What does it take to create a shopper-centric online discovery experience?

Apr 18, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.

If the retail industry wants to keep up with customer expectations, they need to open up the conversation to their shoppers for more transparency and collaboration.

We’ve pegged the five most effective steps for creating an online shopper-centric discovery process that is a missing piece in most retailers’ personalization strategies.

Step 1: Create a shared vocabulary: A recent study found that sites with semantic-based search options have a 2 percent shopping cart abandonment rate as compared to 40 percent on sites that only offer plain text search, so speaking the same language and providing a relevant response is clearly an effective way to understand what customers want and to drive purchases.

Step 2: Let your customers drive: Your shoppers could be coming to you as browsers with very little specificity, or with a certain product in mind for a particular occasion. Providing multiple ways to navigate products and offering a flexible interface to self-select the most suitable discovery options puts the shopper in the driver’s seat of the personalization process.

Step 3: Extend the relationship: When shoppers explicitly build a query or customize their navigation on your site, retailers must realize they are pinpointing their preferences and expressing themselves in the process. Retailers need to go through the effort to remember what shoppers have said. This creates opportunities to connect at a deeper level with each customer far beyond just the website.

Step 4: Analyze, optimize and repeat: When shoppers tweak their discovery criteria and ultimately find and purchase a product, retailers are provided with a rich set of information about what that individual user, as well as other users, may be interested in and why. Tracking these interactions at an individual and segment level can identify important new merchandising keywords, spot trends, and optimizations needed.

Step 5: Amplify: By allowing shoppers to customize their journey and inform retailers about their unique preferences, the retail community collects massive amounts of highly personalized data. Retailers can use this data to fuel and improve the effectiveness of other merchandising, marketing, search and personalization efforts, as it’s an opportunity to make "big data" work across an entire retail organization.

What would you like online retailers to remember about your shopping preferences and interests? How can e-tailers elevate their personalization efforts?

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9 Comments on "What does it take to create a shopper-centric online discovery experience?"

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Ron Margulis

I want to fit into their narrative somehow. If I can’t relate to the product or company’s storyline, what am I doing there?

Adrian Weidmann

Allowing me to drive and then extending the dialog – and hence relationship – are two points that clearly resonated with me. The 5 steps put forth by Mr. Eastham, like with most topics, are driven by common sense but certainly not common knowledge. All too often, retailers and brands alike simply convert their analog marketing ‘bag-of-tricks’ into digital execution. Unfortunately these traditional tactics simply don’t address the digital facts – digitally empowered shoppers are in control and their expectations for a relevant and personalized dialog and easy experience continue to expand exponentially.

Retailers need to come to grips with this reality and stop forcing old analog tactics onto shoppers. Listen, converse, and respond to shoppers! They ARE your shareholders and you should treat them as such.

Lee Peterson

I don’t know, I get kind of creeped out when a retailer knows too much about me. Like when I shop at Amazon for something and then ads for it show up on the weather channel site when I go there. That’s a little stalker-esque. And I think a lot of people are like me in that regard.

The Gap’s announcement yesterday about testing in-store activation (consumers are near or in a Gap and with mobile device, they let Gap know they’re there, then Gap returns with an “offer,” whatever that might be) is a good example; do I really want the Gap hitting me up with emails or texts or whatever when I’m shopping? Can’t I just shop? I mean, I’m IN THE STORE! Not sure if that’s going to be successful.

It’s going to be an interesting decade coming up for retailers trying to figure out the fine line between stalking and being helpful. We’re not there yet, for sure.

Ryan Mathews

How about (a) tell a good, strong, authentic and honest story; and (b) be transparent and truthful at all times?

Regardless of platform people like to be sold and they hate the sense they are being manipulated.

Shep Hyken

Let’s make it simple. Just do what Amazon does.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

The interesting transformation that is accelerating right now is the increasing convergence of digital (online) with physical retail (stores).

Stores had a historical advantage of having staff who could engage consumers directly on the floor. However, many bricks and mortar stores are continuing to cut back on staff in order to reduce operating expenses as margins get ever slimmer. But the real transformation is that consumers no longer just shop stores.

The key for e-tailers has been the increasing trend that shoppers begin their journey online. More that 80% research online before going to a store, and a majority are checking their smartphones while standing in the aisle.

The bottom line for retail today is that there are NOT separate channels. In the eyes of the consumer it is one “seamless experience.” The successful retailers are learning how critical it is to engage consumers early in their purchase journey, and to continue the dialog well after any “sale.”

The future of retail is NOT just about engagement to make a sale. The future of retail success will be increasingly dependent upon the ability to build “relationships” with consumers any time and everywhere they want to engage.

Mohamed Amer

In the online retail world, I would not want any personalization until and unless I explicitly opt-in. And once done, I would want my navigation on that specific site only to be used to personalize product suggestions, special offers, expanded information about products or services from that retailer. I would not want them to share my preferences with advertisers or third parties.

But the retail world is not this clear only digital or only physical anymore. So, to expand the conversation, I find the above list of five steps a good process to help a company understand the shoppers’ desires along the online discovery journey, as long as shoppers opt-in. In that sense it can be considered necessary along the path of greater customer centricity. However, it is not sufficient. I compare this to using a recipe; anyone can have that recipe and have access to the ingredients, and while it can be copied, the results will differ.

A shopper-centric online discovery experience is one element of a larger (and challenging) customer-centric business model (philosophy, strategy, people, organization, incentives) that needs to be in place, otherwise the graft won’t take and the recipe will flop.

Vahe Katros

What does it take to create a shopper-centric online discovery experience?

Take this group: 

  • people who know shoppers
  • experts and beginner shoppers (organized around audiences)
  • product experts
  • lifestyle experts
  • business experts

Add this group:

  • people who know how to engage or study these people
  • people who know how to take these learnings and turn them into friendly interactions in a quick fashion

Season with this group:

  • quant and data miners who can help find clues

Put them somewhere over a weekend+ period (after the first phase of learning above):

  • prototype and evolve

Go live:

  • continuous learning and modifications and willingness to fail
  • wonder why you haven’t before (REM)
Roger Saunders

Life is simple…dhow up on-time, do what you say you’re going to do, Say “Please” and “Thank You.”

Showing up on time means having a consumer-centric tool that the customer is seeking. Garrett has offered a solid baseline to follow. Having the opportunity to engage the consumer throughout the shopping and buying experience is another unique advantage that online retailers have over brick & mortar.

No need to be overly-familiar (that can breed contempt), or message the consumer on a daily basis. Great online retailers do find the time to engage their best customers on a systematic basis, but don’t clutter the in-box.

Do, however, personalize the message with the user name. Never pass up the opportunity to say thanks.


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