The retail industry sets the precedence for every other vertical on the Web, because it’s e-commerce sites where people learn how sites should work and what they should expect from other digital properties they visit.
In the same way, retailers’ competitor sites are doing the same; if one company offers A, B or C, basically, every other website should, too. When a site falls short of how shoppers expect it to look and function, they will quickly leave and likely never return. Let’s look at the elements, expectations, etc., that shoppers have today for companies selling products online, some behind-the-scenes requirements of retailers and additional advice from past Website Magazine articles.
There is perhaps no more important of an element on Web pages, regardless of industry, than that of how a company displays the actions that they wish visitors to take. Traditional calls-to-action (CTAs) “buttons” are what people expect to find, so brands would be wise to make these large, clickable and with contrast to the background they are on (despite the trend of ghost CTAs).
Believe it or not, shoppers care about the box that their items are delivered in. Not only do consumers feel good about their purchasing decisions when a retailer has gone the extra mile and ditched the brown box for something more “delightful” (think branded boxes, tissue paper, stickers, etc.), but they are also very willing to share pictures of their deliveries on social media when the packaging surprises them – in a good way.
One bad way that boxing can surprise shoppers is when the item of what they just purchased is on the outside of the box, which can ruin surprises particularly around the holidays. Toys “R” Us was wise this year to warn consumers when the item would come in the original packaging and may say what it is on the outside of the box – particularly useful as the retailer caters to gift-givers whose children may see the delivery.
Companies of all types are finding that content (whether it’s blogs, graphics, whitepapers, reviews, videos) help move consumers toward purchase. There is a direct correlation between content and commerce as shoppers want to find material themselves that answers their questions, helps them relate the product to them and other ways to self-help.
In 2017, retailers need to continue to invest in content but they would be wise to think about the content they have already created (especially if it was popular in the past) and repurpose it in smart ways so the resources that are required to create content that engages shoppers is less intensive to create.
What’s more, they’ll want to encourage shoppers to create content that retailers can share, as this content is more influential and cheaper to repurpose than create themselves. And, finally, if an e-commerce site, particularly those with complex or high-priced items (think: high-end cameras, sports equipment, etc.) haven’t considered hosting a community, this is the year to do so.
Providing a community website where brand enthusiasts can answer questions, create and post their own content (videos, blogs, reviews) and genuinely engage with one another, is a retail win.
There isn’t a retailer alive who doesn’t know how important delivery is to the customer experience, from start to finish. E-commerce sites need to display shipping costs early in transaction and meet the promises made on the site.
What's more, they should understand shipping costs trends, like a person willing to add more items to their order to meet free-shipping minimums, or pay for quicker shipping or wait longer for free shipping (explore articles below to read about these trends in more depth).
Despite the high number of promotional emails that consumers receive every day, the marketing channel still contributes to retail sales - often very quickly after the fact, too.
Merchants need to continue to heavily analyze and optimize their email marketing because even though people are bulk deleting their emails daily, they do keep companies top of mind and consumers are more than willing to click through and act if they are personalized to them, work on their device, are consistent after the click and follow other best practices.
Whether it's a specific product they are looking for a category or they are simply browsing for something they didn't know they wanted, the ability to filter and search on an e-commerce site is extremely important for product findability.
The Internet affords many opportunities, including the chance to buy across borders to get access to more products at different prices.
In fact, a new Pitney Bowes survey finds the majority of global consumers shop cross-border, but that presents challenges for retailers to accept the payments people are used to using, to ship items globally, to translate websites into a person's native language and the list goes on. Check out articles below for further guidance.
Self-service is a growing trend. People want to help themselves and if they can't that's a signal that there was an issue within the customer experience. Retailers should consider their site like a helpful sales person where they are there if they need them but not if they don't.
Things like live chat can be helpful to a person who can't find the answer to their question, or a retailer proactively serving a promotional code to a person whose attempt at entering one failed, can be just what a person needs to convert. Other helpful elements are discussed in more details in the list below.
People don't know if they want something if they can't see it. Images play a pivotal role in conversions and the more high-quality images a shopper has to peruse, the better.
Real-life images of items as well as 360-degree views of products will help undoubtedly help a retailer's bottom line and make consumers feel good about their decisions. Even factors like white backgrounds on images can help. In fact, 75 percent of shoppers surveyed would rather view product images with plain backgrounds or items in use than user-generated photos.
Every year, there are major cyberattacks that put consumers' personal information at risk. Not only is there a hit to the retailer's reputation when they are the victim of such an attack, but they must also fix the issue, which is costly.
A single cybersecurity incident costs large businesses, on average, a total of $861,000 while SMBs pay an average of $86,5000. Retailers need to invest heavily in their security protocols and also consider just how weary a shopper is when going to a site and entering their payment and personal information, especially for companies that are not well-known or it is their first time doing business with them.
