When was the last time you, as a consumer, called the customer support centre of a local ecommerce site because you were having trouble checking out, finding the right information or anything else? The chances are you probably never have. Instead, customers like you abandon carts and break the purchase funnels while others have never actually bought anything online despite many visits to local websites.
Practices to embrace
An ecommerce website has to position your brand in the same way your physical store and marketing efforts do. Good companies understand that an online experience is not a technical exercise only to set up a website through Wordpress and Magento. Instead, it is a never ending process of shaping, defining and continuous optimisation of the customer journey and delight. Here are key common elements to create a great customer journey in the online world:
1) A clear proposition and unique personality: The website has to promote the brand, service and value proposition. It has to have a unique personality and user experience; one that customers come to expect to find only on your website. See Anthropologie (anthropologie.com) and MamyFactory (mamyfactory.com/en)
2) Attention to detail through typography and copy: More often than not, people do not remember the prices of products they bought only last week. They, however, remember great experiences, quirky humour and the delight and surprise they experienced on an online retail website. Anthropologie greets its customers with a request to subscribe to their newsletter, and who would refuse when met with such a cute box with delightful copy?
3) Seamless integration between online and offline stores: Websites which seamlessly integrate their online and physical store thrive successfully. How many times have you requested your favourite shoe shop to find the right size of the shoe you just saw in other stores only to be asked to physically visit these stores in order to find out if they have the right size? (I have practically stopped asking again and these disappointing experiences have resulted in the ever decreasing number of pairs of shoes I buy every year.) There is a Norwegian store, Nelly.com which tries to match expectations by letting customers know in advance if an item is out of stock as well as informing them about newly available items thanks to multichannel integration.
4) Marketing is not only essential, it must be extensive: Setting up your store online is easy but making it the hottest destination in your category requires a multitude of marketing techniques other than SEO; it requires PPC, social media, email marketing and then some. ModCloth (modcloth.com) has an integrated approach to enable a consistent user experience through email, blogs, social media and their website. In fact, they have been using the social nature of online media before social media became the ‘it’ thing.
5) Mobile friendly websites: While the country is keeping its fingers crossed over 3G, more and more of us are already using Facebook and many apps on our mobile phones. Multiscreen experiences may not be as ubiquitous in Pakistan but there has been a definite increase in the number of websites accessed from mobile devices despite the fact they are not optimised for this purpose.
Mistakes you ought to avoid
Customers expect an easy-to-use and functional ecommerce website design. Yet more often than not, many business owners fail to capitalise on simple principles and approaches such as:
1) Assuming the user already knows enough about the product: Incomplete, uninspiring and unclear information leads to not only confusion but also incomplete customer experiences. TCS Connect fails to mention the wattage on most of its home appliances, to whom the customer should return their products (original brand or TCS Connect?) or the cost of shipment to Gilgit. Why should customers have to either send an email or call the support centre to find these answers?
2) Integration of retail store and online store is not the user’s problem: If your online store is not updated with real time inventory, the trust deficit will be harder to eliminate as the customer is less likely to come back to your store after a bad experience. Many customers have faced this issue with many brands including Gul Ahmed, Eden Robe and online-only stores like HomeShopping. The net result of this bad user experience is a lost opportunity.
3) Poor translation of retail store customisation and experience: Technology allows us to offer targeted discounts and offers to customers online. Often customers can benefit from greater discounts if they buy in bulk at a physical store, they should be equally rewarded when they buy online. Unfortunately, most local websites fail to provide these benefits.
4) Not estimating user interest peak for website performance: Failure to anticipate large traffic during a peak period and the consequent inability to serve customers through better bandwidth and architecture is nothing to be proud of.
5) Not understanding user’s mental models and behaviour for recognition and recall: How many of you can tell what to expect in a category labelled ‘blanche noire’ and ‘soie de zarrin’ as opposed to ‘formal wear’ and ‘summer collection’. Businesses need to get away from traditional ‘recall’ messages and focus on recognition. There is a good reason why ‘add to cart’ is a universally accepted and preferred label instead of branded and fancy labels only the business owners understand.
6) Forcing users with an insurmountable checkout process: Industry standard cart abandonments range from 40-60%, making it even more important to retain those users who actually want to buy through the purchase funnel. Long, complicated processes and confusing forms asking for unnecessary information with unclear error messaging can drive shoppers, who were fully intent on buying, away not only from the transaction but from returning to the site for any future purchases.
7) Poor multichannel integration: Many consumers research products online, with no intention to buy online; the Facebook pages of local brands are a testament to this fact. However, if both your multichannel (i.e online and offline) stores do not create a positive user experience which is consistently good, you are hurting your overall business.
8) Not spending an hour a day with Google Analytics: Although most local businesses have at least integrated Google Analytics, very few of them go through or understand the wealth of data and information this tool provides. If you cannot tell which products have the best conversion rates, most viewed pages, high conversion time in the day and day of the week and products with high bounce rate, you are not taking your business seriously. Yet this could well enable future competitors to exploit this weakness and make your brand irrelevant by optimising their business through data and exploiting user trends and behaviours with tools like Google Analytics, Click Tale and Crazy Egg.
Ejaz Asi is Director of Planning and Strategy, The Brand Crew.