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Staying Ahead of E-Commerce in a Changing Retail World

It goes without saying that today’s retail marketplace is a crowded, complex ecosystem. Not so long ago, traditional retailers could be generally satisfied having an e-commerce website that simply enabled people to browse and purchase their products. Today they are facing complex challenges posed by shoppers likely to use a combination of laptop, smartphone, and tablet to complete a single purchase. As each day goes by and each technological leap is taken, retailers are being forced to consider not just what their customers want to buy, but how and when they want to buy it.

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Challenge

It is no small endeavor to create and support a completely seamless Responsive HTML e-commerce experience, but whether or not to do so has become a vital and urgent question for our traditional retail customers. While companies like Amazon and Netflix keep raising customers’ e-commerce expectations, many traditional retailers are left wondering if the inevitably significant outlay of time and money required to upgrade their e-commerce systems will be worth it in the long run.

While they wait to decide, of course, the number of pure play digital retailers continues to proliferate. These brand new, online-only companies have few, if any, of the legacy system or operational constraints faced by traditional “click-and-mortar” retailers. They come to market with the latest and greatest technology solutions that make for the kind of sleek, fluid, and nimble customer experiences that traditional retailers simply cannot provide with their older platforms, many of which require upgrade or replacement in order to be able to support Responsive HTML. And while some of the pure play newcomers might not be able to immediately provide comparable levels of inventory or customer service, they can develop those aspects of their business much faster and cheaper than having to upgrade a decade-old e-commerce and inventory management platform. And the pressure to upgrade continues to rise.

Every retailer who is paying attention is seeing mobile traffic tick up and up with each passing week, making the expensive decision to offer a mobile-friendly e-commerce solution all the more alluring – and pressing. For most of them, the question of upgrading has largely shifted from if to when. Grappling with this question from our clients, we find ourselves walking a bit of a tightrope, pointing out the clear trajectory of industry trends while acknowledging the real costs of infrastructure upgrades. At the end of the day, we tell our clients that if they wait for that moment when the ROI is blindingly obvious, they’re likely to miss their opportunity.

The decision to invest in a Responsive HTML e-commerce experience is a strategic and speculative bet on the future, and it is clearly not a wager that every retailer wants, or needs, to make. It is ultimately up to every company to pay attention to its own analytics, to look at the changing demographics of its customer base, to carefully track the trajectory of mobile use on its current site, etc., and then make its bets accordingly.

As a way of better informing such decisions, we often work with clients to carefully understand the buying behaviors of their customers as a means of understanding the value of a fully mobile commerce experience. For one of our customers, who sells a relatively high-priced, custom manufactured product, it made much more sense to develop a mobile web experience that facilitated a showroom visit and swatch ordering, rather than offering the ability to complete a somewhat complex purchase on a phone.

The Opportunity of a Great Experience

Irrespective of mobile support, the upside of having a well-designed e-commerce experience, cannot be underestimated. When we redesign e-commerce sites to provide a more seamless brand experience, our clients experience higher conversion rates (sometimes up to 20% higher than before), larger average order sizes, fewer returns, lower call center costs, higher net promoter scores, and more. In short, this means more customers. It also means, however, that every one of those customers must be treated just right. Every company offering e-commerce, no matter how big or how small, is now in the customer service business.

During their e-commerce experience, each customer is essentially fitting together a jigsaw puzzle of information and trust. At the end of the day, every e-commerce sale is made up of dozens, if not hundreds, of small moments of truth. Each one offers an opportunity to deliver on your promise and bolster your brand, or to break your promise and erode your brand. Retailers have to ensure that every conceivable piece of information about their products is quick and easy to find throughout the buying process. Every stage of that buying process must be minutely and vigilantly controlled, as every misstep will result not only in a lost sale but a negative experience for the customer, which they are far more likely to share (via the megaphone called Social Media) than a positive one.

External Validation

Research reveals that e-commerce customers thrive on external validation. Statistics routinely show that over 60 percent of considered purchases rely heavily on a combination of word-of-mouth and third-party information. For some industries and verticals, it is estimated that as much as 50 percent of the journey from awareness to intent to purchase is complete before the customer even hits the retailer’s e-commerce presence.

For this reason, e-commerce retailers must do all they can to provide access to that external validation within their experience, including customer reviews, third-party endorsements, comparison features with competitive products, or any other data that goes into a customer’s purchase decision.

Augmenting Customer Experience

Retailers can also use their digital and e-commerce experiences to augment the customer experience in their physical stores. For items available at large retail presences, retailers can offer customers the option of buying online and picking up in store. Customers can save on shipping costs and enjoy the convenience of immediate exchanges if the item isn’t right, while retailers have a golden opportunity to incentivize and encourage add-on purchases.

Retailers also need to be open to people using their mobile phones and tablets to search for better deals while in a physical store. In fact, retailers should be encouraging customers to use their mobile devices by helping them to do it. Not only does this use of mobile devices offer exceptional opportunities to incentivize a customer’s visit, but a retailer can effectively make their inventory appear endless. If the particular item is not available in the store, retailers need to provide customers with the facility to digitally search for the right item, either through sales associates, in-store kiosks, or the customer’s own device.

Taking the Next Step

There are no easy answers, and ultimately, every retailer must decide what is the best “next step” for their own e-commerce customer experience. The cost, in both money and time, of implementing a new, state-of-the-art, fully Responsive HTML e-commerce experience is sure to be substantial — and perhaps prohibitive — to any retailer looking to improve its customer experience.

What cannot be denied, however, is that in this ever-changing, multi-screen world, a next step must be taken. With each passing day, the customer experience bar is being raised not only by brands like Apple, Tesla, and Virgin, but by the brand new startup companies that are following in their footsteps. Even if certain retailers do not opt to go for a fully responsive e-commerce experience, every retailer must do all they can to improve their customer experience in general, and they should start now.

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