3 eCommerce Shopper Expectations You Can’t Ignore

This article was first published in the “From the Field” section of CMO.com on June 12th, 2015 as a “CMO exclusive” with our CMO Kurt Heinemann. 

When people first learned how to shop online in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they played according to the rigid rules dictated by the early Internet. In those days, people were expected to work around the limitations of primitive user experiences, dial up connections, and being stuck behind a desk to surf the internet. The onus was on the Internet user to figure out how to operate within these confines.

Today, the tables have turned. A common characteristic shared by the world’s highest ranked websites is an ability to adapt around their individual users. Unfortunately this doesn’t carry over to most eCommerce sites.

Internet bellwethers like Google, Facebook, and YouTube have survived and grown by letting the changing behaviors and expectations of their users dictate their evolution. eCommerce can learn from them by focusing on the following areas:

Walk in the shoes of your customers

The more work you make your customers do to shop from you, the more likely it is that they will take their business elsewhere. Today’s shoppers no longer have patience for frustrating and tedious user experiences. They expect an intuitive experience and to avoid losing customers, you have to see things from their point of view.

We no longer live in an era where the customer needs to adapt to the way companies want to engage. We live in a world where the customer decides when, where, and how they engage with the company. This means that companies need to start adapting to the customer, right down to the individual level, in real time.

A great example of walking in the shoes of your customers is Wells Fargo’s recent experiments in creating customized ATM user experiences. The system dynamically optimizes the ATM’s menu screen to match the customer’s habits, putting their most-used options in big, friendly boxes on the main menu. Why make a customer go through the hassle of navigating multiple options on an ATM screen if 99% of that customer’s interactions involve checking a balance or withdrawing $60? By offering each individual’s preferred options first, Wells Fargo has made the tedious act of going to the ATM a little less frustrating. And as a result, they are no doubt well-poised to retain more business.

Responsive design alone is not enough for mobile

Smartphones are the Swiss Army Utility knife of the 21st century. Today’s shoppers live on them and are skilled at maximizing their time, turning checkout lines and bus stops into productive (and sometimes not so productive) moments.

A couple of years ago, responsive design was the best you could do to solve the usability problems that smartphones and tablets suddenly presented. But today there’s a whole new challenge. A growing number of people are increasingly choosing and using mobile devices over desktops and laptops for both non-essential and priority tasks.

How do you decide what content and merchandise is worthy of being included in a smartphone experience? The answer isn’t for retailers to simply serve up what they think might be the most important to all (or even segments) of their visitors. The solution is for retailers to maximize that tiny screen real estate in such a way that everything the visitor sees is highly relevant to them at the individual level. If you need an additional reason beyond giving your customers what they want, you should be aware that the conversion rate for mobile eCommerce sites hovers at 1%, compared to 3% on desktop retail sites.

For specific ideas on how to be ahead of the curve, look at companies who have an overwhelming majority of mobile shoppers and have therefore been forced to adapt earlier than their retail peers. A great example is what Metal Mulisha is doing to convert smartphone users.  Also pay attention to what’s happening in countries like South Korea, where a significant portion of eCommerce sales are happening on smartphones.

Get Shopper Smart with 1 to 1 Personalization

To expand on the notion of capitalizing on what visitors share with you through their shopping behavior, take a look at Personalization. Not the timeworn variety that pushes often-times  irrelevant content in front of shoppers and is based on segmentation rules. But rather 1 to 1 Personalization, that can both help you build rich individual customer profiles based on information gathered over the course of multiple sessions as well as recognize and act on real time, in-session shopper intent.

Although they won’t explicitly tell you, shoppers expect intuitive experiences. They already get it from dozens of applications and digital engagements. Their Android device is telling them when it’s time to leave the house to be on time for a doctor’s appointment. Facebook intelligently curates newsfeed updates according to their users intrinsic interests. And Netflix always seems to know what movies or TV shows their subscribers would prefer to watch next.

So when will your digital storefront start intelligently responding to your customer’s preferences in order to help them discover merchandise that’s actually in line with their style preferences, real-time circumstance, or even just their gender?

Unfortunately, the state of affairs in the eCommerce industry aren’t anywhere close to what your visitors are experiencing elsewhere. As the Internet continues to evolve, your brand will need to treat each of your digital shoppers as individuals and respond to them in real time. Make sure you’re presenting them with the products that they individually prefer, rather than forcing them to thumb through a litany of products, only half of which are highly relevant. As a result of prioritizing the presentation of the products shoppers would prefer across your website and in search results, engagement and page views will increase, conversion rates will improve, and revenue will subsequently rise.

Accept the fact that the days of visitors learning to play by your rules are long gone

Outside of eCommerce, and increasingly within it, there are simply too many sites competing for your visitors’ attention. If you’re not not willing to live up to today’s digital consumers’ growing expectations, someone else will gladly claim your market share.

Stafford McKay

Stafford is the former Director of Content at Reflektion. He’s passionate about eCommerce Marketing, Technology, and Lake Michigan. When he’s not writing content, he can be found out on the water in the 1938 Chris Craft he shares with his family.