Let’s cut to the chase here. The American Economy has been through quite a bit since 2006.
The “Great Recession.”
The “Jobless Recovery.”
Has the stock market been doing pretty well since 2009? Yes. Could there possibly be a bubble there? You bet. There is no arguing the fact that the world economy and American economy have failed to thrive as of late, yet here is a fact that would make you think otherwise. In 2013, American retailers are projected to gross a staggering $220-Billion! Through negative, stagnant, and frustratingly-slow economic growth, ecommerce has grown like a weed in the economical flowerbed! Let’s see if we can figure out how this came to be, what we might learn from that analysis, and then give you 3 actionable steps you can take today!
Cheap and Easy – The Universal Truths of Ecommerce
There was a day, when the Internet was first coming into our households (remember Prodigy, AOL and Netscape?), when selling products online was considered a bit of a novelty.
“This will never catch on!”
“Well, it may catch on but it will never become wildly successful!”
“Well, it may experience a great deal of success, but our brick-and-mortar shops will not feel the pain!”
That was the progression of statements many CEO’s were making on their way to being ousted from their ivory towers. During this time, we witnessed one of the most innovative periods in the history of mankind. Slowly, the online marketplace began to rise and the traditional stores, with their traditional thinking, began to see market-share dissipate. In the past decade, we have even witnessed some traditional retailers come to their senses, take the proverbial leap, and begin offering products online as well as in their Main Street storefronts.
Walmart and Costco are two gleaming examples that come to mind. In fact, these traditional retailers that had the guts to be a bit innovative 10-15 years ago, have found themselves in a really strong position today. Aside from reaching customers in their pajamas, sometimes as much as 100 or more miles from one of their stores, these power retailers discovered that slower selling products, specialty items and seasonal sales could be taken off the shelves and sold online. More valuable sales floor space suddenly opened up, and in-store and online sales have been on an incline for most of these forward-thinkers ever-since.
What changed from the early 90’s until now? Well, obviously the advent and ever-declining prices of, both, high speed internet and more powerful personal computers, helped to prop up the industry we call ecommerce. Now, the online shopper can visit more websites for price-comparisons more quickly, take in enough reviews to be confident in the purchase and, of course, view multiplee photographs and videos of products in virtual real-time. Then, our cell phones suddenly became smart and we could price-check online retailer outlets while we were in a store, holding and viewing the object of our desire. Few of us could have ever foreseen these advances in technology, and what it would mean to the marketplace.
A few did, however. Yes, eBay was quite exciting for a while, but the real innovator and darling of the past decade of ecommerce is, hands down, Amazon. Love them or not, you have to admire the fact that they were visionaries. Oh, and both the aforementioned retail superpowers realized the two most important rules of retail sales: 1) we want it cheap; and 2) we want it easy! These are the Universal Truths of Ecommerce!
Fringe Truths of Ecommerce – Safety, Comfort and Speed
In the case of Amazon, there’s much more to admire than great vision and recognition of these rather obvious rules. How about a great customer experience, for starters? More than any other online retailer, Amazon understood the tools they would need in order to make their customers comfortable shopping on their site. They made the site reliable, secure and fast! They realized that abandoned carts, wish lists and registries, often eventually converted into purchases. Moreover, they realized that winning the prize of “greatest online superstore,” would require more than just cheap and easy.
As Amazon has evolved their customer experience through the years, the rest of the ecommerce world has learned and developed tools as well. We now have these fantastic platforms, such as Volusion or Shopify, that not only come standard with terrific shopping cart options, security measures, in-view product reviews and other essential features – but also allow enough customization so that the shop owner can craft just about any customer experience he or she so-desires. Essentially, even a ma-and-pa store can sell online and utilize their own mixture of tools to cover what we dub the Fringe Truths of Ecommerce (safety, comfort, and speed). Mastering “The Fringe,” means crafting the right blend of safe, comfortable shopping, with the fast checkout and shipping options that make sense for your customer.
Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve covered so far:
- Ecommerce will seemingly thrive in any economical environment
- Easy and cheap are vitally important
- Crafting the ultimate customer experience has likely contributed as much to the online shopping world, as has high speed internet, laptop computers and cell phones
Got it? Awesome! Because now it’s time to talk about how to get plenty crafty (but not too cute), and still provide the best customer experience possible for your customer! You are officially primed for the 3 steps to crafting the ultimate experience for your ecommerce store! It all begins by identifying your customer.
