5 Things Ecommerce Customers Actually Want From Your Store The extensive data on e-tail purchase patterns doesn't lie.
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What should you be focusing on to improve your ecommerce business? You undoubtedly have plenty of ideas of your own, and so do your team members and external stakeholders. Then there's the seemingly endless advice from industry publications and thought leaders.
It's enough to make your head spin -- you might feel like everywhere you turn, there's another hot design trend, user experience concept, conversion optimization experiment or ecommerce tech tool that someone is hailing as the biggest business game-changer of all time.
Keep it in perspective. These aren't the people who are going to directly bring in your ecommerce site's revenues -- your customers are. Every e-tail outlet is different, and every audience is different, so there aren't cut-and-dry rules to follow that apply to every situation. That's why you should ideally be asking your user community what they'd like to see you change on your site. You can learn a lot by implementing onsite fly-in polls and post-purchase survey emails, or by keeping an eye on heat maps and user journeys.
Related: 5 Essentials for Building a Lucrative Ecommerce Site
In addition to that, though, several comprehensive studies have been published in recent months that point to some broadly-defined elements that virtually all ecommerce shops should make sure to include. Yes, every situation is different, but unless your site is a commercial powerhouse, you're unlikely to gain access to original data with the sample sizes that these research projects tapped into.
Here's a breakdown of five things science says eCommerce customers want from their shopping experiences.
1. Opportunities to qualify for free shipping
Online shopping has been gaining in popularity in recent years, but old-fashioned brick-and-mortar retail still has its advantages. Paying for shipping remains one of the biggest deterrents to ecommerce transactions.
Walker Sands's "2015 Future of Retail Study" found that free shipping is the factor most likely to convince people to buy from a website, with 83 percent congruent respondents. Additional fulfillment-related factors that were popular among respondents included one-day shipping (62 percent) and same-day shipping (42 percent).
Shipping fulfillment solutions company Temando's "State of Shipping in Commerce 2016" study found that 68 percent of consumers would consider increasing the value of their order so they can qualify for free expedited shipping. Carl Hartmann, CEO of Temando, says free shipping can make or break the whole shopping experience. "85 percent of consumers have abandoned shopping carts in the past, because shipping was too expensive, and 38 percent specifically because free shipping wasn't offered," Hartmann says.
To deliver an experience that's aligned with what your prospects want, consider offering free shipping on orders that cross a given threshold for a shopping cart total. Don't forget to promote this feature on your homepage, product pages and checkout experience screens.
2. Smart, personalized recommendations
With the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data, companies of every size can now leverage information to learn quite a bit about website visitors. What are we to do with all of this information, though? A lot of things, as it turns out. This data helps e-tailers to promote the specific types of products most likely to be viewed and purchased, to identify user conversion optimization opportunities and to provide personalized shopping experiences.
According to "Closing the Gap Between People's Expectations and Retail Realities," a recent study from Magnetic and Retail TouchPoints, 54 percent of consumers want to see offers customized to their personal tastes and preferences, while 44 percent feel that the product recommendations that they do see are lacking in relevance.
They're unsatisfied as a result. 50 percent are frustrated that their personal tastes and preferences don't influence the product ads they see online, while 52 percent wish that the messages they received from ecommerce companies took factors like personal taste, style, age and location into account.
To get started leveraging visitor data to serve up personalized recommendations, use SaaS tools like SmartMail to put the right products in front of your customers' eyes at the right moments.
Related: 7 Ways to Use Negative Customer Feedback to Beat the Competition
3. Special deals to keep them from hunting elsewhere
With non-virtual shopping, people who are "just curious" need to have a decent amount of purchase intent just to show up. They usually have to get in their cars, find parking and walk around a store to find what they want. With ecommerce, the experience is far more fleeting. It takes just seconds to Google a product name, open several tabs and bounce out of those that don't make the cut. Price comparison sites and blog posts touting all the best deals, moreover, are ubiquitous. Making sure your prices are competitive can make a big difference to your business.
PwC's recent "Total Retail Survey" found that 56 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from a website instead of a physical store when the prices are lower.
Magnetic's data expands on the influence that competitive pricing has on conversions. Some 79 percent of respondents indicated that a limited-time sales offer is the most important factor to them while shopping. And 85 percent said an email with a coupon code would convince them to come back to an abandoned shopping cart.
Experimenting with bringing your timely sales in to the core of your website experience is easy. Start by using sidebar banner ads to promote discounted products, and configure your content management system to promote on-sale items to relevant category pages with eye-catching badges. You can also try using tools like StoreYa's Coupon Pop to offer deals to visitors who join your email list.
4. Trustworthy, authentic customer reviews
One of the hallmarks of the digital age is the ease with which we can access information about products and vendors. Why should a company shell out thousands of dollars for a Better Business Bureau seal when a decent star average on Yelp provides better exposure? Crowd-sourced reviews of your shop are more authentic and therefore more trust-worthy than anything you can license or say about yourself.
According to PwC's research, the use of social media to make purchase decisions is on the rise. Approximately 27 percent of those surveyed said they've headed to social media to read feedback related to a brand, 23 percent have posted comments about their experiences with products, and 21 percent have viewed user-generated product videos on social media.
In addition, 50 percent of those polled by Magnetic said that products with "great reviews" can make a critical difference to their shopping experiences.
If you're looking get started with publishing only, the most trustworthy user-generated product reviews on your site, use Yotpo, a platform that allows marketers to verify review authenticity, publish collections of comments and even serve up re-targeting ads on Facebook with reviews appearing in the ad creative.
5. Easy, shenanigan-free product returns
When one buys a product in person only to go home and realize it doesn't fit, it's relatively easy to go back to the store with a receipt and return the goods. With virtual retail, the return process is a bit more complex, and it can also vary dramatically from shop to shop. Your customers may need to contact you to ask for a return package, or they may be able to print a self-service return package label. You may or may not foot the bill for their return shipping.
Research shows that this range in return protocol convenience makes a big difference to ecommerce customers. PwC's study found that 22 percent of consumers prefer to buy products offline because the returns are easier.
The data from Walker Sands indicates that the possibility of free returns motivates 65 percent of us to buy from websites as opposed to brick-and-mortar retailers, and easier returns motivates some 51 percent of respondents.
To close more sales from visitors to your online shop, make sure your return policy is buyer-friendly and promoted prominently. Consider creating banners touting how easy it is to return merchandise and publishing them at strategic touchpoints in the conversion journey -- on product pages and shopping cart pages, for example.
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There's no need to get overwhelmed by ideas to improve your online shop. The data is out there. When you pay attention to what customers want, it's easy to determine what your most pressing opportunities for improvement are.