Millions of euros worth of merchandise is sold every year on online shops of football clubs. The top 10 clubs alone sell an accumulated 9 million jerseys per year (dailymail.co.uk, 2014). One would think this is reason enough for clubs to allocate a good amount of financial and human resources to their online shops and ensure a working, — or even better — a fantastic shopping experience for their fans. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Some shops are somewhat hidden on the website, items do not have an adequate amount of information, the page cannot be navigated intuitively, or photos of products are in poor quality.
Bryan Eisenberg, a recognized authority in online marketing, claims that “For [companies] to achieve [their commercial] goals, [shop] visitors must first achieve theirs. (conversionxl.com, 2013)” In applying his statement to our context, this means that, if clubs want to achieve their goals of selling as much merchandise as possible through their online shops, website visitors need to have a great online shopping experience. Bottom line is, the success of online shops is measured by conversion rate; which means the following questions apply: a) How many people that found their way to our online shop bought something? b) How much revenue did we generate from all the traffic on our website?
To optimise the conversion rate, Bryan Eisenberg created the Hierarchy of Optimization. The model is build upon the question, “What can I do to make the life for my customer a little bit better in buying from me? (Market Motive, 2008)” Mr Eisenberg explains, “Like Maslow’s hierarchy, the pyramid indicates that only once the base needs on the bottom are met can potential buyers move up to address the next need. As they arrive at the top of the pyramid, they’re effectively persuaded to take action. (Eisenberg, 2007)”
We will now apply the levels of the Hierarchy of Optimization to two online shops of established football clubs from different countries and assess their online shopping experience. Let’s look at how Italian Serie A club AS Roma and Austrian Bundesliga club FC Red Bull Salzburg offer their merchandise to football fans on their respective websites:
Level 1: Functional
The first level in Mr Eisenberg’s Hierarchy of Optimization is dedicated to the functionality of the online shop. He asks, “Does this product/service do what the prospect needs? How easy is it for a prospect to determine this? (Eisenberg, 2007)”
Before a club promotes their merchandise online in any way, it needs to make sure that the online shop works properly and is perceived as the official online shop of the club; i.e., does it sell the merchandise visitors expect/want to find, do all buttons/links work, are there photos — no placeholders — to picture the items, can customers put something in the shopping cart, can they check out, or does the credit card/PayPal connection work? This is the most basic level. If a company cannot provide a running online shop that is perceived and understood as one, no customer will be able to shop there or do anything with it.
We checked the AS Roma and FC Red Bull Salzburg online shops and both of them run properly and can be perceived as respective official online shops. AS Roma calls it AS Roma Store, whereas Salzburg calls it fan shop. Both clubs clearly promote their jerseys, fashion items, and more. In the case of Salzburg, by clicking the link in the header logo, fans will navigate to the global/overall Red Bull Shop, where merchandise from all other teams sponsored by Red Bull are offered. This can be confusing for visitors not familiar with Red Bull-sponsored franchises. Also, the new webpage opens in the same browser, not in a new tab or window. This might confuse the FC Red Bull Salzburg fan, who most probably wants to shop solely for football merchandise.
Level 2: Accessible
After a company has created the online shop, made sure it properly functions and is perceived as an official online shop, the website will go online. Even though this seems like a trivial undertaking, a few factors need to be considered before promoting the shop. Mr Eisenberg underlines, “Can people actually reach the site? No 404 [error] page? If that happens you don’t need to worry about any other testing. (Market Motive, 2008)”
We have already checked the technical accessibility of the AS Roma and Red Bull Salzburg online shops and both are fine. Now we will check how easy it is to access it from the point when a potential customer launches her browser.
Since Google owns 66 percent of the desktop search engine market share (netmarketshare.com, 2014), we will try to access the shops through Google.
It was much easier to find the AS Roma Store, since the club optimised their shop for Google search. Googling for the term AS Roma, the first search result — a paid Google Adwords link — did not link to the official club website, but directly to their online shop. From a marketing point of view, a great search engine optimisation/advertising strategy.
Typing Red Bull Salzburg in Google gives the club’s Wikipedia page and then the club’s official website; no Google Adwords. Since the direct link to the shop is ranked eighth, potential customers do not see it right away and most probably click on the official club website. There they have to click a couple of buttons, until founding the fan shop under fans.
