Although online shopping is growing in popularity, the online shopping experience rarely captures elements of the in-store shopping experience that encourage people to make purchases. Online retailers can learn from the strategies of brick and mortar shops to increase conversion rates.
E-commerce represents just under 10% of retail sales in the United States. While this number may seem low, it’s only expected to grow in the years to come.
As online shopping grows, so do the online retailer woes, including an almost 70% cart abandonment rate and return rates that double those of brick-and-mortar businesses.
However, there are ways retailers can improve the online shopping experience which will allow them to succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Recognize the Difference Between Shopping and Buying
Shopping and buying are different but related actions. As such, the online experiences for these should be different but related. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but it’s a significant one.
Shopping is about an experience that is richer and more complex than buying, which is purely transactional.
Brick and mortar retailers use physical space to make complex relationships between products tangible.
For example, the classic grid layout capitalizes on predictable traffic flow and works well for businesses with a lot of merchandise to display.
There are strategies in place that determine how much space a product is given on the shelf or by how visible it is from across the store.
Physical stores also use space to expose multi-faceted relationships between products through proximity. You can see products that are similar in size, color, material, product category, or that are related all in a compact area. This gives customers the opportunity to browse without interruption.
Conversely, the organization of online retailers tends to follow much more linear and hierarchical patterns that don’t elicit the same response as the organization of physical stores.
However, there are ways to provide more distinct, intentional shopping experiences for visitors from the comfort of their couch.
Use Physical Space to Inspire Digital Space
When customers shop at a brick and mortar store, part of the experience is the wandering through the aisles and comparing products.
They might be looking for the perfect scarf to match their jeans and their jacket, or the perfect dessert plate to complement their table runner. This is part of the experience that gets lost while shopping online.
Wishlists, which many online retailers offer, partially solve this problem but remain far from perfect.
To improve this feature, e-commerce businesses can turn the wishlist into a persistent panel that can overlay on the search experience.
This would allow customers to “carry” products around with them as they continue to browse and better simulates the treasure-hunting aspect of in-store shopping.
Empowering shoppers to create their own collections would also help businesses make better product suggestions based on the shoppers’ preferences.
People are aware algorithms impact their online shopping experience, but an e-shopper should feel their preferences are driving the algorithm, not vice versa.
These e-commerce website improvements would motivate customers to shop for a collection of items, instead of just a single item, ultimately increasing the number of sales per transaction.
Foster a Sense of Community
Many shoppers want input on their purchasing decisions from their trusted community, and people already use technology while shopping in stores to achieve this – who hasn’t texted a photo of a product to a friend for input?
Currently, many online retailers encourage shoppers to share with their broader social network after they’ve made a purchase by writing a review or showing off their newest purchase. However, this really only benefits the business and doesn’t allow customers to receive helpful input in the moment.
Customers want help deciding during the e-shopping experience from a smaller pool of advisors, like close friends and family. Allowing them to engage with their close-knit community could have a significant effect on conversions, in addition to providing access to new prospective customers.
One way to do this could be to create a voting system integrated with the social networks that people already use to connect with close friends, like Instagram or Snapchat, or more directly through messaging.
Friends and family could weigh in before a customer makes a purchase through personalized links. This type of feature could even become a revenue opportunity, with personal stylist add-ons for professional recommendations.
Prepare for Traffic Surges Accordingly
The Black Friday-Cyber Monday bonanza isn’t a secret, yet many major retailers failed to properly prepare for the surge in online shopping in 2018.
Consumer expectations for site performances are high and optimizing your e-commerce website to handle a large number of shoppers can be a competitive advantage.
This requires more than making sure your images load quickly. Improve your website’s perceived performance by reducing the overall load time, ensuring server infrastructure can properly scale during traffic surges, and make sure you comply with accessibility laws.
The more people who look at the website before it is published, the more likely you are to catch mistakes before it’s accessible to the public.
Mimicking Aspects of the Traditional Shopping Experience Can Help Online Retailers Excel
Most online experiences march customers to the checkout, failing to recognize and leverage the shopping habits that drive conversions.
The key to promoting sales is to encourage customers to form emotional attachments to the products.
By considering how different customers prefer to shop both online and offline, web designers can better meet e-shoppers' emotional needs and turn the online buying experience into an e-shopping experience they are more likely to revisit.
About the Author
Katherine Olvera earned a BFA in fashion design from Washington University in St. Louis. She began her career designing apparel and handbags, but she now designs interfaces and interactions as a UX designer at Viget.