Posted by Iman Sadreddin, Director of Ecommerce Development, NetSuite
Maintaining a fresh, innovative, and engaging ecommerce presence is not just an annual project—it's a daily challenge.
With that in mind, here are some resolutions forward-thinking businesses should undertake to keep their ecommerce operations competitive.
- A mobile-enabled shopping experience: For years, many merchants have skated by with stripped-down mobile sites and an unsatisfying “View Full Site” escape hatch for advanced tasks. This must end in 2014. Mobile buyers won't tolerate a dumbed-down experience any longer. It’s time to offer the mobile shopper the complete customer experience, from wish list management to returns.
- Product reviews: If you don’t have product reviews already, you are very late, but this is the year to overcome your resistance. To build a reputation as a retailer dedicated to providing customer value curating outside reviews as well as offering buyers a chance to sound off on their purchases is vitally important. Consumers are much more willing to purchase your products when accompanied by product reviews. For example, The Company Store demonstrates clean, attractive and easy-to-browse reviews, complete with peer ratings of user reviews.
- Expert commentary and videos: Bringing the commentary of a known expert to your product pages can both bolster a shopper's confidence in their purchase and raise the store profile. High-resolution video is also a great way to attract shoppers seeking product information. Videos of everything from unboxing to making the most of a new product can help customer envision owning your product.
- Faceted, typo-sensitive search: Modern search boxes need more power and flexibility. Faceted search brings more detail to the process, which in turn makes it easier for customers to identify the products they want. Effective faceted search demands cataloguing the product attributes most important to your customers. These may not necessarily be features of the product itself, but metadata surrounding it. For example, a powerful faceted search task would be “lawnmowers with an average rating of four out of five stars.” Meanwhile, make sure the search parser is forgiving of typos and selects the closest, most likely match rather than returning zero results.
- Curated bundles and collections: As choice continues to expand, the importance of providing appealing bundles and collections continues to grow. Powerful search should be paired with competent, customer-friendly merchandising. Skilled merchandisers are still the customer's ally, as many shoppers want to know about what's new, hot, and different—not about every single product in the warehouse.
- Omnichannel visibility: No longer is ecommerce just about stock on hand in the “web inventory.” Customers demand real-time visibility into inventory levels online as well as in-store. They want to know how many units you have and the quickest way to obtain them. They want in-stock alerts for out-of-stock items (again, both online and in-store). In short, if you have the product anywhere at all, your customers want to know about it so they can make friction-free purchases through any channel.
- Enhanced image zoom: Many merchants still rely on pop-ups despite the fact that blocking pop-up windows has been standard practice for savvy shoppers for decades. The North Face is a good example of strong execution on this front, with clean, high-resolution full-screen zoom which does not jar the viewer out of the shopping experience and keeps a large “Add to Cart” button in the zoomed image view.
- Product Comparisons: Whether you sell shoes or mutual funds, customers want to conduct comparisons and “bake-offs.” A few manufacturer-supplied competitive tables are not enough. Shoppers need to be able compare the features, specifications, costs, benefits and reviews on every category of merchandise, side by side. Letting them build these comparisons keeps them engaged with your store, rather than risking losing them to a site with better competitive intelligence. It’s also a great way to up-sell by showing advantages of products over one another.
- Single sign-on and guest transactions: Requiring customers to create accounts was meant to improve loyalty, but it creates an unnecessary burden on customers who are ready to buy now. Retailers with multiple brands should honor a single sign-in across their entire web presence. Better still, allow guest transactions with no need to create a password and authenticate account registration. The Gap and Diapers.com have done laudable work on both fronts to deliver this experience to its customers.
- Social integration: Don’t be left out of the conversation when your customers discuss you and your products. Social integration is more than simply hitting “Like” on a product page. Retailers can pair experts with first-time buyers, join discussions, promote innovative uses of a particular product to communities of interest, and conduct transactions from purchase to return over social media channels. Interacting with your customers in the channels they prefer most is vital in 2014, and your shoppers may not want to leave the comfortable environment of their Twitter and Facebook feeds. Rather than fighting it, work to integrate your shopping experience with the social channels they prefer.
These tips present just a few opportunities to help retailers adapt to the constantly-evolving expectations of today’s online consumer. Some might be quick fixes, others longer-term projects, but identify which of these steps will make the most difference on your business in 2014 and get started. The next year is only going to bring more change.