AS Roma definitely did a better job at making their online shop accessible. It can be argued that real fans will take their time and invest more effort to reach their shopping goal. However, this can be considered the ‘First Moment of Truth’ in the shopping experience of a fan. “The First Moment of Truth (FMOT) is what people think when they [experience] a product [or brand] and it’s the impressions they form when they read the words [or see the artwork] describing the product [or brand]. (Solis, 2013:75)”
Level 3: Usable
Mr Eisenberg explains usability by asking two questions, “Is [the online shop] user-friendly? Are there obstacles [to using it]? (Eisenberg, 2007)“
We continue our test and shop for a home jersey of our selected clubs. The AS Roma Store works smoothly, just as I wish any shop would. The process is as follows:
- I start at Google.com by typing in the clubs name
- The first link in the Google search leads me directly to the shop
- The drop-down menu under the button Kits brings me the home jersey
- Now I can choose the Totti jersey, add the league badge, choose my size and quantity, and add it to my cart
- A functional window gives me the option to check out right away, and I do that
- My shopping bag page gives me an overview and offers me the option to check out with PayPal. Since I do not have an account or forgot my login, I definitely want to use my PayPal login to purchase this item
All in all it took me less than 1 minute to purchase a jersey in the AS Roma Store. Great usability. This is how it is supposed to be.
The FC Red Bull Salzburg fan shop provided more challenges. First, there is the issue of its accessibility. A visitor has to scroll after a Google search to find the link to the shop. This is due to the club’s search engine optimisation strategy, or lack thereof. Because of that, it is safe to assume that most visitors choose to enter the official club website first, since it is ranked second in the Google search. As mentioned above, from there, they have to click a few times to find the actual online (fan) shop. Once in the online shop, it works similar to the AS Roma Store. The exception, though, is that the Red Bull Salzburg online shop does not offer the possibility to check out with PayPal. According to PayPal.com, PayPal has 157 million active digital wallets and is available in 203 markets (paypal-media.com, retrieved 18 January 2015). Given these numbers, offering a PayPal check out is a basic feature for any online shop that caters to an audience like FC Red Bull Salzburg does.
Level 4: Intuitive
After the usability level, we enter the intuitive level. Mr Eisenberg explains, “Does the sales process/Web site feel intuitive and natural based on [the customer’s] buying preferences? Is she forced to endure unnatural buying modalities to realize her need? (Eisenberg, 2007)”
The AS Roma Store is very intuitive. The menu titles make complete sense with the chosen terminology, like kits, training, leisure, retro, sales etc., explaining the item category. Furthermore, the item page is structured to fit all necessary information and actions onto one screen (above the page old), with no need to scroll for further options or infos. A clean and simple design makes the shopping experience stress-free and enjoyable.
The FC Red Bull Salzburg fan shop on the other hand, has room for improvement. The menu titles are chosen according to the target group of the items (women, men, youth, accessories, sale), not according to merchandise categories. Personally, I like an online shop structure based on item categories. However, I understand the thought behind structuring a webshop menu according to gender. Gap.com or Zalando.de, two large fashion retailers, make sure to offer gender entrances on their online shops. However, I do not see the need to do that in a football online shop.
What I found to be needing more improvement is the design of the item page at Red Bull Salzburg. A customer can choose the size of the jersey and the quantity, and will intuitively push the ‘add to cart’ button, since it located right below the mentioned options. Unfortunately, the personalisation feature is situated below the product description and therefore below the page fold. This means, a customer will have to access the cart section, remove the unpersonalised item, and start over again to have a personalised jersey. I am aware that this sounds like a trivial problem. Nonetheless, this is part of the customer experience, and any company wants — or should want — to provide the best possible experience to their customers.
Level 5: Persuasive
This is the last level in the Hierarchy of Optimization and also the last step in the conversion funnel. According to Mr Eisenberg, anything a company does to build confidence happens at this level, and it is the most impactful level, but also the hardest to do; he continues by asking, “What can [a company] do to improve the quality of [their] message, [their] images; are they conveying what [customers] want? (Market Motive, 2008)”
Both clubs, FC Red Bull Salzburg and AS Roma do a good job in providing professional images to all their items. The entire look and feel of both shops radiates confidence for shopping on their respective websites. Both shops provide a customer service hotline; AS Roma put it very prominent above their header image, whereas Red Bull Salzburg positioned it at the bottom of their website, right above the footer.
Even though, both clubs are doing a good job at this level, it is important to remember that ‘only once the base needs on the bottom are met can potential buyers move up to address the next need. (Eisenberg, 2007)’
As we have seen through this exercise, there are certain factors to be considered for any club when running an online shop. I urge e-commerce and online shop managers at football clubs to take into consideration applying Mr Eisenberg’s Hierarchy of Optimization to their shops and take actions where needed. Many managers overlook some of the issues addressed in this post, because they are perceived as trivial in many corporations. From my own professional experience as an online marketer and personal experience as an online shopper, I can attest that details can put a company ahead of the competition. This is mainly because more often than not, managers are under time pressure and rather go online with a okay-to-work-with online shop, instead of waiting and clean up every single flaw.
My free professional advice to anyone responsible for an online shop: Make sure to sort all details out on all 5 levels of the Hierarchy of Optimization and do not take any feature for granted. Customer rate your webshop by how much fun it is to shop on your website. It is your job to provide a fantastic experience that makes your customers tell their friends about, and it starts with the optimisation of your e-commerce platform.
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