw an increase in how long our visitors were staying on our website. And the longer they stay, the more they spend.”

Making the most of the recommended products feature

There are two ways for a retailer to add the recommended product feature. The first option, custom-coded websites, generally incorporate a SAAS (software as a service)-based solution where a third party manages the recommended product feature for a monthly fee. Custom coded websites are a pricey option, costing at least $5,000, which Huckaby says is typically out of reach for many small businesses. On the other hand, a majority of e-commerce sites, including Shopify, Yahoo Stores, and Big Commerce, incorporate a recommended product functionality as part of their standard package, with enhanced versions available as an upgrade.

“It's one thing to have a recommended products feature, it's another thing to use it strategically,” says Linda Bustos, director of e-commerce research at Elastic Path, a provider of e-commerce software. “The biggest mistake is using defaults out of the box, and not applying appropriate merchandising rules to your tools.

Taking a hands-on approach is essential to success with the recommendation products feature, Bustos adds. “The key is to begin with your sales strategy, and ensure your tool is set up to deliver you goals. Systems that automatically generate recommendations require some behind-the-scenes fine-tuning to ensure that your customers are seeing the products you want them to see.

“Whichever platform you choose, take a quick run through the instructions, watch any videos the host may provide, and see what the tool’s limitations are,” Huckaby recommends. “The best way to learn the software is to just start playing with it. See what you can do and what you can’t.”

eCommerce_PQ.jpgHuckaby, who uses Big Commerce to host his own e-commerce sites, used this method to discover a problem. “On the categories pages on my site, there’s lots of relevant text, which is great for Google, but that text is the first thing the customer sees.” he says.  “They have to scroll down to see the product. I had to go into the code and fix that myself. It’s an example of how these solutions aren’t necessarily tailored to the needs of the retailer. You have to be willing to go in and tweak them.”

Location is everything: The best place to display product recommendations

“Where you show product recommendations matters,” Bustos says. “It's very common to do so on a product page, but you can also use the recommended product feature to display merchandise on your home page based on past visit viewing behavior or incoming search terms. You can also make use of the recommended product feature right after the action ‘add to cart’ and on your cart page.”

“You want to alter your product recommendations based on where your customer is in the buying process,” Huckaby adds. “If your customer is looking at bass boats, for example, you can recommend other bass boats. But if they’ve started spending a lot of time looking at one particular bass boat, you’ll want to display trolling motors, oar locks—the type of add-on items that would increase their satisfaction with the purchase. Once they have that boat in their shopping cart, you want to recommend the specific bolt-on accessories that are made for that particular bass boat.”

SBC newsletter logo.gifCreating your own recommended products feature

Using your site-search feature, you can create your own recommended products feature if the results you’re getting from your embedded tool aren’t satisfactory. “Let’s say during the holiday season you want to offer gift sets containing several items, but your system doesn’t have the capacity,” Huckaby says. “Making use of your site-search feature, you can do a search by tags to include all of the gift sets. Then you save this search as a static web page, and link to it from your product page. When customers click on the link, they’re presented with all of the gift sets.”

Test everything

“As the store owner, you want to keep a log,” Huckaby says. “Track your results over 90 days to see how things are working. Then, if you go in and make some tweaks, you’ll want to track those as well.”

Bustos also recommends extensive testing of the recommended product feature. Her list of what to look at includes where the recommendations are placed; how many per page; and the price points. She also advises retailers to use language such as “you might like” and “recommended for you” rather than “similar item” or “goes perfect with.”