2020 saw online commerce swiftly peak in popularity almost overnight as consumers were unable to leave the house and instructed to only purchase essential items. Some analysts suggest that online retailers experienced up to 10 years growth in just 3 months! Yet while this upturn came at a time when already the majority of British consumers were proficient in shop and fairly confident in shopping online, not all retailers were set up to deal with this new way of business in quite the way they’d have liked. Even now, almost 2 years after the initial phase of lockdowns worldwide, it’s not uncommon to find websites with online stores constructed simply to facilitate transactions. But consumer attention – and expectation – has moved on to more than just the ‘select, click, wait’ process.
It should go without saying that brands should strive to provide an excellent customer experience no matter which channel their customers use to do business with them, but e-commerce is often forgotten amongst other, more hands-on, methods. Operating entirely transactionally may be standard in some industries (such as FMCGs) but is not acceptable for those organisations wishing to build relationships, gain competitive advantage and nurture repeat custom… so why are so many online shops still set up to just sell and scram?
With the average conversion rate of online shops still sitting at below 3% worldwide, those intending to provide an exemplary, memorable customer experience online must build their web presence to do more and convert better; and should consider all of the following:
User Experience and User Journey Design
The first wave of e-commerce globally was simply the offering of offline goods, online. This happened in the mid to late 1990s and saw the likes of Amazon, eBay and Alibaba founded and launched. The second wave facilitated smaller brands able to access and offer online presence for customers as well as the introduction of more multi-retailer marketplaces, with Shopify and Etsy amongst relevant brands popularised. Now, at the third wave, e-commerce is experiencing a shift into more crowded, competitive marketplaces – and in order to differentiate themselves from others, brands must offer an unrivalled customer experience, online and off.
The user experience of a website is the behaviour a user displays using it, as well as how it builds their perception of the overall utility, ease of use and efficiency of the content presented. The provision of good (or ideally, great!) user experience is an ever-evolving discipline that moves with shifts in technology, accessibility, consumer demand and societal expectation. An online store should always be constructed with the user experience at the forefront of its design, with the user journeys through the site mapped and monitored over time to help present workable business intelligence. However, there are some main areas of focus for e-commerce user experience, and these can be considered as:
Put simply: if any web page takes too long to load, users won’t wait around for it and will go elsewhere. The loading speed of pages can be influenced by many varying factors but should never take more than a second or two. Google now includes loading speeds as part of its criteria for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) ranking and so will penalise sites that take a long time. A web page’s LCF (Largest Contentful Point – the biggest piece of content on the page) must take no more than 2.5 seconds to load to fit within industry best practice standards.
Mobile and other devices now account for about 50% of all online traffic worldwide – yet there are still a plethora of websites that don’t format correctly on anything other than a standard screen resolution! A website’s responsiveness refers to its ability to adapt its formatting to the device on which its being viewed and should offer a clear and comprehensive representation of the page no matter the screen’s resolution. For e-commerce this can be considered exceptionally important as incorrect or stunted formatting could lead to purchase errors and a very poor customer experience.
Product Photos and Videos (3D and AR)
High-quality product visualisation is crucial in an e-commerce environment where the buyer is unable to touch and feel the item/s in the way they would normally. Product photos must be clear and of a good quality, fast to load and lit in a way that properly represents the item/s. 3D options and AR videos can further amplify products aesthetics, benefits and other qualities, and provide further quality proof for those consumers who have yet to cement their purchase decision. In recent surveys, up to 78% of online shoppers said they expect product photos to ‘bring them to life’ and up to 91% say they expect to be able to view products from a 360° angle.
Social proof is a term coined by author Robert Cialdini in 1984 that refers to the phenomenon of people copying the actions of others in certain situations. This has been reflected for decades through word-of-mouth recommendations and testimonial marketing, but is now emulated digitally – with those running e-commerce websites able to capitalise on social proof through online means.
Reviews and Testimonials
Customer reviews are now a hugely influential tool in consumer purchase behaviour and can be vastly beneficial to businesses who utilise them correctly. Where a closed review platform is used, customers are verified as genuine and having either purchased from a brand or interacted with them to a given level. Reviews of products can be curated and presented to appear alongside their listing, providing consumers with social proof and the digital equivalent of a word-of-mouth recommendation right at the point at which they can make a purchase decision. What’s more, modern review platforms provide behind-the-scenes analysis tools to give workable business intelligence – feeding in to business growth and development planning elsewhere.
