The popularity of online shopping has transformed both the retail industry and the customer's buying experience. Consumers can now buy virtually anything they want just with the click of a button—anytime and anywhere. Gone are the days when shoppers were forced to leave their homes, setting aside hours of their days to shop and stand in long checkout lines. Without doubt, e-commerce is changing retail for the better.

But it's far from perfect...

According to analysis from Internet Retailer on US Commerce Department data, e-commerce accounted for 14% of total retail sales in 2018. Clearly, there's a need for brands and retailers to address the changing shopping landscape and better meet customer demands, otherwise they will be left in the dust of industry Goliaths (looking at you, Amazon).

In this article, I discuss three of the biggest challenges today's online shoppers face, along with some ways brands and retailers should consider to mitigate those challenges.

Choice Paralysis

Think about the last time you were shopping for something online but did not know exactly what you were looking for (for me, it was a camera for my 15-year-old daughter). You were likely overwhelmed with the number of choices (thousands) that were presented to you with technical jargon (aperture? f-stop?). And... no salesperson to help out or guide you!

The common perception is that the more products available to consumers, the better, whereas quite the opposite is true. More choice can actually hinder sales. A large assortment of choice is often more likely to deter customers than pull them in.

"Choice overload" is all too real.

In fact, a recent study found that 42% of consumers admitted to abandoning a planned purchase altogether because there were too many choices.

It's imperative to be mindful and aware of the choices your target audience faces so that you can avoid pushing them away. Successful online brands and retailers will make the shopping experience as easy as possible for consumers. Though product variation can help differentiate a brand or retailer, providing relevant options is what will really make them stand out from their competition.

Retailers and brands have to find ways to guide shoppers to the products that are specific and relevant to them. They might use digital assistants, online quizzes, or other forms of digital customer engagement technologies. Those solutions can provide consumers the ability to discover products they love, products specific to them—in a timely and streamlined manner.

'Can't find what I'm looking for!'

Having a company site that is easy to navigate is a crucial part of success; though a shiny, unique website will gather initial appeal, it will lose its luster if its actual functionality is limited.

Consumers want a shopping process that is as simple and seamless as possible. Recent studies from Forrester Research have found that about 50% of sales are lostbecause the customer cannot easily find what they are looking for.

They key to success lies in creating (or revamping) websites to be simple while being as informative. Shopper frustration is greatly reduced with the implementation of intuitive navigation and an effortless shopping experience. One way to do that is to analyze where consumers are clicking and going to the most, and then working to enhance the parts of the site where they are spending the most time.

A successful website should create the feeling of "this site 'gets' me"; if that's done correctly, shoppers will continually come back for more.

I love strolling down 5th Avenue in New York. But imagine if Saks put its entire inventory in its store windows. Would you be enticed to enter? I know I wouldn't be! In fact, it's the stores that carefully and creatively display certain items (that single pair of gorgeous shoes on a pedestal lighted to bring out the best of the vamp and heel...) that I want to go into, to be politely addressed by an informative sales associate, and guided through my buying decision ("those make your legs look so long!").

That in-store experience is what we need to reinvent as a digital experience.

Online vs. Reality

How many times have you bought something online, and then when you actually receive it you realized it looks or operates completely differently from how you thought? It has happened to all of us: The product displayed on a website is not how it appears in-person.

E-commerce retailers should take all steps necessary to ensure that the customer is happy from the moment they begin their shopping journey online to the moment the product is in their hands.

To avoid the disaster of shoppers' not knowing what they are getting, brands and retailers need to change the way they portray products. Don't just include a variety of product pictures—show them in a variety of environments to appeal to a variety of buyers. Videos are also a great way to show the consumer how your product looks and operates.

Other successful approaches from brands and retailers have included allowing customers to upload their own pictures and videos in review sections. That way, other interested consumers can see the product firsthand.

Fully 86% of consumers are willing to pay more in turn for an improved customer experience. Customers notice when an organization goes the extra mile to address their pain points. The result is happier—and repeat—customers.

* * *

As invaluable as e-commerce has been to the transformation of retail, customers are begging for more. Online retailers should be prioritizing the shopper journey and making the buyer experience the best it can possibly be. (We just have to be careful we don't give them too much!)

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Three Problems Still Plaguing Online Shopping, and How to Fix Them

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image of Claudine Bianchi

Claudine Bianchi is CMO of zoovu, an AI-driven conversational marketing platform used by over 500 leading brands and retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, L'Oreal, Whirlpool, Kitchen Aid, and Microsoft.

LinkedIn: Claudine Bianchi

Twitter: @claudinesview