How to capture, engage & convince online customers
A successful shopkeeper has to be an expert at sizing up a customer as soon as they walk through the door to swiftly guide them to the right purchase. But this kind of personal service is difficult to replicate online, according to Tim Norman of SDL Web Content Management Solutions, who offers some timely advice before the Christmas rush begins.
A personalised, relevant and customised shopping experience is a major factor in the customer/retailer relationship that keeps customers coming back and spending more. Within this overall goal, there are three main 'pillars of success', according to Norman: Capture, Engage and Convince.
- Capture People are now going online more and more, increasingly purchasing online and, in tandem, they have higher expectations of their shopping experiences. Customers expect greater sophistication from web sites, as well a more engaging shopping experience.
Sophisticated tracking and recommendation capabilities for customers are no longer the preserve of a few 'big players' such as Amazon.com. Indeed, these technologies and capabilities are now available to almost any business for its e-retail presence.
Businesses should be able to capture analytics, such as from where and what time a visitor came to their website and whether they've made repeated visits to the site - allowing them to be reactive in their customer offerings. On a technical level, this can be performed through a 'reverse IP' lookup - for example - allowing you to see which company a web visitor has come from. This data can then help to create personalised and relevant content for customers.
- Engage Customer engagement is, in effect, how customers interact with your business, and how you can maximise cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. This method is proven, and perhaps the most familiar example is when a fast food seller asks if you want fries with your burger.
But actually there are three tiers involved in how consumers buy products:
- From the shopkeeper: typically high conversion rates, but also a high cost of sales;
- Call centres: medium conversion rates, but also an average level of cost;
- Online: typically low cost, but also low conversion rates.
However, it is now becoming increasingly possible for online interactions to have a low cost with a high conversion rate, and modern 'out of the box' tools are much simpler for marketers to use than before, giving them even more opportunities for meaningful customer interactions. Using out of the box solutions also allows for a quicker roll-out (which is critical in a competitive marketplace) and marketers have the option to become increasingly complex with their levels of personalisation, right down to age groups and repeat visitors.
The focus of engagement for many companies has therefore shifted from only engaging with consumers who were seeking to buy something, to recommending products and services that people might be interested in - often providing welcome ideas for a customer who is otherwise 'just browsing'.
It is now a regular occurrence to see indirect buying recommendations (such as "People who bought this also bought..." lists on a web page). The key to success, however, is to give customers a greater knowledge of and increased familiarity with your brand. In many ways this is like an online version of a traditional shopkeeper giving the customer helpful advice.
- Convince This is the crucial step where a prospect actually becomes a customer. But there are some simple processes and sophisticated technologies that can help bridge that all-important gap between web surfing and shopping. There has been, and will continue to be, a shift from a product-centric to experience-centric online interactions with shops and brands, which will result in higher sales figures (and consequently higher profits).
However, it is essential to ensure that all consumer/brand interaction is seamless, which means that the web site cannot exist in isolation. You will need to link up all of your communication channels (including call centres, stores, emails, direct mail, web sites, and the mobile channel) to not only offer uniform information and pricing, but also to know when each customer last interacted with the company, what they wanted, and consequently to be able to offer the best possible advice and experience.
Focusing more on the customer's overall shopping experience rather than simple direct selling provides a better opportunity for up-selling further down the line. The up-sell is more likely to come from customers who are happy with their relationship with the brand.
It is important for marketers to keep a degree of flexibility, too. Customer expectations are always evolving and marketers need to anticipate and keep ahead of them wherever possible. Marketers also need to keep in mind the multi-channel nature of many of the interactions that businesses have with their customers. Indeed, customers don't want to receive an email offering to sell them a computer if they've just bought one from a sister company. The whole digital experience needs to be tied together, even across brands, channels, and branches.
Consumers are also accessing web sites in a number of different ways - such as through their iPhones. But many web sites are not yet optimised for interactions or even personalisation at that level. As more and more people start to buy and use smart phones, this will become a key area of focus for e-retailers in the future.
"There has been a shift from being an e-shop to being an e-shopkeeper. The rules of 'capture, engage and convince' are simple: make the storefront as enticing as possible, size up the customer, steer them to what they're likely to want to buy, listen to what they say, respond accordingly, and then ask for the sale," concluded Norman.