The Retail Pendulum: Developing a Balanced E-Commerce Strategy

  • Strategy
  • March 28, 2018
  • by Lindsay Tjepkema
  • 8 minute read

What would the ultimate e-commerce strategy look like?

What would the ultimate e-commerce strategy look like?

Well, the answer depends on which perspective you’re coming from. For most digital marketing teams, the ultimate e-commerce approach comes in one of two forms:

  • An easy experience, increasing web traffic – and yielding lots of leads, registrants, subscribers, and sales.
  • A uniquely branded experience, increasing awareness, engagement/involvement, affinity, and long-term loyalty

Regardless of which approach you take, for the people who are learning about your business and products, and for existing customers, there’s no such thing as an “ultimate” e-commerce strategy… for them, there’s just your brand and the experience they have when they interact with it.

So, is the customer experience easy? Or is it “branded” – enriched with subtle reminders and hints of all that you represent?

Personalised marketing at the core

Both perspectives require us, as marketers, to be mindful of how we’re creating personalised experiences on our websites. Balancing an easy experience with brand-focused content means offering a fully optimised online and mobile shopping experience that is personalised. Personalisation can help bridge the gap between simplicity and brand.

What is personalisation?

The unifying element that can help bridge the gap between ease and experience for brands is personalised marketing. Marketers can deliver easy, personalised e-commerce experiences by analysing what customers viewed, what they have in their cart and even previous in-store purchases. Savvy marketers can take this personalisation one step further by customising marketing content like emails, SMS messages, and even website overlays/widgets to strengthen the brand/consumer relationship.

We must find ways to not only convert customers but also to make that experience for them as delightful as possible. Let’s explore both of these requirements in greater detail, and see how to achieve a great balance where customers are satisfied and you’re converting and retaining a loyal, brand-aware community.

The Case for an Easy Customer Journey

What does an easy customer journey look like? And does making a customer journey “easy” compromise our ability to drive leads and conversions?

The “easy” side of the scale doesn’t rely as much on forging an emotional bond between brand and consumer – in fact, the more cut-and-dry the shopping experience, the better.

Examples

Online retailers like Amazon have built their businesses and their reputations upon the delivery of customer journeys that are as easy for the customer and free from barriers that could prevent them from making purchases.

These types of e-commerce sites make the shopping experience quick and easy and require minimal involvement on behalf of the customer.

The Amazon marketplace -- including the innovative “dash button,” Alexa, and auto-subscription feature -- aims to simplify the end user’s shopping experience by making things convenient.

Amazon-Subscription-Confirmation copy

Amazon’s subscription options make it easy for customers to select items they need on a recurring basis. Image Source: Amazon

Intelligent product recommendations are another key characteristic of easy e-commerce experiences.

Amazon’s recommended products – in the above example, via email – help customers to find new and relevant offerings based on their behaviour. Easy online shopping experiences are those that are simple. ThirdLove, a loungewear brand, sends product recommendations via email, too:

ThirdLove-Recommendations copy

Easy shopping experiences leverage predictive marketing techniques like product recommendations to make it simple for customers to find related products. Image Source: ThirdLove

Aside from one logo on its homepage, Nordstrom Rack doesn’t push itself upon visitors, nor does it use emotive tactics. It prioritises “ease” by making it simple to browse with definitive categories. Image Source: Nordstrom Rack

Nordstrom-Rack-Website copy

Apple is another example of a brand that, in some instances, focuses on ease. Even though it does put its brand front and centre and is known for its emotional taglines, its product pages are substantially simpler. They aim to communicate factual information as concisely and succinctly as possible.

Additionally, ‘one-click buy now’ options on sites like eBay and Target, as well as newer artificial intelligence (AI) models like Google Home (and Alexa) all make the experience the customer has an easy one. These innovative technologies completely removed the digital platform altogether, deleting even the smallest interaction a consumer has with a brand in favour of the quickest path to purchase.

