The online shopping experience is shifting with the latest Web 2.0 trends, giving consumers more power than ever before. Today’s savvy consumers are ready to share and recommend products with others over a variety of shopping networks and blogs. For online retailers, this means it is very easy to both gain and lose customers simply based on ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing.
In order to adapt to today's trends—and attract and retain lifelong customers— retailers must develop an attractive and efficient website that naturally leads to a memorable shopping experience. The future of retail online includes elements such as dynamic web catalogs, unique web site navigation, improved search, and live chat. Understanding how to implement each element requires a customer-centric sales strategy.
Interactive websites are one of the easiest ways to attract customers and entice them to buy. Hundreds of retailers are finding value in an interactive components on their websites. This might be in the form of a blog, recommendation options, or other forms of sharing and communication. New usability features such as zooming capabilities on products also provide value, giving consumers a chance to ‘virtually browse’ inventory with ease.
The Sixth Annual Merchant Survey reports that most online merchants convert an average of 2%-3% of site visitors, while sites such as ProFlowers.com have been able to turn as much as 24.5% of their unique visitors into buyers. Their success has been attributed to an ongoing commitment to improve the customer experience, and retailers such as LillianVernon.com, LLBean.com, and QVC follow close behind. Excellent web design, usability, search features, and interactivity are all key elements of these sites.
General website layout and design principles encourage websites that ensure:
Building customer loyalty through personalized services is leading online retail trends. These services encouraging many retailers to build unique web sites, integrate searchandising capabilities, and ensure that they can capture customer feedback and track trends with ease. The power of search is even more important within a retail website, giving customers a chance to find a particular product or category in a few simple steps. Instead of having to search through multiple pages or click through various parts of the site, an accurate search tool can help them find exactly what they need. Retailers can then track statistics on searches completed at any given time, giving them a very accurate view of what products are popular and how many customers make a purchase after tracking down their item.
Personalized services include individual account setup, enhanced profiles, and recommendation capabilities. Amazon.com has been a pioneer in this area, encouraging consumers to experience a shopping session as if it was customized and designed exclusively for them. Retailers can implement a variety of features to the site to create a customized experience. Robust shopping carts, exclusive coupons and discounts, and consumer rewards programs can all help build customer loyalty.
Testing and performance are other critical elements when designing the web shopping experience. Testing the website on a regular basis ensures customers are not led to broken links, errors, or encounter browser inconsistencies. These can easily turn customers away to shop elsewhere, creating an inefficient shopping experience. Today’s online shoppers have very little patience, and will easily abandon the site if they feel it is running too slowly or will not load properly. Performance monitoring ensures that web pages are loaded within an acceptable amount of time, and meet all industry standards.
Customer service should be an important part of every sale and transaction, and many retailers are finding that adding a live chat element to the site can offer a more personalized experience. Radiator.com is a nationwide chain of franchise auto part stores; users who enter the site can learn about the specific radiator they need by entering information about their vehicle, and reviewing a product showcase. Radiator.com reported a 1-2% conversion rate before offering live chat. After shoppers could speak with a representative to guide them through their selection, sales jumped up to a 35-40% conversion rate, according to InternetRetailer.com. Helping customers complete the sale, especially for high-end and complicated products can help boost sales to an entirely new level.
The shopping experience is even more important for customers who jump online to find the latest products, giving retailers a chance to stand out from the competition and capture their customers with the right tools. Improving the customer web experience can easily lead to higher sales, conversions, and boost customer loyalty. Thousands of online retailers are developing simple and customer-friendly websites to make sure their customers are coming back to only their retail website for all relevant purchases. From enhanced search features to live chat services, personalizing the shopping experience and monitoring customer activity are proving to be vital to customer retention and increased conversion rates.