Why do brands struggle with content-rich e-commerce experiences?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher November 13, 2018
"Content-rich e-commerce experiences" might sound nifty, but they are surprisingly difficult to achieve. Barb Mosher Zinck uses real world examples of content disconnects as a wake-up call.

At a time when everyone is talking about how important a consistent, contextual and personalized customer experience is critical for success, there are still areas of the digital experience where CX seems to fall flat. Your e-commerce site might be one these.

A disjointed e-commerce experience

Not to pick on any one brand but examples will make this easier to understand. Take a look at women’s running shoes on Nike’s e-commerce site. It’s a nice-looking website, with a listing of running shoes. It is a typical B2C e-commerce site. Here’s a question for you? How do you decide which shoe is right for your needs among the 62 shoes displayed in this section?

Scroll to the bottom of the page to read the paragraph “Women’s Running Shoes.” Here’s a bit of information that might help you find the right running shoe. But it’s hidden at the bottom of the page, and it’s not all that helpful. Now check out the links to Nike+ Run Club Training Plans, plantar fasciitis, barefoot running and pronation running shoes. These links take you to some useful content related to these topics and the types of shoes you should be looking at. But here’s the thing - there are no links back to the right running shoes.

An example on the plantar fasciitis web page:

Every run should have a purpose, whether it's building strength, speed or endurance. And likewise, every shoe has a purpose. Within Nike, "Run Long" shoes provide extra cushioning to improve shock absorption and soften landings for your joints when you're going the distance. "Run Fast" shoes naturally give you more of a midfoot strike, which can lessen impact and make you more efficient. And "Run Strong" shoes are designed to help strengthen your feet as you stride.

In that paragraph, certain shoe types are mentioned, but they aren’t linked to actual running shoe options. You can search on “Run Fast,” and you will get a couple of results. Search on “Run Long” though, and you get a list of clothing, but no shoes.

There is a disconnect between the content that informs and engages the shopper with the actual products they are shopping for. Why? And what does it mean for customer experience?

The constraints of most e-commerce experiences

Darin Archer, CMO of Elastic Path, walked me through the Nike example, along with a few others. He wanted me to understand the challenges many brands face building content-rich e-commerce experiences. There are a few constraints.

First, there’s usually a technology constraint. Traditional e-commerce software is straightforward: product listing pages, product detail pages, a shopping cart, and a transaction engine. Those are the core components. Sometimes you might see a blog, but it has nothing to do with the products.

If you want to create content related to your products, you must integrate a web content management platform. The trick is tying the two - content and products - together in a seamless experience.

The second big constraint is organizational processes. The e-commerce team owns the product site; the marketing team owns the content. Getting the two to work together is a challenge because the marketing team is often demanding new things that they believe will improve the experience, but they are often things the e-commerce team doesn’t understand or isn’t typically involved with. What often ends up happening, according to Archer, is each group does their own thing, and they are loosely connected to give the appearance of one site/brand experience.

For example, Marketing wants to categorize the shoppers on the site based on behaviors and objectives and deliver an experience that is personalized to how they want to shop. Every visitor to Nike’s website is different; they are looking at different things, maybe searching for a specific product, or just browsing for some ideas. But everyone gets the same experience: same homepage, same product listings, and so on.

Look at Nike’s product listing: they are all on store.nike.com, but the content we pointed to? That’s on the brand website, Nike.com. A typical visitor might not notice the URL difference, the visual experience looks consistent after all, but it points to the separation of the teams delivering the experience on the backend.

Creating content-rich e-commerce experiences

Archer said that commerce platforms aren’t designed to create experiences; they are designed to provide product listings and shopping carts. But if you want to compete with big marketplaces like Amazon, you’re going to have to do a lot more than that. Maybe Amazon can get away with it, but your e-commerce experience needs to be better.

Your shopping experience can start anywhere today: your website, an event, a mobile application or on social. And that means you need to think about engaging the shopper in new ways, many of which have a strong content element. Think about the opportunities to enable shopping directly from Instagram, or your branded mobile application. Your e-commerce website is now just one way to make a purchase, and your commerce engine should help tie together.

Now here’s the tricky part (other than finding the right technology). Most of the content brands create is part of a content marketing program. And content marketing is not directly about selling products, it’s about building awareness, growing audiences and demonstrating knowledge on topics related to your products in the hopes that at some point you will look to the brand when you do need a product. It has always been a big no-no to link to products from your content; which is probably why you see all this great Nike content separate from the e-commerce site.

Marrying content marketing and e-commerce – is it possible?

So, you have a challenge. How can you leverage all this great content to build a better shopping experience? If you duplicate the content (using an intelligent content strategy of course) across your shopping site and your brand website, will you get flack for leveraging your “thought leadership” content on your product pages? Or for linking products directly in your thought leadership content?

Or do you spend some time thinking about what content you can leverage in your shopping experience that takes from the thought leadership content without directly duplicating it? Do you bridge your marketing and e-commerce teams (and your support teams as well) and make them work together to define the best shopping experience?

Archer is right. Brands need to get this figured out. They need to understand the objectives and envision the end state and work backward from there. It’s about the right commerce technology, but it’s also about the right content strategy and the best customer experience. Maybe Nike can get away with this separate experience, but most brands cannot.

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