Step 1: Pin Up a Photograph and Get Very Real & Descriptive
No, seriously… you MUST identify your customer. Do not just grab an age group, gender, and geographical location. You need more intel than that! Get a vision in your mind. What do studies tell you? Take all of that information, find yourself a photograph of someone who exemplifies your “model customer,” and write one page about the likes and dislikes of this hypothetical person. We cannot stress enough the importance of getting very specific about the person who will be paying your winter bonus! This is YOUR customer. Every bit of crafting you perform on your ecommerce site shall, heretofore, bare the interests of this person in mind!
Yes, you may very well have multiple products which are sold to multiple customer-types. You will want to establish the identity of these patrons as well, and craft the experience accordingly. This is where the ability to customize your ecommerce site really comes in handy (an open source solution like Magento is fantastic for ultimate customization)! It’s also where the great stores distinguish themselves from the good stores. Here is a link to an article we published on open source platforms vs. closed source which will help you decide which platform to choose.
In fact, to help you make that leap, we’re going to take things one step further. Congratulations are in order! Why? Because! Whether you’re a solopreneur, or you have a cast of many, you have now elected one, or several, Honorary Board Members! Consider their votes in every decision you make about your business, and you will be well on your way to ecommerce success.
Step 2: Great, I Have a New Board Member, Now What Do I Do?
The great news is that you’ve done at least half of the hard part by now. You have “Board Members,” and you’ve identified what they want from your store. Although massaging the pieces and crafting that customer experience may look and feel like art, from this point forward, it truly becomes formulaic. Meaning, you need only combine the optimal mixture of the Universal and Fringe Truths of Ecommerce, along with the votes of your Honorary Board Members, to create a winning formula for your ecommerce business.
Walk through the purchase of your core products, thinking as your newly coronated Board Member, and decide what they’re going to like and dislike about the experience and transaction. Now, subtract as much of the dislike from the formula as possible.
- How easy is it to find your site?
- To find the right products?
- To find reviews or price comparisons?
- How well do your prices compare?
- Do you have an edge that would allow you to charge more? Charge less?
These are just your core considerations (Universal Truths – cheap and easy).
Next, consider your Fringe Truths.
- How quickly can one navigate the site?
- Load and zoom on photographs?
- How many pages does it take to go from shopping, to a completed purchase?
- Do you have a format to which many online shoppers are already accustomed and familiar?
- Do you have buttons, badges and/or stickers indicating the safety of buying on your site?
- What kind of secure purchase options do you offer?
- Which of the above questions really matter to your Board Members?
Step 3: (Your Board Members + Ultimate Truths + Fringe Truths) * Data-Driven Tweaks = Formula for Success
As you begin to see results come in, tweak the formula until you have optimized your conversion rate. While site traffic is nice, and while your customer experience will affect the amount of traffic to your site, traffic is really a conversation for another day. To craft the Ultimate Customer Experience means that you are converting the greatest percentage of visitors into customers as possible! As a sidebar, please use at least some basic data to help guide adjustments (Google Analytics comes free, or as a plugin for some/most Ecommerce platforms). This technology is available for a reason! To not use it would be like football without instant replay!
Get to Action!
By now, you should have a pretty clear vision of what it takes to craft that ultimate customer experience. You have some nice background, some questions to ask yourself, some new Board Members, and a ton of rewarding work ahead of you! We’ve given you the why and the how. Now it is time for you to get to the 3 actionable steps above, to create the what!
Questions and Comments
Once again, we have reached the part of our program where you, our reader can (and should) participate! The excellent input and the questions you pose in the comments section help to shape the content of this site, so that we can provide you the most value possible. If you have an inquiry or comment, make sure to leave it in the comments section below.
Here are the questions we have for you. What questions do you have for us?
- Does Amazon actually do much that the average ecommerce site cannot afford?
- Have you already created a site and have some sales? Do you use data to help tweak your site at all? If so, what are your favorite analytic categories and what interesting changes have you made to your Customer Experience as a result?
- Would you add anything to the formula and actionable steps we have given you, in order to create the ultimate customer experience?