Online sales are poised to grow 57% to $448 billion in total revenue by 2018, even though in-person retail still makes up 90% of all sales.
But the line between traditional retail and e-commerce is blurring.
The missing element of in-person communication used to be a tremendous hindrance for e-commerce retailers, but the omnichannel experience is almost a non-issue today. Thanks to the improving technology of chatbots and devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, customers can speak into the device to order what they need.
When shopping in person, the customer uses his or her smartphone to read reviews, compare features, or to browse for a better price, right there in the aisle with the product right in front of them.
So, how can you take advantage of the blurring line between in-person and online shopping to capture success in online sales this holiday season?
By using advanced website analytics to access a treasure trove of data about your customers, you can establish patterns to learn not just what they are doing while shopping online, but dig into why they behave as they do. This ongoing, non-verbal communication provides the insight needed to turn traffic into leads, identify what influences conversion rates, and fix any technical or design problems that may be preventing your customers from completing their purchases.
Understand the conversation between customer and e-commerce platform
While the line between e-commerce and in-person retail experience continues to blur, there is one clear difference: the way retailers gather feedback, analyze it, and make changes to achieve improved outcomes.
In traditional retail, feedback would be given directly to a store employee or manager. In e-commerce, there are many user-friendly tools which customers use to provide you with feedback, such as a customer satisfaction form on screen after a transaction or interaction with a chatbot or customer service representative.
Aside from the feedback forms, customers and retailers still have a 'conversation' without uttering a single word to each other, just by using the website. With advanced and enhanced tools, such as heatmaps and session replays, user experience professionals can parse more precise information about the digital customer experience and decipher what’s really going on. This information helps drill down issues that customers with negative feedback may have and allows the site manager to optimize the experience for those who don’t have a positive experience on your website.
'There’s a conversation happening on your website right now,' according to Ana Grace, Director of Ecommerce, GoDaddy. 'Are you aware of what’s really being said? The ability to go beyond the raw data and actually watch our customers interact with our current experience allows us to more fully understand the story.'
Thanks to these advanced tools, you can now participate in this conversation by seeing exactly where your customers are clicking and hovering, the digital equivalent of in-person feedback through an employee. Through heatmaps, you can tell which areas of your site are appealing to customers, detailing which graphics and calls to action are the most effective and which need to be improved. Individual session replays identify where something went wrong, revealing valuable information beyond generic responses from feedback forms such as 'the website doesn’t work' or 'I couldn’t check out.' Session replays are particularly effective at identifying and uncovering larger technical issues, such as browser compatibility or a platform-specific glitch.
On a macro level, this data proves to be extremely powerful, more telling than any customer feedback could possibly be. E-commerce site managers can determine trends in customer behavior, identify where the majority of customers are focusing their attention on the page, and pinpoint what’s working and what’s not toward the goal of completing checkout.
Use high-volume data to turn traffic into leads
The spike in site visitors (and potential customers!) from the week before Black Friday through the end of the calendar year is growth that cannot be compared to or replicated at any other time. You can utilize this influx of visitors by increasing the pool of customers who receive marketing material from your company. While some customers may not make a purchase right away, or they’re making a purchase from you for the first time, you can now connect to an audience throughout the year that you may not have captured without the influx of visitors around this holiday time.
Take advantage of this uptick in potential customers by increasing subscriptions to VIP programs, email notification signups and account registrations. Consider adding calls to action on your website which encourage account creation and email signups.
Unlock what the cross-platform journey is telling you
More than ever, customers are using multiple devices to research, choose products and complete a purchase. Moving from tablet to smartphone or app to browser is increasingly common, and with this trend runs the risk of losing customers as they switch from one platform to another. You can tackle this upcoming challenge by putting the right mechanisms and KPI targets into place which take cross-platform performance into account.
Understand what contributes to high conversion rates
When e-commerce first began, conversion rates were between 3 and 5%, and they were largely attributed to the simplified checkout process. Your customer selected the product, added it to the cart, and paid for their purchase - a very cut-and-dry, clean process.
Now, there are many more elements in the mix, which make completing a purchase a little more convoluted. Item pages now offer size charts, filters, and more content, not to mention cross-selling and upselling options that come up on the page and during checkout. These layers of complexity have a large role to play in conversion success or failure; oftentimes, they do not help increase conversion rates.
The most successful market disruptors in the e-commerce retail space put a strong emphasis on browsing similar products for comparison and recommend complementary items, but they work diligently to simplify that process and keep it easy for customers to follow. While clutter can hurt conversion rates, a streamlined version of these upselling techniques has proven successful.
Uncover site issues and develop improvements
Particularly during the holiday season, e-commerce merchants can uncover usability and navigation issues. While metrics will likely show millions of satisfied customers, the small percentage of dissatisfied customers or customers with incomplete purchases will be amplified just from the sheer volume of increased traffic. The expected increase of customers during this time of year can reveal previously-undiscovered issues about browser compatibility, device compatibility or the ease of navigation, helping you not only apply immediate fixes for the holiday season, but for year-round purchasing as well.
For example, if your customer doesn’t complete the checkout process after adding products to the cart, analytics tools can help you understand why the customer abandoned the cart. Is the checkout button simply too hard to find? Is your customer distracted by other elements or products promoted on the page? Is your checkout process too long?
As real-time advanced analytics tools uncover user experience issues, you can read your customer’s digital body language and rapidly respond, like a sales representative on the store floor is able to do. New design options can be tested and deployed to help increase conversions. With the holidays quickly approaching, e-commerce merchants can incorporate this practice with enough time to see the payoff.
Key takeaways for online retailers for the 2016 holiday season
Thanks to enhanced analytics tools such as heatmaps and session replays, you can follow preferences in the online ‘conversation’ by reading your customer’s digital body language. This conversation yields a vast amount of information for your user experience team, who can decipher what changes need to be implemented on your site.
Taking advantage of data-driven problem-solving in e-commerce opens a new dimension of revenue potential for your online retail operation. In a world where market disruptors claim nearly a quarter of all e-commerce dollars and drive 51 percent of all sales growth, losing sales due to a negative customer experience is not an option. Fortunately, with the right tools, you won’t be missing out.