This is a work in progress and not fully proofread.
Introductions / overview
As new technologies, business models, and customer preferences emerge, stores must keep up with the effect this will have on their products, customers, and specific shopping situations. The type of online retail experience that is perfect for one shopper, product or situation may not work for the next. In order to make sound decisions today and build a strong business in the future, store owners must understand the nuances of their industry and changes that are happening in retail as a whole. As these changes happen, retailers will find new ways to fit more products, customers, and situations into the eCommerce equation.
Price, selection, convenience, and information are some of the top reasons why people say they currently shop online. The Internet makes it easier than ever for shoppers to discover the store with the lowest price. As retailers, knowing how price-sensitive specific customers are about the products you sell is necessary if you want to stay both profitable and competitive. It is easier than ever to offer a large product selection online and knowing whether this is a selling point for your customers is important when making inventory decisions. Current technology allows customers to shop anywhere, at any time, for anything, and this has an impact on what types of people purchase your products and where they make the transaction. Along with price, selection, and convenience, certain information is easier to find online. Product reviews, how-to videos, data sheets, and in-use photos may be available on a website but unavailable in physical stores. Information is not always easy to gather online, but for certain products, persons or situations, access to the right information may be a reason to choose an eCommerce shopping experience.
The top reasons why people say they do NOT shop online include anxiety, the chance of error, delivery hassles, the product is needed now, and not having the right kind of information. Fear of hackers, malware, viruses, and other security concerns can be enough for some people to forgo shopping online altogether. Situations that are time-sensitive or that would end in catastrophe if the product was late or incorrect may not be right for eCommerce and a box delivered and left sitting on the front porch for hours during the day is not recommended in all neighborhoods. It can be challenging to answer all of the concerns people have when shopping online, especially for products that people prefer to try on, view in person or physically touch before buying. These items may be difficult to sell and of course, if a customer needs the product right now, a physical store may be the only option. Some people use in-store shopping for entertainment, bonding or reasons other than just getting a specific product. The value this provides to the shopper should not be overlooked and may be harder to reproduce in current online retail experiences.
Every reason given for why people do not currently shop online is an opportunity for innovative eCommerce stores to fix or eliminate the roadblocks and create new and better shopping experiences. As customers become more accustomed to shopping online, their positive or negative experiences will determine what they are comfortable buying using the information available.
Customers discover the products they ultimately buy at eCommerce stores in a number of ways. Search engines such as Google have traditionally been the way product hunting or information gathering starts. Search engines work hard to stay on top of evolving shoppers’ needs and situations by displaying the most relevant results possible. Besides the popular search engines, most people think Amazon when it comes to eCommerce. As of late 2016, about 55 percent of people say they shop on Amazon first before other online options. Social media platforms can be perfect for finding trends or products through people the customer trusts, such as friends, celebrities or experts and allows marketers to present products consumers may want in ways never before possible. On top of new forms of content curation, shoppers can now buy products online after seeing or discovering them in the real world, at a brick and mortar store, or in a video. This is changing the way people discover products, how they shop, and where the transactions take place.
Anything that slows down or stops two or more parties from having a mutually positive experience is considered transaction friction. Does the item exist? Will it fit my needs? Is it in my price range? Will I be able to pay the way I’d like to? Where is it being sold? New business models along with modern technology are helping to eliminate some of these hurdles and answer some of these questions in more new and more efficient ways.
Many successful eCommerce stores have innovative business models that help to eliminate these frictions. Amazon makes it easy to shop online and Apple makes it easy to shop anywhere at any time. eBay offers unique deals, Google helps you discover stores, products, and low prices while Alibaba makes it easier to find and purchase products around the world. Wish.com presents uncommon or unique products while Jet.com works to more efficiently match cost to price. Zappos provides great customer service and Craigslist removes the barrier to entry for sellers. These companies, among others, are continuing to improve many aspects of the retail industry.
For eCommerce, the website or app interface is now the new storefront. Customers are familiar with certain interface structures and straying too far from the norm can hurt usability and conversion rates. The website template helps provide shoppers with a consistent experience and a look that fits the brand message and user expectations. Web templates often consist of a header, footer, and body of a page as well as consistent colors, fonts, navigation and an overall look and feel of the site and brand.
Each page on your site should be designed to lead shoppers in the direction to achieve their goal. Often the end goal is for the user to make a purchase but other goals could include encouraging the user to sign up for emails, leave feedback or spread the word about the site. The home page gives people an idea of what you sell and your unique value proposition and assists customers with finding what they want with as little effort as possible. The category page provides information as to what type of products are offered on your site and directs shoppers to the more specific products they are looking for. The product list page identifies which products are available in each category and continues to move shoppers closer to a purchase. Product detail pages help users decide whether the specific product is right for them and informs the shopper about cost and shipping times. The shopping cart allows the user to see all of the products they are interested in purchasing and gives the total cost of all products, shipping information, and payment options. The checkout page allows users to review the purchase including tax, shipping, and terms before paying. Once shoppers accept the price, they can complete the transaction and enter payment and shipping information. Static pages present information about products, the company, and legal terms. The customer account section is where users can access records of current and past orders as well as shipping, billing, and other user data. Off-site, the brand messaging should be consistent across all touch points including social media, marketplaces, search engines and review sites.
A great user experience consists of painless product discovery, access to all of the information necessary to make a purchase, an easy payment process and a smooth transaction both online and off, before and after the sale.
Conversion optimization consists of using best practices and data to increase the likelihood that a user will purchase through your site, purchase more items or perform some other desired action. Social proof can be used to reassure the customer that your business is legitimate and safe. Showing clear deals, using anchor points, and presenting the perception of scarcity can increase the likelihood of the user purchasing. Eliminating online shopping fears can help attract new shoppers that were previously unwilling to risk shopping online. Helping users to find additional products that fit their needs helps stores earn additional profit from existing customers and convert new customers into onetime customers or lifelong patrons.
So far, we have considered online retail from the perspective of retailers and customers but these are not the only groups affected by the new changes. People in other categories may have different goals and experience the effects of commerce changes in different ways. How do the manufacturers’ strategy change with direct access to customers through their one site or marketplaces? How do retailers’ strategies change when they can now both sell to and compete with people all over the world? Do marketplaces such as eBay change customer expectations? How do website designers, Internet marketers, delivery drivers and customer service jobs evolve as people shop using new methods? Will the customer’s experience change once they can shop for any product from anywhere in the world? What particular aspects of culture are influenced by the “shop anywhere for anything with a click” outlook? These are some of the questions that must be asked to understand the impact our new retail landscape will have on potential customers and the world in general.