COVID Opportunities - Enhancing your eCommerce experience

COVID-19's impact on e-Commerce has created challenges to online selling & service no one imagined earlier this year, and it has already changed the retailing space. Mobile devices have proven to be the most popular device for online shopping by a wide margin. More intensity and energy is being put into improving customer experiences online. Stay-at-home orders are already being lifted state by state and country by country, but meanwhile, millions of consumers are building, then reinforcing new online buying habits and behaviors. In many homes, online Apparel, Grocery, and Entertainment shopping have replaced old store and mall visit routines and patterns that certain online sellers had found hard to shake up, until now. Users are more motivated than ever to stay in place and shop online, creating the perfect market conditions to fast-track, test, then launch new experience-driven sites, mobile apps, and touchpoints across their platform.

Shift to online and digital purchasing is essentially a shift to value for money. Grocery, too, has made a strong entry into eCommerce. Utilitarian motivations took center stage in the early weeks of the pandemic, and as consumers tried to find any semblance of control in unprecedented times, necessities like toilet paper flew off the shelves. While Grocery wasn't previously a player in the eCommerce space, sales have made a jump in late February. There was a downswing for Luxury and a significant drop in Apparel as well at the same time. Discretionary spending has slowly returned, with a focus on the home. As time has progressed, anxieties have settled somewhat, sparking a somewhat bounce-back of discretionary spending. Also, based on the steady increase of Home Furnishings & DIY starting in, consumers' big priority seems to be items to make their daily lives at home more comfortable and enjoyable. Shopping has mostly moved online even after things have come back to mostly normal. Than online sales, online traffic has a far more straightforward story to tell. Consumers have adapted to the situation and gone digital and stuck with it long enough to form new habits.

Every list you'll see talking about creating the best digital experience for your brand will encompass basically just the below two points:

Eliminating friction is key.
Customers should no longer have to trade experience for security. Just as the latest approaches to personalizing offers, web content, pricing, and promotions adapt to each users' buying history and unique preferences, security and account control must do the same. Customizing security for each online user eliminates the friction of making your most loyal, VIP-level users go through the same authentication levels as a new user. There needs to be an adaptive approach, rather than a one-size-fits-all account verification, to manage friction users' experience. Expanding the dataset used for personalizing and defining adaptive friction approaches by the customer in real-time is the best place to start. Knowing the user type, IP risk, device specifics, custom data, geolocation, and more can be taken together to set in place a micro segmentation-based method. A more innovative approach to solving this challenge uses Machine Learning and AI algorithms to customize each e-commerce users' experience, reducing friction by identifying then segmenting users based on common characteristics. Ecommerce businesses can give their users an appropriate login response, such as step-up authentication, instead of instantly blocking their access.

Customer experience is a differentiator.
"Experience" has turned into a word that can mean so many things that it begins to feel wishy-washy and vague. So what do we really mean by "experience" in the context of eCommerce? By experience, we mean an ongoing as opposed to a one-off event, encompassing far more than merely a conversion. A complete experience will include ways to draw the user into engaging with the brand or multiple sensory inputs. The focus then is on the user journey rather than only a transaction. There are many ways to enrich the digital experience for your users. That can be overwhelming, admittedly, so begin by walking in this path before you can run. Understand that more people shopping online means more potential demand, but it also means more competition. Brands that were already focused on eCommerce have begun to notice new merchants pop up on their competitive scanner. As we move into a more digital-first world, you will have to work harder to give users a compelling, rich shopping experience that keeps them coming back for more and holds their attention. Large aggregators like Amazon will be poised to take a bigger chunk of the eCommerce pie. So start thinking about how to go beyond the table stakes of digital commerce to differentiate with highly personalized, curated experiences that connect with users emotionally. But make sure your basics like great search, clear communication, and frictionless checkout are solid. The more experiential bits you can add to your digital properties, the more you'll attract new shoppers. These steps will have more tangible benefits, like increasing customer loyalty and conversion rates.

Now we'll get into more concrete ways of building that customer experience.

Competitor analysis
Take a critical look at your competitors' websites and apps. How are they positioning their products? How are they bringing their brand experience to their users'? What tactics and tools are they making use of to drive retention rates and conversions? Don't copy your competitors, but you do need to be offering a comparable experience in both function and form first before you can think of ways to enhance it.

Mobile-first
Mobile eCommerce traffic will continue to rise, and now the prevalence of various payment options has made it easier than ever to finish the users' journey using a smartphone. Take the time to dig into the purchase experience on mobile, then identify all friction points you can work on eliminating.

Assess the current state of your website.
You should take care of the necessary decluttering and repairs before you start to redecorate. Ensure that all your technology is still providing value and updated, and before it becomes a security concern, get rid of it. Then start to consider how you can improve your digital property to build a compelling and rich shopping experience.

