Over the last few of years the online world has seen a dramatic increase in online shopping (and online traffic in general). As more and more people become comfortable with purchasing items online, there has been a spike in the number of ecommerce sites that are populating the web. But as people continue to jump on the online shopping bandwagon, there are now millions of consumers who are straying from the online only world and are beginning to shop through multiple commerce channels. This new shopping method has become so popular that ecommerce specialists have coined it “multi-channel shopping.”
There seems to be little to no argument that the majority of American consumers prefer to do their research online prior to making their purchase. In fact a report done by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, found that 73% of US customers will research a product online before deciding to buy, but occasionally that can be where the ecommerce experience ends for some customers. Today’s shoppers have become far more sophisticated in how they make purchases. There are now multi-channel shoppers who may begin shopping from their computer, but make their final purchase in a brick and mortar store or from a mobile device.
This shopping trend has benefited retail giants like Best But, Target and Petco, who have online stores, mobile stores and multiple brick and mortar stores. On the opposite end, retailers that only have online stores haven’t been able to meet the demands of multi-channel shoppers. Of course there are the online mega stores like Amazon, Rue La La, and New Egg that have grown exponentially since their inception, but smaller ecommerce sites may start to feel the heat.
Despite the high demands of this multi-channel market, there are still ways for smaller ecommerce sites to compete with their bigger counterparts. The goal for these retailers should be to retain their customers after they’ve been drawn to their store. This can be done by creating a trustworthy environment that provides customers with the same comfort level that they would receive in a brick and mortar store.
For online retailers to create a sense of trust and comfort for their customers they have to find a way to simulate face-to-face interactions in a virtual environment. One way of doing this is adding click to chat features to help assist customers who have questions about any products, features, or policies on your website. In addition, telephone support has always been a tried and true customer service solution for online retailers. While these features are often present on most ecommerce sites, they can often be over looked because this information isn’t always easily accessible. This can be fixed by displaying support contact information on every site page, or having a click to chat box pop-up that appears soon after a customer visits your site.
In order to build that perfect sense of trust with your customers, it is important to be completely honest with the people that are visiting your site. This means clearly displaying return policies, contact information, privacy policies, and most importantly, shipping information. Being upfront with customers before they make a purchase is crucial to building trust and creating long-term customers. Having transparency with customers lets them know more about your business and makes them feel comfortable when making purchases from your site. Furthermore, providing reputable payment options such as Authorize.net, Google Checkout, and Paypal gives customers ease of mind when making credit card payments on your site.
In addition to making your online support readily available to customers and guiding them through the sales experience, it is also important to make your products available to customers at all times. With increasing sales of smart phones and tablet devices, mobile transactions are starting to become more popular. Because of this, it’s necessary for retailers to have versions of their sites that are optimized for these mobile platforms. For some smaller retailers, developing a mobile site can seem like a daunting task, but ecommerce platforms, like Magento, are adding m-commerce solutions to their platforms to make mobile sites available to all retailers. Additionally, new mobile technologies such as responsive design, allow retailers to have mobile versions of their full site without sacrificing content.
As the multi-channel shopping trend is going to continue to grow stronger, it’s important for small online retailers to know create a strategy to keep customers from leaving their site to make purchases elsewhere. While my strategy may not be prefect for every ecommerce site, it still provides a good starting point for online retailers to build from.