The amount of creativity and ingenuity some eCommerce store owners have used is astonishing.
This creativity, however, is short lived. Shoppers quickly pick up on things they like and then start to demand it from every digital shopping experience. The savvy eCommerce merchant is capable of building a robust user experience using industry leading practices while making sure to optimize it for their specific niche industry.
Shopper preferences are largely fueled by five major preferences, and eCommerce sites that are able to build their features out to cater to these preferences are ultimately more successful. The preferences include:
Instant Gratification: With so many different options, customers want what they want, and they want it now. Sites that load slowly or have clunky checkout processes will ultimately lose their shoppers to a site that provides a more immediate experience.
Transparency: Surprise your customers by going the extra mile to provide value, and they will love you. Surprise them with extra fees and inconveniences, and they will leave you.
Personalization and Curation: Shoppers want the stores they do business with to “get them.” Merchants that are able to create a personalized and curated user experience will not only make more sales but convert shoppers into life-long fans.
Non-Intrusive Human Element: Shoppers have been shown to be reminiscent of an in-store experience, where a human being is constantly available to answer questions and support. Merchants need to provide a degree of autonomy and support whenever needed.
Frictionless Experience: A secondary component to the Instant Gratification trend is the desire to have as frictionless of an experience as possible. This is why subscription-based services and one-click shopping have become so popular.
Merchants that are able to follow these five preferences will put themselves in a much better position to innovate further, as well as create a phenomenal customer experience for their shoppers. This guide is designed to prepare you with 10 features which eCommerce stores must have to stay relevant and continue to deliver a high-quality user experience to their shoppers.
The Good Side of Innovation
Through all this experimentation and risk-taking, several features rise to the top and slowly start to become standards for what consumers expect from an eCommerce site. Innovation is a double-edged sword that can skyrocket business to new heights while also stifling other businesses that fail to adapt to the new standard of operation.
Perhaps the best and still highly relevant example is that of Amazon. Starting out as a humble online platform that sold books, Amazon was scoffed at by traditional brick and mortar retailers.
Today, Amazon is an eCommerce giant making over 100 billion dollars in sales every year. It’s important to note that Amazon is still innovating and smothering its competition in the eCommerce space today.
Each update Amazon pushes is backed by massive amounts of data and A/B testing. Since it has millions of shoppers, even the most minor steps in the way of convenience greatly raise the bar for what consumers expect from an online shopping experience. This, in turn, creates gigantic hurdles for other eCommerce sites.
Thankfully, the double sided sword of innovation is at work again. Savvy eCommerce stores are able to keep up by constantly benchmarking their store to industry leading trends. These stores can even beat out the competition by standing on the shoulders of giants and utilizing macro and micro trends to innovate within their niche industry.
A Mobile-Friendly Website
Mobile devices have become a ubiquitous part of the digital experience, and eCommerce sites that are not optimized for mobile are severely behind.
The necessity to have a mobile-friendly experience ranges back a few years, and shoppers view eCommerce sites with poor mobile experiences as inconvenient relics.
In the last 6 month period, 62% of smartphone users purchased something online. (This means 77.5 million purchases made from a mobile device!)
One out of every three online purchases is done on a smartphone.
Online shopping has gotten to the point that sites which aren’t providing a good mobile experience will actually perform worse in search engines, as Google has been prioritizing mobile to a great degree. All websites that don’t have a mobile-friendly version by 2017 will likely see a drop in search engine results pages.
Mobile friendly sites are responsive in the sense that the site content automatically scales and adapts to whatever screen size is being viewed to access it. Many eCommerce themes that run on platforms such as Shopify are automatically mobile-responsive but, if you are using a custom-built template, make sure it is working flawlessly on smartphones and tablets.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Buyer confidence and focus are very fickle things.
Every second your shoppers spend questioning or looking for an answer to a question erodes their confidence and chips away at their focus. A Frequently Asked Questions page is a great way to provide your shoppers with the answers they are looking for and keeps their eye on the prize.
The best way to put together a Frequently Asked Questions page is to compile all the questions your shoppers actively ask and try to come up with questions that would help them make a better-informed decision. This helps to establish credibility and build confidence with your buyers.
Your FAQ page is also an opportunity to add a human element back into the shopping experience. Even though the primary purpose of the page is to deliver information, you can still have fun with it and be expressive of your brand’s voice. This lets shoppers see there is another human being behind the store, and that could play a substantial role in whether they choose to continue to do business with you.
A Frequently Asked Questions page not only helps your shoppers find answers to their questions and shop with more confidence, it also eliminates a lot of the customer support work on the back-end. All the time you save that would have otherwise been spent fielding phone calls and emails to simple questions could be spent on improving the customer experience overall.
Additionally, put the most frequently asked product-specific questions on your product pages to help increase your conversion rate.
