Faced with closed doors, restricted hours, and a less comfortable in-store experience, even when stores are open, customers have turned to online retail in unprecedented numbers. And many will continue to prefer the online experience for much or most of their shopping even when the pandemic has passed. That makes a successful online customer experience absolutely critical for every retailer.
Many retailers are ill-prepared for this new reality. While some have leaned into modern digital technology to provide a rich, satisfying experience, too many have continued to take a more passive approach. Customers are left to scroll the site aimlessly, with no attention paid to questions they might have or difficulties they might be encountering. That kind of hands-off experience wouldn’t fly in a successful physical store, and it’s not the way to build success online either.
Provide a richer digital experience
Remember the old days of brochureware, when companies would just throw a few pictures and some copy on a website and call it a day? Too many retailers remain stuck in that mindset. If shoppers can’t physically walk through a store, bring the store to them. And don’t make customers settle for less—invest in a fuller online experience by using video, virtual dressing rooms, interactive walkthroughs, and other rich media to combine the best parts of in-store shopping with the convenience—and safety—of shopping from home.
Pay attention to your customers and anticipate their needs
In the store, employees can usually tell when customers need help. They’re comparing two items, or scrutinizing the fine print on a package, riffling through coupons, searching on their phones. Online retailers can tell just as easily. Your site analytics will show you how customers travel through your site—and most importantly, when they tend to abandon. Are they flipping back and forth between product pages? Lingering on your policies for returns, exchanges, or shipping? Entering invalid coupon codes? Leaving to search for terms related to your products? Supplement that information with logs and feedback from your contact center, and use it to improve your online experience. Proactively address their most common questions. Guide them through the journey and they’re more likely to reach its end with a purchase.
Guide customers before they even realize they have a question
A more proactive approach will also help spare customers the need to contact support. That’s absolutely critical, because most customers won’t take that step. A few might reach out via phone—but the vast majority will simply give up in frustration, leaving your site with nothing but a negative brand perception. By giving them the information they need before they have to ask for it, you can keep them on your site longer and keep converting them toward a sale.
At the same time, you can’t answer every question for every customer simultaneously—you’d overwhelm your site with information. Instead, find a balance between a solid foundation of information for every visitor, and proactive guidance tailored to the need of each customer, provided in the flow of their experience. Contextual guidance technology allows you to offer specific information based on triggers in customer behavior—for example, providing a pop-up comparison chart for a customer who’s toggling between two product pages, or a valid coupon code for customers trying to use an expired one, or a link to a buyer’s guide for a customer who seems confused about product features and benefits. Offer the kind of personalized, responsive attention and service they’d get in a store.
The new prominence of online shopping offers an exciting opportunity for retailers. Differentiate your site with a more satisfying and successful customer experience, and you’ll establish a stronger position for the new normal of retail—with the sales to prove it.
-Tara Sporrer, SVP of Marketing at goMoxie.