If 5 years ago content was king, today, without a doubt, experience rules.
Call it UX for digital products and CX (customer experience) for eCommerce websites, digital experience is the sum of all the interactions and emotions a user has in regards to your brand or product.
Gartner assumes that, by 2017, 89% of eCommerce marketers will consider customer experience to be the primary differentiating factor for eCommerce websites.
Retailers have to offer their customers a “holistic” shopping experience, meticulously orchestrated across a vast array of communication and selling channels, on multiple devices, both online and offline, with the help of various marketing tactics and thoroughly designed code.
This is customer experience. In a nutshell.
And one more thought: customer understanding and market research are at the heart of all CX actions and strategies. To do it right, companies need to let go of what they think their customers want and focus instead on actual data. But this is a story for a whole new chapter. Or maybe even two.
The 4 Milestones of CX
It’s a fact that online shops have to put their customers at the center of all their decisions and efforts, from development, to design and shipping. A good starting point for implementing customer-centric strategies is mapping out the essential touch points in which potential customers interact with your brand, basically your customer’s lifecycle.
These customer journey maps are based on your business model, your niche and at least, but not last, on the marketing mix you choose. After these are sorted out, customer experience touchpoints will eventually be broken out in smaller units along the consumer journey path, according to your customers’ specific behaviours, your business strategy and your website’s specs, but it’s important to start with the bigger picture.
For conversion to happen, consumers must check at least the first 3 of the 4 CX milestones: discovery, selection, purchase and post-purchase actions.
Providing a profitable customer experience begins before consumers even visit your eCommerce website. How and where do they learn about it?
Two types of factors define the discovery phase of customer experience: outbound and inbound.
Outbound factors determine the way your customers learn about your products outside your eCommerce website. We’re talking about SEO, social presence and online PR. They will help you raise awareness and visibility for your products so that customers discover them easier.
Catering to these off-site interactions means creating different touchpoints with your customers in places where they spend most of their time. Investing solid resources in SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing) social media and online PR will help you meet your potential customers in online places where they usually hang out. To get this started, it’s very important to tap into your customers’ social persona and behaviour.
Planning your social media strategy, considering what kind of content your (potential) customers enjoy and what type of approach works for your products and your target audience’s profile will enhance your online communication results and raise the likelihood of your products being found. It will also help you create up-to-date creative strategies for your promotions and find the best ways to advertise them.
If outbound discovery factors influence your customer's journey before they visit your eshop, inbound factors take this relationship to the next level, ensuring that visitors find what they came for, what you advertised, on your website.
Smart navigation, complex filtering and a seamless search system are mandatory in this phase. Easy navigation is really important for websites with a lot of categories, variable products or products with many options. Few things are as frustrating as a complicated, illogical menu and a difficult navigation process.
Bottomline: the sooner consumers find what they want, the quicker they will get to checkout.
A Matter of Choice
Product selection is that process in which customers weigh in on the decision to purchase a certain product or not.
What influences that decision? Lots of things, but these two elements are key to making a purchase happen or not: price and product information.
Price is the most important factor in conversion. Aside from competitive price strategies, companies must assure transparency and consistency in setting and communicating pricing information across all customer touch points and communication channels.
Next to knowing its price, customers will want to research the hell out of a product before actually buying it. I know I do. Always.
Product information is not just the listed product description or its specs. These three major types of content are mandatory and we see them accompanying all sorts of products sold over the internet:
product information (product description, videos, photos);
user generated content (ratings or/and reviews) is great for building trust and helps both acquisition and conversion;
comparative content does a great job in helping users understand differences between products in the same category or between different product categories.
Though they are post purchase details, making the following information visible or easily accessible during the product selection phase also influences consumer decisions: shipping, delivery information and/or costs, returnability, exchangeability, warranty.
It’s also a question of trust
The purchase step in the digital shopping journey has two main actions:
1. Add to Cart
First off, though I’m sure you already know this, to make the purchasing process as smooth as possible, your website should be accessible and compatible across all devices. Mobile First as an approach is no longer “a-nice-to-have”.
The “add to cart” button should be visible and accessible.
Next, consider creating the shortest route for adding a product to the cart. This also applies to the number of pages until checkout - keep these processes short and easy. Providing your customers with a status bar, showing them how many steps they still have to cover until the purchase process is complete is a common and useful practice to keep them in the loop. Just make sure it’s accurate.
Customers also need relevant and up-to-date information regarding payment and delivery. Being transparent in providing this type of info, but also reassuring customers regarding sensitive information and making them feel safe is crucial in this stage. Links to third party providers and a neat “Terms & Conditions” section will take you a long way.
The way your customers feel after they’ve purchased a product from you is the one feeling that makes the difference between a one time client and a returning one. Post-purchase experiences are important in loyalization.
Elements of post-purchase experience include but are not limited to:
online self service;
Personalised, targeted experiences are created through optimised, tailored communication via push notifications, transactional e-mails, newsletters and even via phone.
So, regardless of what elements will work for your post-purchase strategy, you should always make sure that your efforts are personalized. Make your customers feel like their problems and needs are handled by a human who understands and cares for the issue at hand.
Also, send well-timed responses. Don’t keep them waiting too long because your competition will for sure take advantage of this. Customers’ expectations have changed a lot. In one of their studies, McKinsey & Company discovered that 75% of online customers expect help within 5 minutes after asking for it.
I know it’s a cliche, but it’s also true: the post-purchase experience can be the beginning of a very beautiful friendship and you should treat it likewise.
Stay tuned for the next chapters of our customer experience series. In the next one we’ll discuss in detail the discovery phase of your customers’ lifecycle online and some best practices on how to create it.
Oh, and if you feel like there’s something to add or have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.