Trust symbols help provide justification to a person that doing business with this site will not harm them in anyway. In the same thought, PayPal has proven time and again to aid in conversions as people trust the company to securely handle their information and are comfortable they can easily dispute any transaction that may not have been managed well by the retailer itself.
Product descriptions have the potential to not only be a deciding factor in whether a shopper will buy or not, but also how both on-site search and search engines serve up relevant items for people's queries.
Retailers should approach product descriptions with questions like who will use this, how will they use it and why will they use it? Answering those fundamental questions can help create product descriptions that convert.
Creating 1:1 shopping experiences is awesome, but many retailers don't have access to the data, the man power and the system that can identify, create and serve (respectively) the unique content that is required to provide those experiences.
Knowing a shopper's location, however, is a more fundamental datapoint that a lot of Web content management or optimization systems provide and rules can be set to serve content to a person based on their location. Suddenly that person's experience is a whole lot more relevant as a person in the midwest in December can shop for what they need easily versus a person in Southern California or Florida who may not have the same needs.
As a retailer's technology stack (more on that later) gets more advanced, they should seriously consider adding a translation solution into the mix as shoppers want to shop in the language that is native to them so location becomes an even more important element in providing an awesome customer experience for each person.
It's a repetitive story that people are accessing e-commerce sites on their mobile devices and that conversion rates on those devices still lag that of desktop. Both consumers are punishing websites that are not optimized for their device and Google is too, so make sure that thinking about and planning for the customer journey across the many devices they use is a priority in 2017.
It's not enough to just have an optimized site, but retailers also need to remember their visitors as they jump from device to device and the functionality that customers expect on each visit.
Navigating any website is critical to finding the information a person needs, but navigation becomes more complex on retail sites where there are often dozens of categories to present to shoppers. The use of breadcrumbs (where a "trail" of navigation actions that a person just performed is left for the shopper so he or she can easily go back to where they were) is a navigational element to consider.
How a person will navigate on mobile devices is of utmost importance as the majority of people browse commerce sites on their phones.
A retailer is in luck if they start to consider how they can optimize their site for better conversion because there is a host of resources (some of which are included below) and tools that can be leveraged to truly change how a person interacts on a website based on tweaks that can be made because of analytics that have been sliced and diced or tests that have been deployed.
The foundation of an e-commerce website is the platform they choose to use to run their shop. There are some incredible choices, which should be explored at this time of the year if a retailer is unhappy with how their holiday season is going.
The following article suggestions will help them get closer to making a decision about their e-commerce platform.
Shoppers have questions and how they are able to get them answered, how quickly and by whom they are answered, makes all the difference before, during and after the sale. Whether it's question-and-answer technology, live chat, a community website, a knowledge base, a call center, an email service desk or customer queries on social media, brands must actively prepare for questions on every channel.
Ecommerce sites not only need to address shipping costs early in the shopping journey but also return policies as not establishing their return policies could lead to costly chargebacks.
Social media for retailers is way past simply including social share buttons on a website or posting a promotion every now and again. Social media not only contributes to website traffic and search rankings but also referrals and direct conversions on the networks themselves.
The technology available to support retailers is mind-blowing, from the ability to easily allow shoppers to make installment payments on their purchases to personalizing their experience by understanding the context of their visit.
Whatever the technology one chooses, it should be a priority to keep up with the trends of the industry and learn about the software that supports them.
User-generated content is the most trusted form of content there is, as consumers trust their peers more so than anything a brand can say. Companies are collecting and leveraging UGC in some creative ways (social campaigns, advertisements, contests, etc.) and doing something similar should be in retailers' plans for the new year.
Videos can compel shoppers to take action in multiple ways including demonstrating how a product works, providing commentary that otherwise may not have worked in a written format or showing off a brand personality in an engaging way.
Videos can also be created by users themselves, and brands can encourage UGC videos by having unique product packaging (unboxing videos are huge as of now), hosting a contest or having an active presence on channels like YouTube.
What's more, Live videos are becoming very popular, so retailers will want to strategize how they can creatively tap into the demand for real-time content via video.
Even as late as this holiday season, retailers are still struggling to meet the hosting demands during high-traffic periods. Don't let that be you, as the ramifications are huge when it comes to the revenue that could have been earned during downtime.
There is no way around it, some (err..most) shoppers will leave a website without buying anything. As they are about to leave, however, retailers can incentivize them to stay if their mouse is making its way to the dreaded "x" button. Exit-intent offers are a way of making one more case for a person to reconsider leaving.
Shoppers expect retailers to remind them of items left in their shopping cart. In fact, research from Bronto Software even indicates that people purposefully abandon their shopping carts now in order to be incentivized to complete their purchases.
While the act of "zooming" in on a product image isn't all that complicated, the functionality is a must for retail product images. Consumers expect to be able to manipulate an image to their liking in order to focus on what they may have questions about.
What's more, "zoom" speaks more to a person's desire to look closer at what they are interested in purchasing. Retailers should offer multiple ways to view a product and zoom is the most basic of capabilities.