The consumer journey has ventured from shopping streets to online search engines. One doesn’t walk from door to door, but hops unpredictably between door, app and URL bar. It has revolutionized the way people browse, where they browse and why they browse. And once all this browsing has culminated – with somewhat incredible ease – the decision to purchase is not a finish line, but one cleared hurdle in an increasingly complex and lengthy race. Complex because your crowd is fickle, fleeting, and above all, freethinking; and complex because the eCommerce track you run on isn’t one channel, but an interweaving mesh of digital, physical, commercial and social platforms, reaching out well beyond your direct control.
That is why brands need to see the consumer journey as a holistic process, building on emotional loyalty well before and long after the point of purchase. But to get you across the start line, here are five critical areas that make the difference between ‘turning up’ online and actually competing within this space.
1. Start the Race Running
Search: This is effectively the start of the consumer journey online. Everything else that follows pales into insignificance if this isn’t done correctly.
Online browsing is no longer simply a means to an end. It has become a pastime in itself, with consumers making scattered journeys across the web, constantly diverting their course towards whatever next grabs their attention. Effectively channeling these wandering journeys is challenging, but essential.
For a start, brands must be optimizing their content within both paid and natural search areas. Analyzing and investing in key customer search terms may seem obvious, but it is overwhelmingly mismanaged, even by those brands that think they have it covered.
Similarly, paid media application is far from ideal. Not enough brands are focusing on performance marketing in order to catch consumers cost-effectively.
2. Indulge the Adventure
Online consumers are becoming more like exploration vessels looking to discover, than merchant ships looking to trade. People must be sufficiently stimulated to search on. Brands must recognize that that the engaging online shopping experiences will be the one’s that interacts emotionally and imaginatively – that tell stories – rather than push for conversions.
3. Ensure the Shoe Fits
To ensure that ‘window shoppers’ turn into customers, brands need to make the purchase decision right for them personally. The best sites are those that commit to creating an experience that is tailored for each person. Knowing your customer is essential. Understanding not just what they have bought or browsed in the past, but also why they have done so. The more someone uses your site, the more you will learn about them, and the more personalized and effective it can become. It comes down to having a genuine long-term interest in your consumer that can subsequently be reciprocated.
A tailored site in, say fashion, might recommend products, suggest pieces of interest and enable interaction with the site and its community. It will look beyond the point of purchase, but all the while manage the appetite surrounding it.
4. Don’t Create Finish Lines
Brands must be asking themselves how they can manage their customer engagement without being too conversion orientated, or indeed irritating. However, the line between interacting and pestering is a very fine one.
Approaches to this can vary from long term loyalty programs like Cathay Pacific’s ‘Marco Polo Club’, to online games like Crocs’ ‘Run Sailor Run!’ Here, a brand must be true to itself. Inconsistencies in brand presentation are extremely damaging and customer loyalty will suffer through lack of trust.
5. Be Social
Historically, shopping has always been a social experience. Particularly in Asia with the bustling marketplaces, haggling and so on. The digital realm might have threatened this, but it has certainly not eradicated it.
The best brands make the eCommerce journey inherently social, creating sharing opportunities at every stage. For example, integrating the platform with Facebook allows sites to do things like automatically remembering a friend’s birthday and consequently offer a selection of gifts. Effective presence on messaging apps like Twitter and WeChat gets the ball rolling for further advocacy within these spaces.
eCommerce is evolving. In its next stage, we’ll see smarter and more sophisticated use of data to create truly intuitive experiences. If you had thought eCommerce was just online shopping, you must be off your trolley…