By Rich Beattie, VP Mercado Europe
There has been a lot of discussion about the importance of strategic planning when a retailer chooses to bring its business online. However, even the most powerful technology is meaningless if we don’t understand buyer intent or the way people shop.
It is important to try to look into the mind of shoppers and how the three basic stages of selling in brick and mortar stores (attracting, conversion and retention) are translated into the world of e-Commerce.
A Stanford University researcher has suggested that shoppers weigh the anticipated pleasure of a purchase against the inevitable pain of parting with their money – a “pleasure vs. pain” theory of how one’s brain works when we shop.
The study concluded that three different parts of the brain are involved when we shop: the section of the brain that is better known as the “pleasure center” (nucleus accumbens) is activated first when the brain immediately associates anticipated ownership with satisfaction or pleasure. Then the “executives within our heads” (mesial prefrontal) evaluate options and future consequences of paying and buying a certain product.
Finally, the third part of the brain kicks in as shoppers anticipate the “pain of parting with their money” (insula – a part of the brain’s cortex activated in response to negative stimuli).
In addition to this, shoppers are also making a mental list of priorities and trade-offs between five core variables: Variety, price, quality, convenience and quantity. Being able to understand these priorities allows an e-Commerce or multi-channel business to identify their customer segmentation.
Perhaps the webs biggest advantage is the potential for an endless variety of goods and services. If a shopper doesn’t find specifically what he/she is looking for on a website, it’s a quick click back to Google to find goods elsewhere.
A long search term with specifics (e.g. ‘magenta cashmere turtleneck’ or a wallet of a certain brand) is an indication that variety is the key decision driver. However, if shoppers are utilising your site search box, they are looking for something specific and therefore do not want to compromise on variety.
With this knowledge, it is important to display goods relevant to the shopper’s request without narrowing so much that you leave them with no choice.
Most, if not all, online shoppers realise that a few keystrokes give them access to a virtual bidding war for the products they are looking for. Once shoppers start using precise product names or actual Stock-Keeping Unit (SKU) numbers, it is very likely that they have already made a decision and may be comparing prices amongst different websites.
These ‘price comparison’ shoppers will be clicking on the ‘Sale’ or ‘Clearance’ links that indicates that they are simply trolling your virtual aisles for bargains.
e-Commerce providers face the biggest barriers when it comes to quality-driven shoppers as it is difficult to physically feel or touch the quality of a product. Most online retailers have figured out by now that multiple product reviews, image zoom and better product descriptions are critical methods of assuring shoppers that products can pass their quality test.
The recent boom in social data, as well also assures shoppers with peer reviews that a product is of 5-star quality. Shoppers using these features are showing clear indications that quality is of high importance.
Another advantage of shopping online is its sheer convenience. However this variable is a tricky one to get right. If convenience is the driving factor for a shopper, they compare the physical aspect of shopping (driving to the shop, standing in line at a checkout counter and paying) to the overall time being spent from the start of the online buying process to having the physical product at hand. This reiterates the importance of providing seamless transitions between channels.
Shoppers accessing store locators, looking for in-store pickup or reading about shipping and payment options are displaying signs of “I want it now”. Multi-channel retailers (particularly those with national or international chains) can leverage the combined convenience of web shopping with same-day receipt by promoting in-store pickup, displaying local availability, and having clear store listings and opening hours.
For pure-play internet retailers, assuring overnight delivery, designated windows of delivery time and displaying time until products ships are sent to address convenience shoppers specifically concerned with time.
In the case of quantity driven shopping, B2B buyers clearly have a different agenda than individual consumers. Given that buying in bulk is a necessity for many business buyers, the likelihood of them being quantity driven is definitely more likely compared to price or variables.
With a clear understanding of shoppers’ intent, shoppers’ decision drivers, and a business’ various customer segments, a company can now apply this knowledge to the three basic stages of the shopping process.
During the attraction phase, whether it is in offline advertising, direct mail or search engine ad text, customers should be shown which of the five decision variables differentiates your site. For price-driven segments, use key words like ‘Unbeatable Prices’ or ‘Low Prices Guaranteed’.
For variety-segments, attract them with assurance that there are ‘Hundreds of Styles to choose from’. Quality-driven shoppers may be attracted to well-known brand names, quality product descriptors (cashmere, durable or satisfaction guaranteed). Convenience-driven shoppers will be enticed with key words such as ‘overnight shipping’ or ‘hassle free returns’.
The conversion phase of the shopper journey is easiest to control by merchants. When a customer clicks a mouse to enter your virtual storefront, the progress from the ‘attraction’ to the ‘conversion’ phase is critical.
This is the opportunity to evolve the dialogue with the shopper that began earlier. If a shopper entered your site by having typed a specific search term (e.g. green hiking boots), make sure the landing page corresponds to their request.
Dynamically generated navigation that leverages detailed product attributes is also a great opportunity to respond to customer priorities. The quality-driven shopper will want to browse by more descriptive attributes (e.g. cashmere, stainless steel, leather) or brand names that assure them your products meet thier standards.
A pricing sorting option helps that price-driven shopper. Displaying the number of items in each category will help the variety driven shopper feel confident of the choices available.
The best place to focus on retaining customers is not post-sale, but during. Shoppers carry with them a mix of critical shopping drivers; ones that help define them as lifelong customers. Actions that signal to customers that you understand their shopping motivation will help to ensure loyalty and increase lifetime value.
Provide online tracking information for the time-sensitive convenience-driven shopper. Also provide internal alerts for a proactive customer service call should there be a glitch in overnight shipping.
Follow-up campaigns should spotlight sale or clearance items for the price-driven shoppers, while the quality driven shopper wants to know when the latest shipment of their favourite designer product hits the virtual shelves.
Throughout each stage of the customer journey, shoppers provide invaluable insight into what makes them tick. The most powerful technologies on the market provide tools for fine-tuning the shopping experience in alignment with customer priorities.
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