Speed of Site
Remember "buffering"? Back in the day, we were far more patient with that word while streaming media. Slow page load speeds on your mobile app or website will annoy a potential customer right out of the digital door. They also have a lasting negative impact on your SEO as well.

Optimizing for conversions
A CRO audit will let you drill down the moments that make or break the conversions across your eCommerce website. You can conduct this conversion rate optimization audit as long as your website has been running long enough to have a decent amount of traffic. While you're at this, take a good look at your analytics for your website for the last few months or even a year. What are your takeaways and learnings from the data along your customers' journey, be it bounce rate or abandoned carts that you can use to better the user experience?

Categorization
The way your products are presented and categorized in the main navigation on your homepage will impact your users' experience, perceptions, and ability to find what they need and want. You want to keep categories without "over-categorization" but specific enough that they have meaning for best usability.

Calls to action
A CTA should incite user action with a clear intention about what's in it for the user, which aligns with their personal motivations to shop. Emphasize value and action verbs to communicate what to do and why. Design tends to play a crucial role in CTAs. Leave some white space around the border and ensure the button size is proportional to the rest of the text. You want the CTA button to stand out. Through A/B testing, you can optimize your call to action further. For instance, if you have been using rectangular CTAs, consider testing against a version with rounded edges. Or maybe compare data when you use "Get Yours Today!" vs. "Buy Now!" But test a single change at a time, so you know how each change affects the data about performance.

Testimonials
Having testimonials to show can prove to be a critical factor in your conversions, as users have shown a positive response to social proof. Showcasing real customers' experiences highly impacts a users' purchasing decisions. Ecommerce's hardest challenge is selling a tactile product to someone sight unseen, so this makes sense. Product reviews and testimonials serve as a way to provide proof that the product does and is what it claims to be.

Build a solid SEO strategy.
SEO is a process, not a task. And it's never too early or late to start. There's always room to better this important area even if you have strong SEO performance. While at first, SEO may seem like an unlikely way to better your users' digital experience, it tends to play a large role in things such as the speed of your site, your customers' ability to find the products they need quickly, either through search or relevant categorization and even their ability to find your website. Technical SEO is the task of ensuring your site is optimized for indexing and crawling. It's crucial to the findability, functionality, usability, and findability of your site. On-page SEO, on the other hand, refers to increasing the ranking of individual pages on your website on search engine results pages (SERPs) by optimizing them. This can be optimization within the HTML code or front-end optimization. Off-page refers to off-page signals like links, and in that way, it differs from off-page SEO. Now with local SEO, if you sell products specific to a particular geographic region or have a brick-and-mortar business, you'll be looking to optimize your SEO for local search. This helps customers who are looking for things "near me" to find your business. You get two types of results when you conduct a local online search, as you've probably seen in your own Google searches. The Google Snack Pack is the group of results on top. Claim then optimize your Google My Business listing first, as Google will use this info to feed responses to local searches. Also, make sure your site works well and looks good on mobile devices, as just-in-time searches for physical locations are mostly conducted on the go.

The checkout process
With the checkout process, the challenge is that it has to walk a tightrope between not asking for so much that the user abandons their cart after getting frustrated and gaining enough info from the user to finish the transaction. If you have a too long or complicated checkout process, it will lead to shoppers abandoning the cart.

Establish a backlink strategy
Backlinks are links on other websites that lead back to your website. For example, when you contribute an article to a media site and link to your company's homepage in your author bio, that becomes a backlink. Or when a blogger mentions your product or service on their website with a link to the product page on your website. Backlinks help legitimize your site, allowing Google to understand that it's valuable content. That's what gives it "domain authority." Now not all backlinks are created equally. Backlinks coming from other trusted, reputable sites, ones with high domain authority, are the ones that will mean the most to your ranking. Also, make sure your backlinks are relevant. Google will put less account on backlinks to your eCommerce site from, say, a decorating magazine than they would a home good review website.

Build a variety of content
Providing value-add content without or with only a touch of a sales pitch in order to build community, authority, and trust is the primary goal of content marketing. An excellent way of engaging your customers while they're on your site is with good content. Good, engaging content keeps users on-site longer and increases the likelihood of them returning. Varying your content types from text to visual or multimedia will help keep it interesting and fresh and make the experience on your eCommerce site more interactive and dynamic. You can make the use of blogs to improve shoppers' digital experience by providing an engaging way to learn about your products and brand. Use that SEO strategy to develop a holistic content plan. Answering your shoppers' questions about your product, your policies, or who you are as a brand and entertaining them are all some of the functions of blog content. Videos can highlight your products in an engaging way by making users feel like active participants and communicate your brand story. Narrative-driven videos could elicit deeper brand affinity in your users by using stories to spark engagement and influence emotion. On the other hand, product-driven videos through movement (obviously) and context provide a more immersive way to learn about products.

