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Beyond the Transaction: How to Make Your Ecommerce Site an Experience

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Back in the heyday of the shopping mall, retailers attracted and retained customers with their in-store experience. Free samples, beautiful displays and attentive salespeople made shopping an immersive experience. Combine that with a trip to the food court, and going shopping was an event you looked forward to — and were prepared to drop serious cash for.

The days of a traditional shopping mall trip have changed — not only because of the pandemic, but as consumers have started to prefer the convenience of ecommerce. Unfortunately, many retailers are still struggling to figure out how to create an experience that engages shoppers and their wallets — both in person and online.

According to Coveo’s Relevance Report, 90% of consumers expect online shopping experiences to be equal to or better than an in-store, analog experience. But half say they sometimes-to-always experience a problem when shopping online. Poorly done commerce can ruin the shopping experience, negating any brand loyalty from the purchase and frustrating customers instead of delighting them. It’s true that a better alternative is only a website tab away.

In order for ecommerce companies to differentiate themselves from large online marketplaces and competitors, their websites need to emulate the in-store shopping experience online. Here are three ways to make sure your brand stands out.

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Get Up Close and Personal with Consumers

Few shopping experiences are as frustrating as navigating a large ecommerce presence with every product under the sun. Sizes, features and brands blend together, your recommendations are irrelevant to your needs, and you end up closing the tab or app without ever checking out.

AI-powered personalization is one way to give users the experience from the analog world of a personal shopping associate, and guide consumers through the onslaught of options. Once consumers start searching, search relevance technology can predict what else they’ll need (i.e. if you look for a tennis racket, you’ll see tennis shoes or tennis balls recommended next). This goes for ecommerce — or even in tandem with in-person shopping.

Hearts on Fire, a leading global diamond jewelry brand, found success by implementing this method of personalization. Since it sells directly to consumers and to retailers (B2C and B2B ecommerce), Hearts on Fire needed to create two differentiated experiences that could be personalized to a buyer’s specific needs.

This was especially important for the direct-to-consumer site. For consumers buying a once-in-a-lifetime purchase like an engagement ring, the experience needed to be as smooth as possible in order to cultivate brand trust. Investing in search relevance technology provides the same guidance that salespeople offer in brick-and-mortar stores.

Hearts on Fire’s investment in personalized search paid off: the company’s B2C ecommerce purchase conversion rate increased by 587%, average order value increased by 49% and bounce rate decreased by 31% — and customers walked away feeling thrilled about their important purchase rather than annoyed by the experience.

Share Content That Engages and Educates

The best physical storefronts aren’t just rows of products and points of sale. They have additional features like sitting areas, artwork, music, free samples and more that distinguish them from competitors and make shopping in-store fun — even if you aren’t planning to buy anything.

One way to mimic this experience online? Providing content that makes your digital experience a destination for casual shoppers. Virtual Lululemon yoga classes, IKEA festival or Sail’s outdoor blog are just a few examples of content that brings shoppers to your site regardless of whether or not they’re specifically looking to buy.

But content isn’t just entertainment to draw in the virtual window shoppers. It’s a key tool for educating customers looking to buy, and for building brand trust.

Content can help provide vital information that consumers are looking for to make a purchase — especially for big-ticket items like engagement rings. Hearts on Fire has an Education section, with blogs that explain everything from the importance of the 4Cs to how to clean your diamond. For those engagement ring shoppers, they can now confidently make a purchase fully understanding the value of the diamond and how to maintain it. The content also cements brand trust by demonstrating the retailer’s knowledge in their space, and assuring customers that they’ve made the right decision by choosing them.

Don’t Forget About Human Connection

All the technology in the world can’t replace actual people. The best physical storefronts have dedicated sales staff whose job is to answer customer questions and guide them through their purchase. Consumers will always want the option to ask a real person their questions.

Easily available customer support is the gold standard for shopping online. Ideally, support should be available for self-service as well as on the phone and in chat boxes for customers to choose from. Good customer service can be the final step in giving consumers the trust in the brand that’s needed for them to spend on a significant purchase like an engagement ring. For example, Hearts on Fire has dedicated Perfection Stylists available to answer questions on returns, specials orders, ring sizes and more.

One thing for retailers to note: make sure the service staff is well trained and knowledgeable about your products. Nothing ruins brand trust more than sharing the wrong information or taking too long to answer a question. Much like how the best in-store sales staff are experts in their field, invest in your customer service representatives.

Additionally, provide them with the best tools to do their jobs, including technology that makes it easy and fast to find any information they may need. In fact, nine out of 10 top performers use two or more machine learning models to support their customer service agents, according to new research from Coveo.

Differentiating your brand in a digital world can be challenging. But by providing personalization, relevant content and human support, your website will be transformed from a transactional experience to a holistic brand experience.


Brian McGlynn is General Manager of Commerce at Coveo. Having spent more than 20 years in the high-tech industry, his experience spans start-ups and Fortune 100 companies, including HP and IBM. In his current role at Coveo, McGlynn brings a solid ecommerce expertise with a focus on search, content management and customer analytics.

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