Retailers, your mission this holiday season — should you choose to accept it — is to make life easy for shoppers.
Refuse this assignment at the risk of losing sales to merchants whose websites, checkout processes and even brick-and-mortar stores are easy to navigate. It’s true that the changing behaviors, needs, and expectations of consumers create constant challenges for retailers, but the job of making their lives easier isn’t impossible.
What Does “Easy” Look Like?
What does that look like? When you read through the predicted trends for the 2018 holiday shopping season, “utility” is a constant theme. Starting at the end of the purchase cycle, successful retailers are making sure it’s easy to complete purchases. Walmart and many supermarkets are eliminating check-out lines by promoting online purchases and curbside pick-ups.
If your focus is delivering goods purchased online, “easy” means making sure customers don’t have to fill out any more information than necessary, providing reliable shipping options and making available easy payment options like Apple Pay, Android Pay or PayPal. If you’re not sure whether your online shopping cart is helping or hindering sales, check your website analytics. How many people complete a sale? If you’ve got lots of visitors leaving the site after adding goods to a shopping cart, something needs to be fixed.
Can Shoppers Find What They Want?
Utility must start before the final sales process, of course. Are you making it easy to find the items shoppers want and are you suggesting other items they might like to purchase based on their browsing behavior? If you’re in a brick-and-mortar store, your store’s layout and your employees are there to guide shoppers.
An ecommerce website, however, relies on site organization and navigation, site search, product listing information and functions that can suggest related products. As you prepare for holiday shoppers, make sure your product listing pages have titles and headlines that have complete information, such as brand, product, size and color. Then make sure the listings have all the details shoppers need to make a purchase.
Online retail experts are suggesting that e-shoppers — particularly Millennials — appreciate chatbots to answer questions and engage with retailers. Chatbots can gather customer information and make recommendations to make the buying process easier.
Mobile Remains Critical
Any discussion about shopping utility must include mobile. Last year’s holiday shopping season provided plenty of evidence that retailers need an easy-to-use mobile presence to compete. According to comScore Inc., U.S. retail mobile ecommerce sales were up more than 40 percent, and eMarketer expects total U.S. retail mobile ecommerce sales will grow a further 32.7% in 2018. That means there’s still pressure to make sure retail mobile sites are speedy, easy to navigate and allow easy options to complete transactions. Remember that many in-store shoppers use their mobile devices to compare prices. Can you make it easy for them?
Is Your Social Media Up for the Challenge?
Even with a smooth check-out process and an easy-to-navigate website, retailers still need to market and advertise. Social media continues to grow as a marketing platform, and it’s emerging as a sales platform as well. On average, people spend 30 percent of their time online on social media sites. If retailers want to reach people where they spend time, it’s clear that social media is the place to be.
Platforms like Facebook and Pinterest are allowing merchants to set up ecommerce functionality that makes the buying process almost seamless. A variety of new technologies are driving the push toward social ecommerce, according to Shopify, a leading ecommerce platform provider.
If they aren’t already, businesses should be using social media marketing and advertising to build their brands, especially in the final four months of the year. They should also make sure someone is monitoring social media for questions and comments and is able to respond quickly. When consumers post questions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, they expect timely responses.
A quick ecommerce checklist
Here’s a checklist to help evaluate websites and social media marketing as we get closer to the fourth quarter:
- Is it easy to buy something on your website?
- How many people abandon shopping carts without making a purchase?
- Is it easy to find products for sale?
- Do product descriptions provide enough information for shoppers to make an informed purchase?
- Is the mobile version of your site fast and easy to navigate?
- Are you ready to engage shoppers on social media?
Of course, there’s no need to wait for the holiday shopping season before making changes that will improve your customers’ buying experience. It should be a year-round mission.