For centuries, brick-and-mortar stores were able to constantly to refine their approach to giving customers what they need. It got to the point where there was a decent formula in place to ensure people got the most out of their shopping experience.
However, in the last 10-20 years, everything changed. The rapid advancement of the web has altered the very concept of shopping. A study on omni-channel retail conducted by Big Commerce and Kelton Global found the majority of Americans now prefer making purchases online over in-store.
This monumental shift in consumerism did not come without growing pains. In the early 2000s, when ecommerce was beginning to pick up steam, finding common threads of success was no easy task. In recent years, it has become more or less clear as to what customers value in an online (or mobile) store and how businesses can enhance user experience.
Here are some crucial features shoppers have come to expect as a matter of convenience when they click through to your store.
Effective Site Search
One of the biggest advantages ecommerce has over big box retailers is that the customer doesn’t need to spend time wandering around a store or consulting a directory to find the items they want; all they need to do is enter in what they think they want into a search box, and they can be guided there.
Which is why, failing to include a search engine on your website puts you at a significant disadvantage. In fact, Weblinc discovered that adding an internal search feature to a website resulted in a 216% increase in conversions and a 21% boost in average order value. That’s not all; Branded3 found that people who conduct a search on your site convert at double the rate of those who don’t!
As great as these numbers sound, it’s not quite as simple just placing a search feature on your website. It must be designed intuitively to understand your customers’ intentions while helping them find what they need.
Take a look at Wayfair’s site:
You’ll notice how typing in a couple of letters prompted a list of suggestions in the search bar. This is one of the most crucial features in a search function. Present-day ecommerce solutions such as Shopify offer readymade themes with site search built in. All you need to do is add your inventory’s keywords through the store management panel, and then you have a lot of options to customize, narrow and sort the results.
The site search can be thought of as the ecommerce equivalent to asking an in-store associate for help finding a product. To assist the customer effectively, both require similar characteristics. They must be knowledgeable about the inventory’s entirety, and make good inferences as to what people are looking for.
Detailed Product Pages
Perhaps the biggest drawback to ecommerce is shoppers never really know what they are getting until the box shows up on the front step. Even though retail as a whole is migrating to the internet, the harsh truth is some products are simply better to look at and buy in-store.
For these types of items to be sold online, retailers must go the extra mile in providing intuitive product pages that leave the user with no further questions.
Your website should be more than just an online store – think of it as a resource center where customers find all the information they need to make a purchase without even thinking about jumping to other platforms. That said, while your product information should be detailed, it needs to also be concise and easy to consume. Even more, it should be organized in order of priority to showcase the USPs front-and-center.
Let’s take jewelry for example. This is one of those items that typically requires VERY in-depth and well-designed product pages, with high quality photos and macro images. Bluestone understands all the ins and outs of this concept and delivers some of the best constructed product pages in the industry.
At first glance, they give all the specifications of an item with the key information (such as the material and weight) at the center. They know that most customers would want to see the item from every angle. As a solution, in addition to a number of high-quality images, they provide a 360-degree video of each product listed on their site.
One of the most common reasons for returns of products purchased online is items being the wrong size. Including size charts and listed dimensions will not only reduce the amount of returns, but also lead to more assured sales by increasing buyer confidence.
Again, make sure that your sizing chart is easy to understand. Include figures in multiple measurement standards like inches and centimeters. Floorplan Rugs does this well:
Of course, be very detailed in your sizing descriptions if you sell apparel or outdoor gear, and include measurements like waist, bust, chest, and leg length to ensure the perfect fit for your customers. An example from 30A:
Unfortunately, physically touching an item before buying is something that is not yet possible in ecommerce. Therefore, the pressure lies on the product pages to provide shoppers with everything to ensure they find exactly what they’re looking for.
Incidentally, Bluestone manages to get around this problem by enabling customers to try out expensive jewelry in the comfort of their homes with no compulsion to buy, taking the brand experience to a whole new level.
Overarching Customer Service
Providing textbook customer support has been one of the biggest growing pains in the world of online business. In the early (and formative) years of ecommerce retail, customer service was practically non-existent; it was one of the most difficult operational functions to port from offline to online. In most cases, shoppers either had to call a toll free number and wait to be connected to an agent, or send an email that may or may not be answered. This was a time when quality customer service was missed the most.