If there’s one thing that creates apprehension for online shoppers, it’s security.
With billion-dollar corporations such as Yahoo getting hacked and leaking millions of users’ sensitive information, who can blame customers for feeling wary of the slightest sign of a lack of security?
All it takes is a single outdated security certificate to make a shopper completely abandon a site and take their business somewhere else like Amazon or eBay.
Your site’s security is a mandatory feature, not only to ease consumer anxieties but also to protect your business from becoming an easy target for cybercriminals. Having a secure cyber platform is the standard for eCommerce, and this is why many merchants opt for eCommerce platforms such as Shopify, Magento, and WordPress +WooCommerce, as the security on these platforms comes standard.
Additional measures for eCommerce security include:
SSL certificates: The new standard for online security is the HTTPS protocol, which shows up with a green lock in the address bar. This is something you can hash out with your webmaster or hosting provider.
Firewall: This is essentially a wall that prevents malicious traffic from entering and allows authorized traffic in.
Two-factor authentication: This is an extra blanket of security that pairs a username and password log-in with a code sent to your email or phone for confirmation.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, and these security precautions will positively impact how your shoppers interact with your site.
There are few ways that can establish credibility in the eyes of shoppers in addition to user-generated reviews. Roughly 92% of shoppers read reviews before making a purchase, and a review is the number-one factor shoppers use to judge a product and business.
It’s very important that your user reviews are organic and real. Shoppers tend to be suspicious of product reviews that are overly positive and seem disingenuous, and many merchants pin themselves into this hole by buying fake reviews and deleting negative ones. It’s perfectly okay to have a few negative reviews and, if your review functionality has the ability to respond and show an initiative to try to redeem a positive experience, users will look at that positively.
Additionally, 44% of shoppers say reviews must be written within a month to be relevant. This is why eCommerce sites will go as far as to email shoppers to leave a review reflective of their experience.
Depending on what type of eCommerce website you are using, you can use plugins from popular review platforms such as Facebook and Yelp. There are also many plugins available that create a rating system native to your page.
Recommended Related Items
One of the biggest trends in eCommerce is the consumer desire for a personalized and curated shopping experience. Online retail giants such as Amazon have executed this very well by offering a list of items of “Shoppers also bought” or “shoppers also viewed” to help shoppers find complementary or substitutable products.
This functionality also helps to boost average order sizes, as well as establish a pleasant shopping experience that will keep your shoppers scrolling through your product pages and coming back for more.
For example, let’s say your site specializes in tea and tea accessories. Someone saves a Matcha Tea Set in their cart. A section pops up that says “you might also like,” containing a variety of Japanese Matcha tea powders.
Recommended Related Items not only help eCommerce merchants sell more, this lets the buyer know that you understand their needs and want to create a good shopping experience for them.
It’s important to understand what fuels your shoppers’ desires and how you can make the connection between products for them. Savvy merchants constantly study their product affinity and use this key performance indicator to see which products are frequently purchased together.
As your site gets more shoppers and more data about their preferences, you will be able to further curate a better experience. Additional technological trends such as artificial intelligence and machine learning will eventually get the related product process down to a perfect science, but, for the present time, you should develop a functional understanding of how to curate and serve.
High-Quality Photos and Videos
Humans are visual creatures.
Shoppers want to see more than a stock photo image and bullet points.
Merchants that put in the extra effort to create high-quality photos and videos throughout their site and product pages show an attention to detail that ultimately wins over customers. High-quality photos and videos not only appeal to people’s visual desires, they also help to showcase a brand’s personality and product features in an engaging manner.
Additionally, creating custom high-quality pictures and videos of your products will help your images to stand out in shopping platforms such as Google Shopping. Chances are there are dozens of readily available substitutes to your product, and a shopper’s decision usually comes down to which image inspires the most positive feeling.
This also gives you an opportunity to be creative and stand out where it matters most: on your product pages. For example, Bellroy, a wallet company focused on creating slim and portable wallets, showcases their value proposition in an interactive and high-detail way.
Shoppers are able to toggle the bar to visualize how a traditional wallet compares to a Bellroy wallet.
Be sure to consider the image file sizes, as images that take too long to load can do more harm than good. If an image or page takes too long to load, 39% of consumers are likely to quit the site altogether.
Make the investment in a high-quality camera or photographer to come up with some beautiful product photos. You will not only see an improvement in your conversion rates, you will also be able to use those photographs in social media promotions in high-gloss platforms such as Pinterest.
Clear and Advertised Shipping Information
A mistake many merchants make is not making their shipping information clear enough in the process. There are usually two situations that cause shopping cart abandonment or leave sales on the table:
Shoppers place an item into their cart and enter checkout, only to be surprised by a shipping price they hadn’t taken into consideration. Any piece of additional information that forces more thinking can exhaust shoppers, and all it takes is for a minor additional charge to make shoppers save the transaction for later (and potentially forget about it) or abandon the checkout altogether. A lack of shipping information transparency is a silly reason to lose customers.
