The unprecedented growth of e-commerce as shopping began to shift from brick-and-mortar businesses to online has created a fundamental change in the way consumers and marketers think about retail.
In the US, a whopping 17 million transactions occurred on Amazon in just two days during the annual Prime Day event. In China, Singles Day shopping in 2018 shattered the previous year's record, making $30.8 billion in one day—a 27% increase year over year.
Business leaders are quickly realizing that traditional experience models won't be enough to serve and delight today's consumers.
At the Digital Marketing World Forum (DMWF), Francesca Pedrazzi admitted, "In the past, it used to be enough to benchmark growth against ourselves, to make sure we are improving. Not true anymore—today we must benchmark against the competition, consumer, and market growth, to make sure we don't fall behind."
Even though e-commerce has been associated with retail industries, the increased frequency with which consumers shop and interact with brands online is forcing change across multiple verticals. Consumers now have high expectations when booking travel, managing finances, and conducting their daily online lives.
Today, consumers have become accustomed to the type of familiar, easy, and frictionless engagements that e-commerce has come to stand for. Marketers can do well to learn from e-commerce to find ways to provide better service experiences.
1. Great e-commerce-like experiences are now mainstream
Once limited to a few key shopping sites, e-commerce—slated to grow to $4.5 trillion in 2021—is now a heavily invested-in initiative for many top brands and retailers, and Millennials now make over 54% of their purchases online. With e-commerce growing so quickly, businesses large and small are finally making online shopping a key component of their overall business strategy.
The always-on, instant availability of e-commerce makes it an ideal model to learn from. Those lessons can be applied to every brand interaction online. The key lies in the billions of feedback data points that e-commerce provides on a daily basis. The move to online shopping allows brands to see and measure consumers' digital footprint, and so make educated assertions as to what consumers want and what they will do next.
Such visibility into the customer journey can be translated to more than just retail. For example, the way consumers shop for clothing can be adapted to improve the way brands merchandise travel options, insurance plans, health coverage, and more.
2. Improve bounce rate by looking at the entire customer journey
Marketing professionals can become obsessed with individual metrics, such as bounce rate and cart abandonment, and focus much of their effort on improving those numbers. Veterans to the e-commerce game know that buyers can drop out of the sales cycle at numerous points in the purchasing process, and it is critical to examine each part of the customer journey in detail.
Nathalie Torres of Inamoto puts it this way: "Decades ago, brands were judged on product alone. Today, brands are being judged by the entire customer experience—and it takes smart design thinking to get this right."
A better way would be to look at the conversion rate at each point of the buyer's journey. For example, for a website of an insurance company, you might look at:
- How many people visit the main site
- How many people browse different insurance plans
- How many people click "Request a Quote"
- How many people fill out their personal information
- How many people move on to speak to a representative
- How many people convert into paying customers
To determine where buyers are slipping out of the purchase process, employ tactics such as quality-assurance testing and A/B tests to analyze impact on conversion rate. Another key element for improvement is user feedback. Create online surveys to ask why users felt they did not want to continue the purchase process.
3. Improve product design
E-commerce is rapid and flexible, and so it can be extremely helpful in improving product design.
How do users check the status of their account? How do they update their information? Get support? All of these are important components of product design, and the best user experience (UX) designers learn from all possible sources.
One of the critical questions UX professionals need to consider is "to build or to steal." This refers to building an entirely new user experience from scratch, or stealing—emulating—the user experience of a different platform or company. Though "stealing" may seem a bad thing, it could greatly improve how consumers internalize and adapt to a new service. It's no wonder ridesharing apps, travel-booking sites, and streaming services all have very similar user experience designs.
Consumers have become accustomed to interacting with companies in a certain way, which UX designers can capitalize on when introducing new ideas.
Another important layer of product design is the contribution of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Though many think of AI as simply automating mundane task, if done right AI can enhance the human customer experience. AI or automated assistants are not impacted by mood, long days, or tough working conditions. No matter the time of day, they can be personalized, friendly, and give you the exact service/support that you have been looking for.
4. Place renewed emphasis on consumer trust
One of the recurring conversation topics in the world of e-commerce is trust. Recent data regulations and privacy laws have instituted stronger ways to protect consumers' personal information, including how that information is collected and used by companies. GDPR is now fully underway in the UK and EU. Many are anticipating similar regulations to be put in place in North America and elsewhere.
Kevin Hartman of Google warns: "The promise that the Web held of being able to track consumers all the way through the buyer's journey is now at risk—it's getting more and more challenging to obtain permission to learn everything about your customer."
E-commerce has become successful at gaining an enormous amount on trust. It relies on volume (customers need to trust the process to keep coming back), and it needs consumer information to work: Credit score, home address, marital status, and more are readily handed over to companies on a regular basis. The answer to better customer relationships may lie in the data, but any problems or misuse of the data can prevent future transactions.
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