Truth be told, the very last thing people want to do is call a “hotline” and wait on hold while listening to mind-numbing elevator music. The difference between ecommerce and in-store experiences is that ecommerce doesn’t operate on a clock. Online business hours are 24/7, so it follows that those are your customer support hours as well.
What’s more, you need to make sure your ecommerce functionality is working seamlessly at each and every touchpoint in order to fully satisfy your customers. Just by including the option for your customer to reach an instant service rep can boost their satisfaction by nearly 60%.
The biggest expectation customers have today is instantaneous service. Therefore, step one should be to implement a live chat feature on your website. A report by Zendesk found that in terms of customer satisfaction, this is the best channel to use for customer service.
Usually, a live chat box is positioned at the bottom right of the page. Here is an example from Natura Health Products’ website:
The benefits of using live chat on your ecommerce website are huge. For one, customers can get instant access to someone who can assist them. Secondly, agents are able to help multiple people at once, rather than just one at a time on the phone. Natura’s live chat requires shoppers to enter a name and email address to start a conversation. This means they have captured a lead in addition to providing support.
You can go one step further and automate online customer service with a chatbots. And it’s profitable – chatbots can save an average of $4000 per support rep just by providing pre-defined responses for frequently asked questions.
Depending on how diverse your range of products or services are, having specialized (human) support agents is a great way to provide a higher level of customer service. Nordstrom does a fantastic job of this on their website:
Due to the extensiveness of their catalog, they have different options to choose from that will direct you to an expert. In turn, visitors get instantaneous answers to their specific questions. Customer service like this can do wonders to improve brand loyalty.
Additionally, social media is taking on an increasingly bigger role in customer service. For instance, Sephora, an online cosmetics brand, does a great job in engaging with their customers over Facebook.
The beauty of using social media for customer service is you can provide an ultra-personalized experience for the shopper while the whole world can see it!
Customer service should NEVER take a backseat in retail. Ecommerce has ushered in a completely new set of criteria for competition. It’s all about the customer experience. Online shoppers expect seamless interactions and are quick to leave your site if you cannot meet their needs. Providing quick and meaningful service is one of the best things you can do to keep the edge.
Keep in mind, every second your customers have to wait is an opportunity look somewhere else for what they need. Or, more time to decide that doing business with you is a nuisance. In a time when there is more competition than ever before, going above and beyond with customer service is one of the best ways to set yourself apart. Do everyone a favor and place customer service at the forefront of your efforts.
User Generated Content
When you are planning your campaign, you need to thoroughly analyze exactly what you want the impact to be.
- Who exactly are you trying to appeal to?
- Is it a niche audience or a broad one?
- What type of content do they normally consume?
- What do you want your audience to take away from your content?
- Are they looking to be entertained? Informed? Both?
Once you’ve got some answers, your job is to find the commonalities and pinpoint the triggers that stir up reactions.
You don’t have to look far to find an example of story-based UGC either. Kenneth Cole has encouraged fans to submit their own experiences while wearing their clothing for a long time now. In one instance, they paired up with R29 to run a campaign celebrating 30 years of “boldness” – in line with their brand messaging – and got great results.
Social media, of course, is the bedrock of UGC. The shorts retailer, Chubbies, frequently encourages their customers to submit photos of themselves in their favorite Chubbies apparel along with a personal story. This strategy garnered the brand more than 1 million Facebook likes, 119,000 Instagram followers, and $600,000 worth of American flag shorts sold in one day.
Even more serious, established brands have found value from UGC on social channels that appeal to a wider audience. BMW is one of many leading brands to use Instagram for UGC. With the hashtag #BMWRepost, they are able to showcase proud owners and their experiences, and in turn provide a neutral perspective and validation for future customers.
Over to You
Cracking the code of online retail is far from over. As fast as technology is advancing, there is no telling what the landscape will look like just five years down the line. It’s truly amazing how quickly mindsets can change. The success of your store will depend on how well you keep up with the trends and consistently meet customer expectations.
Author : Lori Wagoner
Lori Wagoner is a marketing researcher and strategist who works with small businesses and organizations to help them gain online visibility. Feel free to strike up a conversation on Twitter @loridwagoner.