Overall eCommerce grew in 2014, but a close look at the leaders suggest that results can be far better

The Census Bureau recently announced very positive retail sales numbers across the industry as the US economic recovery progresses. eCommerce sales continue to grow faster than stores. What we found at Reflektion this year is that leading retailers and brands focusing on the shifts in digital consumer behavior outperformed their eCommerce peers.

The mindset of these leaders was about constant innovation and learning. They remained focussed on improving commerce in a way that makes people actually enjoy shopping digitally. Below are suggestions on what retailers and brands can specifically do to catch up with industry bellwethers who are providing the most impactful digital shopping experiences:

Device Optimization: Understand the role each device plays throughout the buyer’s journey.

Smartphone, tablet, and desktop behaviors are evolving and vary by retailers and consumer. They are often used by the same shopper at different stages from need discovery, product consideration, price comparison, and then ordering.

Desktop: In their post cyber Monday report, IBM observed that the desktop is not dead. Desktop accounted for 58.6 percent of all online traffic and 78 percent of all online sales during cyber Monday. Average order value was also 15.8 percent higher than smartphones and tablets combined.

The takeaway lesson here is that while companies should continue to invest in optimizing mobile, they should not neglect desktop, the golden goose. Desktop continues to be the key place where consumers are transacting, whether at home or at work. It’s the end of the purchase funnel and a critical element of success in a one-to-one strategy.

By getting desktop right, retailers and brands can carry what they’re learning about their customers over to tablets and smartphones. The ultimate goal is a personalized experience with whatever device your shoppers are using in any given moment.

Tablet: Traffic to tablets continues to grow and so do sales. But our industry has the bad habit of throwing all of mobile into the same category. Analysis of the data indicates that tablets are much more closely related to desktops than smartphones. If we again consider the buyer’s perspective, tablets are a strong vehicle for both discovery and transactions, like desktops.  Be sure your strategy specifically accounts for tablets. Tablet optimization should happen out of the box with the one-to-one personalization elements that are implemented on desktop visits.

Smartphones: With very limited real estate and a wider variety of uses cases, smartphones offer a harder challenge to hit the bull’s eye on every visit. Retailers and brands really shouldn’t offer desktop navigation on a four inch screen. Showing a catalogue of thousands of items through traditional navigation just does not work well for the consumer. When it comes to the buyer’s journey, understand the role that smartphone visits play, such as need discovery and price comparison.

Much of the influx of smartphone traffic – but low conversions – during this holiday season can be attributed to shoppers pulling their smartphones out while visiting brick and mortar stores. Rather than be frustrated by this, retailers and brands should embrace it as an opportunity for consumers using their phones to reconnect with their brand.

One-to-one personalization plays a critical role in making those smartphone visits productive for the shopper. It’s important to capitalize on limited screen space by showing personalized product recommendations tailored to what individual shoppers want. Personalized search can shorten the discovery of a new product category or other content. It’s also critical to really understand what each smartphone visit is about for the consumer. Recognize that shoppers may be at the top of the funnel when they use their phones. Their intent at this stage is often to simply discover.

Better analytics are they key to understanding the cross device funnel for individual customers. It’s crucial to have a deep understanding for how each stage fits into the whole picture. Brands and retailers should be focused on curating the right set of experiences that revolve around their consumers in every circumstance.

Redefine Search:Provide your shoppers with the ability to easily find what they’re looking for –any time, any where.

We mentioned search above because site search has emerged as an important element of any digital commerce strategy. We have found that personalized search on all devices has yielded great results. As shoppers become more willing to engage with brands throughout different stages of their journey, it is important to provide them with the tools they need to find what they want if it is not immediately offered. Instant visual search puts shoppers one click away from what they will buy, by offering images of trending and personalized products.

Search is also a key ingredient in any one-to-one digital strategy. It offers a powerful lens into your shopper’s current wants and desires. If brand and retailers learn from search terms in real time what customers are seeking, they can anticipate the next step and be ready to respond to individual shoppers.

The future is bright for those who can adapt to their shoppers’ preferences in real time.

It is true that the rising tide of eCommerce will lift all boats. However, we are seeing that the leaders are achieving results that outpace the industry. The retailers and brands that have taken the first steps in implementing a one-to-one digital strategy have generated stunning gains this year and are positioned to leverage insights about their customers into strong performance next year. Companies that adapt to their digital consumers and provide them with customer-centric shopping experiences are reaping rewards. Much of the positive numbers this holiday season can be attributed to the brands and retailers who continue to embrace innovation in our industry. It is not hard to see now where 2015 will take us — more retailers kicking off one-to-one digital initiatives and more customers buying more from those innovators.

Sean Moran

Sean is Reflektion’s President and CEO. He has deep leadership experience in eCommerce and digital media, having held executive positions at Monsoon Commerce (Where he grew their eCommerce software and services revenues), Technicolor, and PRN. Sean is the father of two and loves hiking in Yosemite Park.