As recently as 2008, Green Top's website offered product listings but no way of making purchases. Visitors clicking on specific items were often brought to the manufacturers' sites.
At the time, the company's sole brick-and-mortar store in Glen Allen, VA — staffed by sports enthusiasts with deep product knowledge — was Green Top's primary business, says Bob Strepka, Green Top's director of advertising/store merchandising.
But the competitive landscape changed when several national sporting goods chains, including Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain, set up properties within a few miles of Green Top's store. Just as these competitors drew off local traffic, Green Top's management realized it had to compete for online national sales.
Bringing E-commerce to Fishing And Tackle Gear
The first merchandise category it converted was fishing and tackle equipment. This decision was made from management's gut: Green Top wanted to draw from its in-house expertise for the website write-ups.
After Green Top had established e-commerce systems for its fishing gear, WebStrategies Inc., the web marketing and site development firm it was working with, suggested it focus its upgrade efforts on the firearms accessories pages. These categories were generating the highest number of visitors through search activity.
Knowing how shoppers behaved once they landed on the site proved just as important as what drew them to it, especially once Green Top set its hand to reducing abandonment rates. Consider holsters, a category within which, at the time of the upgrade, Green Top offered 250 items.
"Google Analytics showed the way people navigate," says Green Top's general manager Myke Lynch. "The primary decision is based on the type of firearm you own. As a consumer, when I looked at the lead-line copy, I couldn't tell which type of holster a specific firearm fits.
"If you own a Glock pistol, we didn't know if you want an ankle holster, a paddle holster," Lynch adds."Now you can click on Glock, shoulder holster, and the site takes you to frame heights. Click on that and it takes you to different types of holsters the firearm fits. Then you can filter it by brand."
The changes to the holster category went live in late summer. "We had them online [before the changes to the site] but had virtually no conversion," says Lynch. "It was too cumbersome to navigate. Now it's an up-and-coming category for us."
Browsing Made Easier
Simplifying the browsing experience is a major reason why the holster category is growing. "People on the Internet are very impatient," says Strepka. "If they don't get to where they need to be in a couple of clicks, or the presentation is such that they are not getting enough information, they are a click from going somewhere else."
Green Top's comparatively late entry to the online sales game has allowed the company to learn from other sites' mistakes. In the early days of e-commerce, customers were often required to establish accounts and log in before they had made their first purchase.
"That was a major impediment to conversions," says Neal Lappe, president of WebStrategies. "For people who are new to a site, the shopping experience has to be easy. When you have a repeat customer, that whole account setup and login process makes your repeat experience much easier.
"Because it was a new e-commerce property, all customers were new," Lappe adds. "We didn't want to force them to go through the extra steps.
Analytics Influences Marketing Strategies
The site's redesign has also allowed Green Top to refine its pay-per-click strategies. Being able to focus on shopping cart value and margins helped build the business case for which product-related keywords it should bid on. Instead of engaging with competitors like Walmart for high-level terms such as "fishing rod," Green Top bids on very specific words that bring in customers with open wallets.
"Winchester brass gets you buyers," says Lynch. "It's not something you can buy everywhere, and not something highly competitive in pricing. Therefore it's a good match for pay-per-click campaigns. Pay per click doesn’t have to be about the cheapest high-velocity product."
Analytics has also allowed Green Top to tailor the incentives it offers on an item-by-item basis. Giving free shipping to someone coming in from search may cut too deeply into the profit margin, especially when sending out a tricky-to-ship item like a 40-pound cooler or a seven-foot fishing rod.
"As part of its ongoing marketing, Green Top was doing a good amount of paid search," says Lappe. "In the paid search world you have to be really careful about profit margins. If we are paying more than a dollar a click, unless we are getting massive conversion rates, we can't do paid search on [a given] product category.
There are some things analytics can't measure, of course, and those include the store traffic the site generates. But Green Top is fairly confident the improved site is leading to more in-store visits based on the conversations its sales staff – many of whom are competitive in their fields – have with customers.
The loop between search, site behavior and in-store information is complete, and the data collected constantly influences site design and search campaigns. For instance, one of the primary factors that determines which fishing equipment is bought is whether the shopper is a freshwater or saltwater fisherman. This knowledge helped streamline site navigation—both terms are now featured as a choice in a prominent menu bar — as well as influenced keyword bids.