Integrate social media.
To deliver a strategic multi-channel experience, you must have a presence on the right social media platforms to give you the opportunity. With the same community feeling, messaging, and branding across sites, you'll want the experience to be integrated. To reinforce the brand, engaging with your users as much as possible, and augmenting your social media with Messenger Chat to answer user questions, on-platform is recommended. Through Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Messenger, or Checkout on Instagram, certain platforms are even making in-app purchases possible. Before you dive into something that might not be right for your business, learn more about the demographic they serve.

User-generated content
Content created by your users can take you a long way. It provides social proof, it builds a community affinity, and it's more authentic. This all leads to rising shoppers' purchase intent. To create demand, build brand awareness, and showcase brand loyalty, you can use UGC, which then inspires others to share theirs as well. This helps solidify a relationship between your most loyal customers and you. To nudge shoppers into conversion, augmenting your website with some user-generated content can help as reading digital content from other people who also like the product can be reassuring.

Personalize
Most have come to expect a personalized experience. And it makes users more likely to come back. One way of creating personalized customer touchpoints and answering user questions in a useful and engaging way is through a quiz on your page. An interactive quiz lets consumers understand their unique needs and guides them in the correct direction for the right products for them. With up-selling, personalizing eCommerce pages usually help. By displaying more recommendations based on products you've purchased or viewed before, some eCommerce websites personalize product pages. Others give recommendations for products that are complementary to the one featured on the page. Personalization in email marketing refers to many different things. It starts with including your user's actual name in the greeting or subject line on the ground level. To optimize getting the correct offers to the correct people, you could also experiment with customer segmentation. And based on their interactions with the site, you can also trigger emails to shoppers. There are some really interesting things you can do with Ads, even though they might not seem like the most obvious things to personalize. Have you ever landed on a website that looks like it was talking to you directly? It helps with the recall of the brand. And especially if they abandoned a transaction, retargeting is another way to target those shoppers. When an ad is built in HTML5, it's not just an image, and that means it can be interactive and animated. That means, in addition to the one that had the most time spent on the page, the shopper sees a no. of different products. This will be the correct amount of targeting for some, a reminder of what else is available, what they were looking at, and a way to stalk them across the web with more than just one product.

Stay true to your brand's identity.
It's crucial that no matter what you pursue, it has to align with your brand identity. It's common for brands to get distracted and embrace shiny and new objects. Think of your vision, mission, brand personality, values, voice, and positioning. Consumers, at worst, will be confused if your digital experience doesn't align with your identity; at best, you're mostly not deepening their connection.

Keep your focus on customers' experience.
Remember that just because you can doesn't mean you should, as you set out to improve your customers' digital experience. With your customers in mind, evaluate every opportunity. Think of who your audience is, what they want, and what they need to know. Is this something that will enhance your users' lives? Your particular business might be doing well on Twitter, but Instagram is probably a better option if you're an apparel company.

Focus on what resonates.
You're wasting time and money if something doesn't resonate with your consumers. Your users' are still going to be frustrated throughout the purchase process if you're adding videos to product pages, but what they really want is a streamlined checkout. Focus your efforts on where they will have the most value for your user.

Ask for feedback.
Social media platforms and Analytics can tell you a lot about the interactions on your site, but don't push qualitative feedback to the backseat. Experiences are interactive. Ask your users' what they think. Get a sense of what they love about your brand. Run surveys and ask them if there's any friction you need to address. Your site experience can improve their brand loyalty.

Conclusion

More shoppers are buying online than ever right now. Even after stores re-open completely, how much of that spending will stay online remains to be seen. But due to fear of future outbreaks, the return to brick-and-mortars may still be slow. Whenever consumers' preference for eCommerce increases even more or in-store shopping comes back, building a compelling digital experience now means you'll be prepared. You can build community loyalty and differentiate yourself from the highly competitive eCommerce market by giving shoppers a holistic experience. Building a highly personalized digital experience on your eCommerce site may seem daunting at first, but it doesn't have to happen in a week. Keep a close watch on your analytics as you make incremental improvements to see what's working and what isn't, then adjust accordingly. Consider the steps in this blog when you start and remember that getting to a great digital experience is a journey.

Many retailers are choosing to remove the friction that stands in the way of turning occasional customers into loyal ones. Most are starting with protecting accounts from takeover control and securing online identities. Ecommerce sales may stabilize at a lower growth rate than they are today in the future. But the behavioral changes are already in place to change commerce and the retailing landscape overall for years to come.

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