Social integration is the inclusion of social network logins in to the e-commerce purchase process, in a variety of different ways. Many social media users remain logged on to their accounts as they visit other destinations online and this presents opportunity for further engagement, social sharing and a simpler, streamlined purchase process. Social integration can involve the ability to ‘log in’ to an online store using details provided from a social media account (known as social sign-in, this is usually a basic ‘Log in with Facebook’ or ‘Log in with LinkedIn’ button that auto-populates account contact information), the installation of social widgets (to promote immediate sharing of a page or purchase to a social network), the use of branded hashtags (elevating status across social networks and increasing quick brand recall) and the inclusion of the brand’s social media feed to the site (particularly Instagram, so users are able to click on a product picture and be taken straight to the product purchase page).
Integrative Selling Practices
While it would be ideal for all online shoppers to know the exact URL of a brand’s e-commerce store, type it in and only shop direct from it, this isn’t common in practice for most companies. Instead, there are variety of opportunities for retailers to offer their products elsewhere on the web; making their brand more prevalent and maximising potential for purchases.
Social Media In-App Shopping
A variety of social media networks now offer an in-app shopping experience that links with online retailers’ own stores so that their users can make purchases without having to leave their site. Instagram does this through the inclusion of a Shop button on their home feed, presenting a curated display of relevant products to users for them to purchase as they desire. Facebook has a similar system that provides e-commerce within a brand’s own page but also through targeted ad campaigns. TikTok also presents relevant product listings through both ads and branded profiles and has hit the ground running following the organic shopping trends the app started through 2020 and 2021. While in-app shopping on social networks may not provide the same fully-branded experience as a business’ own e-commerce site, it is convenient, easy and still in a familiar platform – and every additional sale is a good thing.
Google Shopping listings
Businesses who optimise their online presence through the use of Google tools such as AdWords, Analytics and Local Listings can further benefit from syncing their products with Google Shopping. In most cases, Google Shopping listings are free but they need to be set up behind-the-scenes; products won’t appear organically as search listings can. Instead, business owners must participate in Surfaces across Google and manage products on the Google Merchant Centre. This can be managed by anyone but is best done by a specialist to ensure the highest possible ranking and, therefore, the most traffic exposure.
Multi-vendor marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy, eBay and Not On The High Street are all successful brands making a profit out of selling other company’s products. Put simply, they charge a fee (either per product sold or a set periodic charge) and allow businesses to list their own products and services through their site. Such marketplaces tend to have a very particular target audience and so not all will be appropriate for every organisation, but do provide exposure to new shoppers and those who otherwise may never come across the brand. Many marketplaces of this type offer a seamless integration from the retailer’s own site into their own; so sales inventories remain aligned, there is little to no further management work required from the retailer. Multi-vendor marketplaces tend to be well-established, trusted brands – and so those purchasing through them apply this trust to the brand from which they’re buying from, too.
Launching an online shop and plugging it across a few other websites simply won’t cut the mustard when it comes to converting visitors into customers. The key lies in clever, intuitive design.
Custom E-commerce Website Development
Where an online retailer wishes to present an entirely bespoke customer experience to best fit their brand look, feel and tone of voice, it is often best to build this from the ground up (or wireframes onward!). Custom e-commerce website development allows for the online shop to meet the needs and expectations of consumers and the brand, as well as seamlessly interlinking with even the most idiosyncratic systems behind-the-scenes.
Shopify and Woocommerce Custom Coding
Shopify and Woocommerce are the world’s leading e-commerce platforms and are broadly similar in nature; both tools to help businesses set up, operate and manage their online store presence in an efficient and easy manner. However, the use of such platforms can be easily spotted by experienced online shoppers and are not always the most honed to brand guidelines and aesthetics to provide a seamless user experience. These tools can be used in combination with the provision of custom coding to yield an entirely bespoke virtual shop that feeds in to these simple-to-use tools; presenting the easiest use option for both brand and user alike.
The Importance of Abandoned Baskets
The world’s cart abandonment rate – that is, the percentage at which users add items to their shopping cart (or basket) but then leave the site and/or don’t complete the purchase – sits at just under 70% of all e-commerce visits. This may seem disappointingly high but there is great opportunity in these stunted purchase processes. Brands can glean a great amount on consumer behaviour and demand from abandoned baskets as well as identify pressure points for the user experience; perhaps it is not until the checkout stage that a user learns a high shipping price, or that payment options are limited. What’s more, where a business has the user’s information they can tailor their onward marketing through automated tools to refer to the basket and its contents, offering incentives for them to go ahead and make the purchase.
Online shopping is second nature to numerous generations now but many brands are still lagging behind. Embracing user centricity and providing the best possible online experience is key – and will reinforce not just quality and positive brand perception, but the bottom line too.