When it comes to how people buy online, retailers are paying as much attention to how the shopping experience ends as to how it starts. According to “The State Of Retailing Online 2009: Merchandising Report,” conducted by Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR), which surveyed 117 respondents, this year retailers plan to focus heavily on improving customers’ checkout experience. Companies will also place an emphasis on image enhancement located on product detail pages and site search filters to aid shoppers more easily in their search. The report will be released this morning at Shop.org’s Online Merchandising Workshop in San Diego.”In today’s economy, retailers need to be one step ahead, especially when it comes to attracting shoppers who have money to spend,” said Executive Director of Shop.org Scott Silverman. “Companies are investing in their Web sites to set them apart from their competition and make the shopping experience informative, efficient, and even fun.” Retailers Focus On Transparency Of Shipping Charges, Checkout ExperienceAccording to the survey, eight out of 10 retailers (79 percent) said enhancing the checkout process was on the top of their to-do lists for the remainder of the year, with 90 percent of medium-sized retailers* listing checkout as a top priority. The largest initiative in this area among retailers seems to be an emphasis on shipping, with retailers specifically increasing the transparency around shipping charges to reduce shopping cart abandonment. According to the survey, 88 percent of retailers will focus on providing more shipping information within the next year, including such details as when a customer can expect to receive a package and information about when products have left the warehouse. In addition, two-thirds of retailers (67 percent) said they would pay special attention to calculating the loaded cost of an order prior to checkout.”Retailers realize that, particularly during an economic downturn, shoppers who understand shipping charges at the beginning of the checkout process are less likely to abandon their purchases,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester Research vice president, principal analyst, and lead author of the report.In an era of tight budgets, the increased focus on checkout is balanced by a somewhat lessened focus on home page improvements, with 60 percent of companies saying they would concentrate on improving their home page, down from previous years. According to the report, retailers have learned that many shoppers bypass the home page altogether because comparison shopping engines and search engines often direct them to specific pages on retailers’ Web sites instead. As a result, retailers are focusing more on product detail pages and search results pages.Companies Prioritize Image Enhancement On Product Detail PagesWith customers wanting as much information as possible before buying, retailers continue to enhance the quality of information on product detail pages. According to the survey, retailers will focus on adding alternative images of products (50 percent), zoom, and color or fabric swatches (31 percent) this year. Retailers are also relying on shoppers themselves to provide key information on product detail pages. According to the survey, more than half of retailers (60 percent) use customer ratings and reviews, and 55 percent of companies will make ratings and reviews a priority for the coming year. In addition, 34 percent of companies will incorporate automated recommendation tools by third parties for their site. In addition to improving detail on current pages, retailers are adding new pages to their sites to better accommodate shoppers on a budget. According to the survey, 89 percent of retailers say that they are introducing sale or clearance pages to their sites in the coming months.Retailers Invest In Search Capabilities To Help Shoppers Find ProductsMany online shoppers have specific items in mind, and retailers are paying special attention to site search features to make customer searches easier. According to the survey, nearly three-quarters of retailers (73 percent) plan to add different skins or filters to their search functions, which would enable shoppers to choose multiple attributes like brand, color, price, and size to their site search. In addition, 41 percent of retailers surveyed said they are evaluating introducing an entirely new search engine to their Web sites.”The State Of Retailing Online 2009: Merchandising Report” is currently available to Shop.org members and can also be purchased directly at www.shop.org/soro. Forrester clients will be able to access the report directly on www.forrester.com as part of their subscription service starting on August 14, 2009.