Overall, characteristics of an easy e-commerce approach might include:

  • A less congested website – a homepage and product pages without crowded real estate, with strategic or limited use of banners, popups, or widgets
  • Clear and concise descriptions aimed to communicate value instead of fluff
  • Tactical approach (as opposed to emotive) by presenting a small (but highly relevant and personalized) number of product recommendations

For example, presenting “Frequently Bought Items” or only highlighting a handful of popular selections on a homepage eliminates consumer choice for maximum efficiency.

The benefits of this easy e-commerce model? If something is easy to buy, consumers are more likely to purchase it, thereby creating an easy and efficient shopping experience that increases sales and revenue.

The Case for a Branded Shopping Experience

On the other side of the e-commerce coin is the “branded” shopping experience.

This type of digital marketing experience involves a customer becoming immersed in a brand’s essence, values, program, or system. The brand is at the heart and centre of the experience.

There is a connection between the consumer and the brand, which forges a lasting multi-dimensional relationship. This is often a more labour-intensive strategy for these digital marketers in that it requires engaging content, constantly-on communication channels, and creative campaigns.

“Branded” shopping experiences typically:

  • Put the company/brand front-and-centre, making it the hero of the journey
  • Go beyond a standard homepage with typical product listings by offering unique value that makes the customer a necessary part of the process
  • Include innovation techniques like immersive experiences, often supplemented by VR/AR technology to bring the shopping journey beyond the screen

Innovative luxury brands that are doing these things both online and off. Fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff, for example, is using “smart mirrors” in its dressing rooms to enable customers to look for other styles and sizes, and even discover new items they may not have considered. They can also use them to order champagne while they peruse. Image source: Rebecca Minkoff via Econsultancy

Rebecca-Minkoff-Smart-Mirror copy

A five-star branded shopping experience is built around a consumer’s emotions and interactions with a brand… taking time, seeking mindshare, and cultivating an affinity for the brand itself through a coordinated, planned, often extravagant effort.

These experiences contrast the in-and-out easy buying journeys described above. They often involve looking around at multiple items or pages to dive deeply into what a brand can offer.

This digital marketing approach typically takes longer to plan and implement, but the rewards usually extend beyond e-commerce-related metrics (conversion rates, products viewed, etc), impacting other areas like customer lifetime value (CLV), loyalty, and affinity.

How to Balance the Retail Pendulum for Your Business

The key to delivering a transformative shopping experience is finding a balance of both ease and experience – a happy medium that provides the best of both worlds with limited downfalls.

Doing so requires you to assess your goals. What is your priority? The most common e-commerce strategies aim to achieve one (or more) of the following:

  • Offer a functional and utilitarian website aiming to communicate benefits, features, and more information about products that primarily exists to either compliment an in-store experience
  • Provide personalised marketing that primarily boosts purchases, retention, and CLV.
  • Build an e-commerce website that uses SEO, CRO best practices, smooth UX, and rich imagery primarily to boost traffic/reach, time-on-page, and conversions

Ultimately, you shouldn’t have to choose between increasing sales and delivering an amazing customer experience. Instead, mix and match elements of both simplicity and ease with the authenticity of the brand to achieve both.

Your website should make it easy for consumers to find what they want, and also must successfully highlight the elements that help set your brand apart from the competition. Doing so will help entice consumers with an easy buying experience while simultaneously forging lasting, 1:1 relationships.

Final Thoughts

The key is to not let the retail pendulum sway too far from one camp or the other – to deliver a unified approach that works best for your brand. Work to find the balance of ease and experience your customers seek and you will be rewarded not only with happy customers but also their loyalty and repeat business.

While creating an e-commerce strategy around providing ease for the customer does build sales, the interactions and experience also build repeat customers. If you can find a happy medium between these two big-picture strategies, you can deliver on the ultimate consumer journey.


Authors

Lindsay Tjepkema

Lindsay Tjepkema is the global head of content for Emarsys, the largest marketing platform company in the world. She and her team publish content that empowers marketers to leverage new and evolving technologies, like artificial intelligence, to be more effective in their roles. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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