Our CEO, Luigi Matrone, was a keynote speaker at the inaugural Alcon Gaze conference on eCommerce. In the first part of a three-part series of blog posts on the expert insights he shared with the audience of international business leaders, we explore the critical importance of the online shopper experience.
eBusiness Institute CEO Luigi Matrone is one of the world’s leading experts on digital transformation, eCommerce, and the digital trends impacting retail. If you would like to see Luigi’s keynote slides, please download them here.
The new battlefield for brands
The old axiom was that people shop online because it’s cheaper.
The five motivators for online shopping – but now consumers are demanding a greater experience as well – Image source: Shutterstock
Certainly, price and the ready availability of deals have combined with four other motivating factors – convenience; the ability to shop anywhere, anytime; variety; and personalisation – to propel the popularity of online shopping to the point where the world is expected to generate a bewildering $4.2 trillion dollars by 2020. 
But the battlefield is changing for brands. Online shoppers are now demanding great service and experiences that mirror or even supersede physical shopping.
Zappos – always putting customers first
Zappos, the world’s largest shoe eRetailer, is a classic example of an online business that goes above and beyond to deliver the very best customer experience.
Zappos is renowned in the world of eRetailing for putting their customers before everything else. Above we see how the online experience evolved over the years. – Source: Zappos
Zappos is far from the cheapest shoe eRetailer out there. It has instead made a deliberate decision to focus on service rather than price, and the first of its 10 company values says it all: ‘1. Deliver wow through service.’
Make an order at the stroke of midnight, and Zappos will deliver your new pair of shoes to you before you go to work.
Found a shoe that you love, but Zappos doesn’t have it in stock in your size? A Zappos employee will search competitor sites to find you what you’re looking for.
Zappos – which also sells clothing and accessories – raised eyebrows by introducing a returns policy that allows shoppers to return items and get a full refund for items they didn’t like any time within a year of the purchase.
Its employees offer outstanding online and telephone support, with a mobile-led approach that gives customers the facility to quickly and simply ask questions and therefore make purchasing decisions more easily.
And Zappos takes a more holistic approach to the way it uses its customers’ data, personas or behaviours to improve its use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to genuinely personalise the experience.
For example, rather than recommend a shoe like one the shopper might already have bought, Zappos will use data analytics based on their online behaviours to recommend a shoe for a special occasion, such as a graduation or a friend’s wedding.
Alex Genov, the Head of Customer Research at Zappos that leads a team of people whose first goal is to understand their customers as people first, says that they need to: “understand what the person is trying to do by buying those shoes, and then help them more holistically.”
The uncompromising strategic focus Zappos puts on making their customers happy has resulted in 75 per cent of its business and $2 billion revenue coming from repeat customers. That’s some pay-off.
Online shoppers are looking for a whole lot more from their experience
We’ve all become accustomed to the 2D eCommerce interfaces that Amazon introduced a quarter of a century ago to sell books. A brilliant innovation that has served Amazon, eRetailer brands and other eCommerce platforms incredibly well.
Brands will need to move away from old 2D grids, and embrace the idea of more dynamic and immersive online shopping experiences for their customers – Source: Amazon
You can’t just keep doing the same thing forever, though. Humans get tired of the ‘same old same old’.
Delivering a delightful online shopper experience
It’s in our nature to want to be presented with things in new ways – a factor that has influenced so much of the history of retail and design.
The great department stores – your Selfridges, Galeries Lafayette, IKEA, Saks or Tokyu Hands – have always known this. Rather than take the attitude of ‘this is how we’ve always done it’, they have sought instead to be continually innovative to meet the demand for the new.
The flagship Selfridges store on London’s Oxford Street – Source: The Telegraph
Tellingly, all of the above examples above have adopted, to their respective degrees, the ‘bricks and clicks’ model, whereby they operate both an online store (the clicks) and an offline store (the bricks), integrating the two into a single retail strategy. And each offers an engaging online shopper experience that tries to replicate, in some way, the excitement and ease of shopping in their physical stores.
We’ve sadly seen a number of well-known retail stores disappear from high streets, town centres and shopping centres in recent times. Many because they weren’t agile enough to adapt in an increasingly online world. And also because the physical shopping experience became drab, outdated and failed to meet modern consumer needs.
Likewise, eRetailers or ‘bricks and clicks’ operators will similarly falter if they don’t provide online shopper experiences that delight today’s and tomorrow’s audiences.
It’s not just about design
Glossy fashion magazine-style images and hip, funky fonts are all well and good, but they and other visual surface design assets alone are not enough to convince online shoppers that brands understand what they want from their experience.
Design is merely superficial if an online brand or eCommerce experience doesn’t match a number of other criteria that meet their needs.
These range from Product Discoverability that allows them to easily find what they’re looking for, to intelligent data-led recommendations based on their online behaviours and what they really like. Or, from great mobile 1st Product eContent that tells a more compelling story about what they could be buying, to simple interactions with customer support when they need it. And far more, as the visual below shows.
The main criteria of a great shopper experience – Source: eBusiness Institute
New dimensions in the online shopper experience
In the 21st century, technology plays a huge part in our everyday lives, whether at work or at home.
And the same can be increasingly said of eRetail, with China setting exciting new trends by introducing mobile-led livestreaming, omni-shopper platforms like We Chat that seamlessly integrate with social media.
Hugo Boss has launched an absorbing We Chat online shopping experience that mirrors physical shopping – Source: Jing Daily
Brands operating in the Chinese and South Asian markets are grasping the importance of creating great mobile-led online shopping customer experiences to drive engagement and potential sales.
These kinds of online shopper experiences are becoming the norm in those markets, and will soon be making their way West.
Chinese platform Tmall’s livestreaming feature provides a more realistic simulated shopping experience that creates excitement, increases engagement and help drive sales – Source: Chozan
In conclusion – shopper experience is key to online success
Online shoppers are expecting far more than just convenience, the best price, the ability to shop anywhere, personalisation, and choice.
Sure, they still want all of those things – but they want them to collectively shape a much enhanced all-round online shopper experience.
They want to be excited and enthralled. They want to have a smooth, pleasurable and hassle-free shopping experience where they feel comfortable asking questions of the brands they’re buying from in order to inform their purchases. They want to be able to easily send items back if they don’t match their expectations. And they want to feel like brands really understand who they are and what they like.
Get these aspects right and deliver great online shopping experiences, and brands could really thrive on this new battlefield. Get it wrong, and they will fail.
In the next blog post in this series, we will be exploring why you can’t have great online shopper experiences without great content.
This article was written and created by the eBusiness Institute Team.
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