Evolution. It's something we marketers know a thing or two about. In the age of new technologies, new ways of selling, and new ways of engaging customers, we're constantly evolving to stay ahead. Although evolution is the norm for us, a bigger evolutionary conundrum dominates our thinking: What does it take for passive online browsers to evolve into active buyers?
If Charles Darwin were here—and (bonus!) if he were an online marketer (because why not?)—he'd no doubt help us isolate the variables essential for progress, those at the heart of fuller shopping carts and higher conversion rates. He'd also help us select against those things that don't promote the advancement of civilization... or, at least, online shopping.
No need to take this analogy too far, but let's just say that online marketers can learn a lot from Darwin and the scientific process. As our e-commerce sites evolve via testing (and re-testing), real-world improvements, and consistent success, consumers evolve along with us. Sure, you could leave the whole evolution process up to natural selection, but why would you?
Here's are six lessons for leading the (r)evolution.
1. Learn from those who are bigger, faster, and stronger
The fittest aren't just surviving; they're thriving. Leading retailers have realized that the ever-more-detailed analytics and insights that can be gained from online customers can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their e-commerce sites—and every aspect of their businesses. By having a better understanding than ever before of who their customers are, how they buy, when they buy, and what they buy, businesses are now able to do everything better. For example, they can offer products more suited to customer needs and wants, they can cross-sell and upsell, and they can drive more sales than ever before (which they figured out via constant, but relatively straightforward, changes to their websites).
2. There's strength in group diversity
The bigger your company, the better the odds that some serious internal silos have popped up—potentially harming your multichannel effectiveness. Beyond the existing silos of your in-store and online teams, divisions may also exist within your online team—one for search engine optimization (SEO), one for analytics, one for email, etc. That is not progress; that is a liability.
You'd be surprised at the complementary and compelling ways that a diverse team of marketing and e-commerce experts can work together. For example, search data might inform online promotions, and behavioral analytics can influence design. Or, a customer who shops in-store might receive a relevant promotion or coupon via email in the days following her purchase. And online behaviors could reveal new insights about consumers' product needs and interests, helping to shape in-store positioning. The list goes on. Only by combining expertise, data, and insights—from across your online team and across your organization—can you really begin to create truly exceptional strategies for serving customers and driving sales.
3. Test your theory
Want to know the secrets of the most successful online retailing giants, eBay and Amazon? They test their websites constantly and as they go. Building on initial multivariate testing and optimization programs that lead to increased site traffic, interaction, and sales, those leaders roll out a variety of page and site variants to different customer segments to attain increasingly nuanced results and metrics.
Thanks to a continually evolving understanding of their customers' behaviors, those powerful brands are able to regularly improve their websites in response to consumer needs and marketplace demands—all without disturbing the customer experience or implementing drastic changes that might compromise revenues.
4. Examine outliers
Online, everyone's opinion matters—no matter how unexpected or seemingly bizarre an opinion might be. What you think customers want or how you think they should interact with your site just isn't relevant because they will engage with you online exactly the way they want. That means that you need to start paying careful attention to everything they do. Ultimately, your visitors should design your website based on the choices they make on your pages. Testing will enable you to follow every aspect of their behavior and their interactions with your site, and it's up to you to take that information into account to create the optimal site experience for your visitor.
Of course, customers don't necessarily want the same things, and that's where behavioral targeting and personalization comes in. With personalized Web experiences for each customer, your website has the power to speak directly to individual customer needs, wants, and interests—no matter how unique—thereby increasing customer loyalty, individual conversion rates, and even purchases at checkout.
5. Select the best results, and apply your findings
Thanks to technology and testing, you don't need to wait thousands of years for the winning traits of your site to reveal themselves. Your A/B or multivariate testing will begin to reveal data insights in a matter of days or weeks (though the lifespan of a test will vary depending on site traffic, conversion rate, and uplift from the default).
Follow the 95% confidence rule when ending a test and identifying a "winner." Here is the rule in layman's terms: Based on what you observe in a test, you are 95% certain the alternate or new version is better than the original (or, alternately, there is a 5% chance it isn't better).
Furthermore, that trait-selection process isn't a one-off. Your site can be an ever-growing and evolving centerpiece of your brand with a strategy for "continuous optimization." Many factors can change how even your most loyal customers use your site, perceive your brand, and decide on the products they are purchasing. With continual testing and optimization, you can ensure that your site is always in sync with consumer needs and behaviors.
6. See the effects spread far and wide
Once you've created a best-in-breed e-commerce site, you'll begin to reap the rewards. Beyond the benefits for the site as a whole—and the positive results you achieve compared with competitors—it's time to look for the beneficial effects of your testing and optimization program in segmented categories, both within and outside of your site.
Are certain category or product pages performing better? What about landing pages from affiliates or your own e-marketing campaigns? In essence, with your e-commerce site on a better path to conversion, it's time to dive deeper into segmented categories and test and target for different traffic sources, geographic locations, times of day, Web browsers, and so on. You have many ways to keep evolving.
* * *
Take it from Darwin, the man who has been quoted as saying, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." The success of your e-commerce site isn't driven by the size or cleverness of your marketing team; it's driven by your team's willingness to respond to the demands of customers and adjust accordingly. Only when you evolve will your consumers evolve into loyal, active buyers.