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Can experience-driven commerce change online shopping and increase customer loyalty?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher March 25, 2018
"Experience-driven commerce" sounds lovely, but can it make online shopping better for customers? Barb Mosher Zinck goes in search of definitions - and practical recommendations.

Do you understand the difference between experience-driven e-commerce and traditional e-commerce?

We keep hearing that consumers want a better shopping experience. They say that loyalty is hard to come by these days and if you want your customers to stay (and new ones to come), you better do more than offer a list of products and a shopping cart (the traditional model).

I don’t argue that times have changed. And it’s true that the “traditional” shopping experience isn’t always the best approach when consumers have so many options to choose from. But what I’ve struggled to understand, and I expect many others do too, is what exactly is “experience-driven” commerce?

Experience-driven commerce, a definition

Here is how Adobe, a customer experience platform vendor, defines it:

Experience-driven commerce = Maximizing sales by delivering customer experiences from discovery to purchase that are optimized with insights from real-time shopping behaviors and multichannel data.

What does that mean you need to do?

  1. Focus on the customer, not the product. Yes, you need to show your products with high-quality images and clear messaging, but you have to do that in a way that represents what the customer is looking for.
  2. Make sure the core foundation of ecommerce is in place and working well:
    1. Imagery
    2. Product Information
    3. Shipping, Returns
    4. Sales/deals
    5. Recommendations
    6. Easy to use Shopping Cart, wish lists, stored profiles
  3. Connect the shopping experience across channels - desktop, tablet, mobile, in-store. Omnichannel means something now, as opposed to a few years ago when it was a nice thing, but wasn’t necessary. Pay close attention to the connection between digital channels and in-store experience.
  4. Go beyond the sale to engage, support and build loyalty. Show customers you are committed to helping them use your products and services, whether that’s user documents or stories about how other customers have used your product, or something else.

Kelly Goetsch, Chief Product Officer at commercetools, explained that successful, experience-driven experiences offer value to the consumer. But value is different depending on the product and the consumer. Some examples he offered:

  • Appeal to Values: Non-commoditized products are rarely bought on a price/feature tradeoff. Instead, they're a reflection of the customer - the values, the socioeconomic status, their taste. Them.
  • Entertainment: Brands, especially luxury brands, have turned to various forms of entertainment to de-commoditize their products.
  • Pre-product Selection Information: Value also takes the form of education, by offering extended pre-product selection information.
  • Post product support

What is required to do experience-driven e-commerce?

There are three main things you need to do experience-driven commerce:

1. Technology. TBD.

Depending on your company size, products sold, markets, the type of technology you need will differ. You will need an ecommerce engine, content management (web experience, digital experience, customer experience) solution, personalization, testing, analytics, digital asset management and more.

As an example. Silicon Labs built their website using Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). Silicon Labs is a provider of semiconductors and has a lot of different products to different markets, and it lists these products on its website. Normally, when showing products like this on your website, you would use a Product Information Management System to store all the information on your products. But Silicon Labs doesn’t. It uses AEM, including Experience Manager Assets and integration with SAP (its ERP).

Many enterprise companies use customer experience solutions (CXP) like Adobe, Sitecore, Oracle, and others. The CXP provides content management, asset management, personalization and targeting, audience management and integrates with (or offers out of the box) analytics, testing, ecommerce, product information management. This is your full-suite digital experience platform. But not everyone needs to go to this level.

A number of e-commerce solutions provide content management, product management, analytics, personalization, and targeting. BigCommerce and Shopify are two well known cloud-based platforms, but there are others supporting companies of different sizes such as SpringBot for SMBs.

Another important thing your technology has to enable is omni-channel ecommerce. This is the piece that many don’t do and can’t do without a robust digital experience platform as the foundation. Knowing a customer across channels as they shop is not easy to do, but it is becoming a big differentiator for those getting it right.

In its 2018 Reimagining Commerce report, Episerver found that one of the top must-haves for consumers is easy-to-use product search functionality giving information on products and returns, personalized recommendations and similar things. It also found that consumers leverage multiple channels in a purchase journey.

2. Data. Data. Data.

Data about your customers, about their habits, their preferences, anything and everything that will help you understand how they shop. Data about your products and services. Data about your support.

It’s pretty hard to customize the experience if you don’t know anything about the person visiting your website. You can track anonymous users as they search and navigate your site, gaining insights into what they are interested in. You can connect to external data sources, like Conversant and Big Willow to expand your own data and get even more insights into buyer intent so you can customize the experience and offer more targeted offers and recommendations.

3. Content. And lots of it.

Product content, marketing messaging, support content. And a lot of variations of all this content. Why variations? If you want to provide context around the shopping experience, you will customize your messaging and product information for audiences/personas, and that requires changes to your content.

Product information is critical. It has to speak to the needs, wants and desires of the buyer. But there are also other types of content you must develop and connect to your products. These include customer reviews, blogs with content that relates to the product in some way, related products, detailed information, user manual, customer communities and much more.

Customer spend a lot of time researching products before they make a purchase. This can be just as true when purchasing a new pair of sneakers as it is purchasing a major appliance or new software.

The Episerver study showed that for many, the primary purpose for visiting a brand website the first time is for information:

  • Searching for products/services - 35%
  • Comparing prices/other variables - 29%
  • Making a purchase - 17%

The study noted that consumers often mirror in-store shopping online, doing things like window shopping, comparison shopping, research.

With such a heavy emphasis on research, brands dedicating too much time and resources to quickly moving shoppers through the sales funnel are not providing as much value to visitors as possible.” - Episerver study

The more quality, useful content you provide without overwhelming the customer, the better chance you have making a sale and getting that customer to come back and give a positive review or buy more. This content can also be used in store by customers and store employees.

My take

You don’t need to have a personalized website experience to provide a great experience-driven ecommerce experience, but you do need to understand your customers and their purchase journey so that you can create a shopping experience that provides them with everything they need to make a decision.

That shopping experience requires understanding how consumers use different channels and what kind of information they look for to help make a decision. Frame your message to match the values Goetsch talks about, provide access to additional product information and other content but don’t overwhelm them. Ensure the shopping cart process is smooth and seamless, and easily understood, and don’t forget to provide post-sales support using content, support portals, and other tools.

Your e-commerce experience doesn’t have to be complicated to create and manage, but it does require that you think it through and plan it carefully. And like everything else, be prepared to adapt it as customers preferences change.

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