Global ecommerce sales topped a trillion dollars in 2012. But even with analysts predicting continued explosive growth for ecommerce sales, most websites are doing little to make it easy for consumers to buy. In fact, we're seeing shopping cart and web form abandonment rates of 75 percent or more, and this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lost sales for commerce websites.Shoppers often abandon a site well before they even grab a cart. To increase your chances of making the sale, you must keep consumers engaged across their entire purchase journey to reduce distractions and resultant defections. This article discusses new ways that web sites can convert distracted consumers to dedicated buyers.
The state of the shopper purchase journey
Just like brick-and-mortar shoppers, online shoppers go through three distinct steps in their purchase journey: find, decide and buy.
Find. Consumers need to first find what they need. Today's websites are strewn with digital SKU clutter, where consumers get distracted or totally lost. They offer simple keyword search or non-intuitive catalogs that lead to search dead-ends. For example, would the consumer find skin cream in personal care, health or pharmacy section of your site? Recently, when I searched for 'glow-in-the dark analog watch' on a leading retailer's website, I received multiple pages of t-shirt hits with 'glow-in-the-dark' logos on them before there was anything remotely related to watches. Most shoppers are unlikely to go through this much search hassle before defecting.
Decide. Once the shopper finds some options, they'll need to decide exactly what they want to buy something and if yes, what to buy. Shoppers need product details and independent reviews when they make up their minds, but are often forced to look elsewhere to get this content, often never to return. Moreover, websites make clueless one-size-fits-all offers, typically an offer to chat, which winds up being a nuisance and a big turnoff to the shopper, who simply leaves with a click of the mouse or swipe of the tablet. Defections are easy and painless in the digital world!
Buy. Finally, when shoppers are ready to make the purchase, they start to check out. The stakes are even higher now. Abandonment at this point is like not scoring a touchdown, after getting to the 'red zone,' to use an American football analogy. A big reason for last-minute defections is the lack of real-time help in completing the transaction on the website, for example, filling out complex online forms in the financial services and insurance sector, or some other issue related to completing the actual purchase transaction. We're seeing form abandonment rates of over 75 percent in the property and casualty insurance sector, for example.
From 'distracted' to 'dedicated'
Engaging shoppers in a compelling and contextual way across their entire purchase journey-find, decide, and buy-is a surefire way to convert browsers to buyers. Forward-looking websites are leveraging new online engagement technologies and practices to grease the skids for the shopper.
For instance, virtual assistants or chatbots can play 'digital greeter' and make a memorable first impression, when shoppers enter your website. Virtual assistants can answer common questions in a natural language dialogue in multiple languages, push relevant web pages to the shopper, and even give website tours. Channel-integrated chatbots also escalate shopper conversations to human agents with all the context intact, if and when needed. A unified multichannel 'customer engagement hub' makes cross-channel journeys smart, connected, and consistent by consolidating all customer interactions, knowledgebases, workflows, and analytics on the same platform-an approach advocated by Gartner.
Customer-centric search technologies such as natural language processing, intent-driven search, and topic-tree browsing can help the shopper find things on the website. Case-Based Reasoning (CBR), an Artificial Intelligence technology that simulates human intelligence, can take shopping experiences to a new level. CBR-guided help enables consumers find things and also decide what they want to buy through a dialog-just like how a smart sales person would advise shoppers in a retail store or a GPS would help drivers find their destination. One of our telco clients has implemented CBR-guided help to recommend the most appropriate set of mobile phone models and subscriber plans based on an interactive self-service conversation with subscribers.
Sales-centric websites also minimize the need for consumers to leave their websites as they make their decision to buy or not, and if the former, what to buy. They federate search results from not only from your own website, but also from independent product review sites, customer support forums and even social networks, and present it all on your website, as a seamless part of the shopper's decision-making process. They also present offers-whether it is content, promotions or real-time service-to swing the shopper's decision in their favor. These offers are based on 360-degree insight, including context from the current customer journey, and past interactions and transactions of the customer across channels. They even tap into Big Data about the customer across traditional and social channels to develop this insight. Again, a hub approach to customer engagement and knowledge can facilitate this step.
Leveraging next-generation technologies for real-time web collaboration can help 'save the sale' and reduce shopping cart and form abandonment in the 'buy' stage of the customer's purchase journey. Technologies like click-to-call and cobrowse can be combined with concurrent text or video chat to help shoppers complete online forms or purchase transactions, show them around on your website and close the sale. Make sure these collaboration options are not siloed. Customers often want to hop across these modes in their purchase journey.
One last word
There's no better solution to identifying online shopping distractions and deterrents than playing shopper yourself. You can also delegate this task to team members that represent your target buyer segments. Mystery shopping allows you to identify moments of abandonment, and convert them to moments of acceleration in the shopper's journey. Use the Pareto 80/20 principle, starting with the most common journeys that represent your biggest market segments, as you implement your digital conversion initiative. This will maximize business impact and make you a hero in your organization.