Merchants offer free shipping but don’t advertise it well enough. Free shipping plays a major role in increasing conversion rates, and merchants that don’t highlight this critical advantage are potentially leaving a ton of sales on the table. Shoppers also tend to spend 30% more per order if free shipping is available.
If shipping costs make the total purchase more than expected, 56% of online shoppers will abandon their shopping carts.
If their order value isn’t large enough to qualify for free shipping, 45% of online shoppers won’t complete their purchase.
34% of shoppers felt that shipping and handling costs were listed too late in the checkout process.
Whether you plan to offer free shipping or not, advertising your shipping information will help you out in the long run by decreasing cart abandonment. Offering free shipping can be profitable, but only if you are able to establish your baseline and adjust your thresholds accordingly while also advertising your free shipping at every relevant location on your site and content, including your page banners, social media content, and product pages.
Another major trend that has driven eCommerce is the desire for a frictionless experience. This is why eCommerce stores that offer one-click purchases and subscription based services have been able to do extremely well.
Companies such as Amazon and eBay spend millions of dollars trying to refine their checkout process and remove as many steps as possible, and they have made user accounts a standard for the busy shopper.
Logically, user accounts make sense for many reasons:
Streamlined checkout: Shoppers will be able to return in the future and complete their purchases with ease, without having to re-enter all their information.
Personalization: User accounts also give merchants the ability to better customize the shopping experience for each shopper.
Email collection: Since shoppers are entering their email information, merchants can easily create a touchpoint for future communication by allowing shoppers to subscribe at the check of a box. This will allow merchants to send shipping information, future information, and relevant pieces of content that add value to the shopper’s life.
Loyalty programs: Many eCommerce sites offer loyalty programs for their shoppers because it creates a beautiful synergy between both parties. Shoppers are able to enjoy a better experience and discounts made possible by the money merchants save that would have otherwise been spent on marketing efforts to acquire new customers. A Harvard Business School study found that a 5% in customer retention rates can increase profits by 25% to 95%.
The user account feature is perhaps one of the most useful ways to build retention into your site and build a community around your brand. To use user accounts to their maximum potential, be sure to:
Establish expectations for your shoppers. Will you be emailing them? How often? What types of emails should they expect?
Communicate the value of having a user account. Be sure to let your shoppers know that by having a user account with your site, they will be able to enjoy all the above benefits. Many merchants even offer a discount on their current order if they make a user account.
Social Media Links for Social Proof
By providing social media links and creating a bridge between your social media platforms and your site, you are able to showcase a living, breathing community of other humans who purchased your products.
This social proof gives your shoppers a sense of community and social validation that your products and services are worth spending money on. Along with user-generated reviews, social media links allow merchants to build credibility to their site.
Additionally, diversifying your audience across multiple social media platforms also helps you to retain and communicate with your audience better. You can turn your site into a powerful vehicle to help your social media marketing efforts become much more effective. Having social media links on your product pages not only eases whatever shopping anxieties your shoppers may have, but it also gives satisfied shoppers the opportunity to share your products on social media. This means your product pages will not only get more viewers and potentially more sales, but the boost in traffic could also render a jump in search engine results pages.
Pinterest, for example, is proven to be an extremely powerful way for eCommerce store owners to appeal to a social community of shoppers. If a Pinterest-using visitor finds your product aesthetically appealing or neat, and they click a “Pin” button, they essentially spotlight your product to their network of potentially hundreds or thousands of followers. This “Pin” is pretty much free influencer outreach and could lead to hundreds of new visitors or sales on your product page. This is why it is extremely important to invest in high-quality images that are worth sharing.
The rise of eCommerce online chats and chatbots has come about largely due to the desire to better cater to shoppers. Online chats help to add a human element to the digital shopping experience and can recreate the experience of having employees in a physical store.
Online chats are essentially an omnipresent FAQ section, waiting to help customers with whatever they need. Customers love the mere thought that there is another human being at the other end of the conversation willing to help answer any questions, but also create value in new ways such as offering opinions on specific case-by-case situations.
Be sure to cater to the trends of instant gratification, transparency, personalization and curation, offering a non-intrusive human element, and a frictionless experience, and you will turn your visitors into regular shoppers.
Successful eCommerce execution is finding a perfect balance between effectively operating the day to day activities of your store, a ruthless analytical observation of your data to find actionable ways to improve your site, and experimenting with new ways to add value to your business.
When experimenting with new features, it’s important to A/B test to find exactly what works for your specific audiences. By having the above 10 foundational features, you will put yourself in an excellent position to catch the next wave of customer preferences to create an even better customer experience.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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