By Albert Pusch, head of marketing, FACT-Finder
As consumers become more used to shopping online they are demanding more from the websites they visit. This means brands are now being forced to shift their focus towards creating online brand experiences that reflect their offline store experiences. So what do e-tailers need to do to ensure that their online experience matches customers’ expectations?
Quality of technology and usability
Usability plays a key role in defining brand experience online, and users expect the same emphasis on quality online as they would get offline. So brands need to ensure that the technology supporting their website is up to scratch. This includes functions such as having an auto-complete, which tolerates typing errors and includes pictures and helping to orientate visitors around a site from the beginning.
With retailers and brands selling across so many different channels, including websites, mobile and apps, brands need to ensure that their messaging is consistent across all of them. Ideally, some sort of flexible campaign management should be built into the homepage so that it can easily be changed to reflect what is going on instore.
Getting your content right
Content is a key way of creating a point of difference for a brand online and an excellent way of engaging customers. At a basic level, brands must ensure they have accurate, in-depth product descriptions in place, which are supported by the highest resolution pictures possible. Include functionality such as zoom and 360-degree view to reflect the quality of products. Beyond that tailored magazine-style content can keep people coming back for more and also help reaffirm brand values.
More than just design
Online experience is not just about design; while a site may look great, if it lacks functionality and is hard to get around then this is going to reflect negatively on the brand’s online experience. You need to ensure that your on-site navigation is intuitive, and offers people the ability to narrow down what they are looking for in order to be guided quickly and comfortably to exactly the right products.
Helping customers find what they want
The website’s search function plays a key role in customer experience, particularly if the retailer stocks a lot of different products. You need to ask yourself if your on-site search functionality understands a customer’s needs – not those of a salesperson. Error tolerance within the search function can be crucial if you want to serve the customer needs. For example, our research shows that there are around 80 common misspellings of the word Birkenstock, so any search programme needs to be able to handle these types of errors while still generating the correct results.
Get your presentation right
We have done extensive research into how search results are presented. The two most popular are in a list view or in a grid view. The grid view works best with products that require big picture displays, such as fashion, jewellery or luxury items. List view, on the other hand, is best used to focus more on technical products that need more data and specification detail such as consumer electronics. Also, if a retailer is using grid view then they need to have an odd number of items, five for example, and the most popular, or most relevant, result should be placed in the middle as the eye will automatically be drawn here.
With product recommendations, retailers will already know, for example, when previous customers have purchased a specific pair of trousers and then went on to buy a particular belt, and this can then be presented as a recommendation to future customers buying the same trousers. They can also show other items in ranges that go together, which can help to get shoppers more involved with the brand.
It can too often be glossed over by online stores, but the various “soft” functions such as customer service and delivery play a key role in the overall experience of a brand online. E-tailers need to invest as much time in ensuring that their service levels are up to the required standard as they do into planning the design and functionality of their web store.
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