Brands have just 12 minutes to win over consumers and usher them to the checkout when shopping online.
This is the average time a consumer will spend browsing before making a purchase or moving on, according to research shown exclusively to Marketing Week. As a result, e-commerce strategies need to be focused on optimising the user experience before, during and after this time window.
The study of 1,000 online shoppers by agency Tangent Snowball also shows the effect of poor e-commerce strategies on consumers and what brands could be doing to get those consumers to the checkout, including personalisation, improving experiences online by identifying pain points and understanding what drives people to purchase online.
Business processes, execution and managing and analysing data can all affect a brand’s ability to be successful online.
Appealing with personalisation
Before brands can even begin to impress consumers with their products and services, a strategy to direct consumers to the e-commerce site is needed – but marketers need to think about what to put budget into.
Owen Sagness, UK general manager at Microsoft Advertising, believes that data will be the differentiator in e-commerce as it allows brands to “understand what is going on in this huge universe of interactions, who people are, what their preferences are, who will convert to a sale and who is or isn’t in the market”.
Microsoft is working with a bank where it wants to know who is in the market for car loans. Using Bing data it can see consumer behaviour change, for example when someone moves from searching for car loans a few times to doing so 10 or 20 times, suggesting that those people are in the market for a car and might be receptive to ads.
“Not only do they want relevant ads, they want a brand to value them and present an offer that goes beyond relevance – for example customised offers,” says Sagness.
Digital coupon site RetailMeNot likewise believes that consumers respond well to personalised offers. “These days, a ‘batch and blast’ technique won’t cut through the noise brands are making in front of consumers. They want to feel appreciated by brands,” says senior vice-president of international Giulio Montemagno.
“Use previous purchase history to deliver offers on items you are sure they will be interested in. If they feel like they are receiving a one-off experience from you, they will continue coming back.”
Retargeting users with personalised ads can be particularly effective when shopping baskets are abandoned by consumers, especially since 27% of consumers like to go away and think about the purchase before completing, giving retailers a window to re-engage. However sensitivity is paramount.
A fifth of consumers surveyed by Tangent Snowball say it is helpful when websites that show them ads and products according to the things they’ve shown interest and 15% appreciate it, however 26% think it’s an invasion of privacy and 22% say they are aware of it but don’t think its helps them find what they want.
“It’s effective if it’s done properly,” says Richard McKnight, digital marketing manager at online bike store Chain Reaction Cycles. The brand uses digital advertising via third parties, including Google Shopping and comparison sites, and works with service provider FusePump to ensure it updates product data before information goes out.
Buying a bike is a big purchase decision, meaning consumers are likely to leave the website before returning to buy, so the brand uses retargeting often. It looks carefully at the customer journey so that this is a strategic rather than automated process. It puts more marketing budget behind targeting consumers as they get closer to a purchase.
McKnight says: “For us as a business it’s key that you don’t overload consumers with information and aren’t too pushy about the conversion. We try to focus on the fact we have a really good offer on or if an offer changes from when a customer first looked at the product to now.”
Chain Reaction Cycles is testing with third parties to improve retargeting efforts by looking at ways to ensure the audience groups it is targeting aren’t people that have already made a purchase that it hasn’t tracked on a different device.
Despite Tangent Snowball’s research showing a negative consumer reaction to retargeting it is an opportunity that can’t be ignored. According to Luke Griffiths, head of marketing solutions EMEA at eBay Enterprise “e-commerce retailers who do not retarget abandoned baskets – and research indicate this is as many as 85% – are missing out on a considerable number of sales opportunities”.
Brands can target these customers with personalised display advertising or emails, landing when consumers are most likely to be shopping online. For example, eBay Enterprise works with retail group Shop Direct, which owns Very.co.uk and Littlewoods.com. It found that two days after the initial interaction was the best time to follow up with customers who have abandoned their purchases.
The importance of promotional emails is highlighted by the research, as 42% of respondents say these play a part in their decision making process, ahead of TV advertising (36%), in-store ads (25%) and online advertising (22%). Women are more likely to admit they are influenced by email than men (47% versus 37%), while 49% of 18- to 24-year-olds say the same.
“As marketers you tend to think you are sending out [emails] all the time and you forget that some people aren’t receiving as much,” says Steve Grout, chief executive officer at Tangent Snowball. “It’s about relevance. When a consumer gets a relevant email from a brand that they like, admire or have shopped with in the past they are pleased to get that.”
Improving the user experience
The ease of use of a website is also an important part of e-commerce as the hard work that brands put in to getting consumers to the point of browsing and purchasing could be money wasted if that experience annoys the customer.
Navigation is the biggest frustration when shopping online with one in three consumers abandoning their shopping because the checkout is too complicated. Almost a fifth (19%) say a page taking too long to load is a major bugbear. Consumers generally want practical help as almost a quarter view online support as vital to a personalised service.
Shop Direct identifies that the main pain point is the checkout and registration process and so try to make it easy for customers to sign up. The company also knows that customers are increasingly shopping across multiple devices, and ensuring the basket is retained across the entire journey, across mobile, tablet and desktop is therefore of “paramount importance”.
Shop direct e-commerce director Jonathan Wall says: “As a retailer that sells fashion online, we strive to reduce returns [of orders]. We’ve introduced virtual wardrobes, style advice and, within the furniture department, augmented reality technology so customers can see what sofas and wardrobes look like in their home.”
Wall adds: “This is all helping to reduce our returns rate and is simplifying our customers’ shopping experience.”
Griffiths at eBay Enterprise advises retailers to go one step further and “increase their conversion rates by implementing one-click purchasing and providing ‘guest checkout’ options”.
He says: “Each additional step in the online purchase process represents a potential opportunity for a customer to become confused or frustrated, to reconsider their decision, or just to run out of time, increasing the risk that they will not complete their purchase.”
EBay enterprise believes there are other changes that brands can implement in e-commerce to improve clarity in website design and layout. For example keeping contradictory buttons such as ‘proceed to checkout’ and ‘continue shopping’ well separated, and clearly flagging delivery costs and times from the outset rather than adding them to the bill late in the process.
It’s not always technical changes that are necessary to increase conversions. Equestrian retailer Naylors, working with e-commerce agency Space 48, created a responsive blog on its website a year ago, with content about country pursuits, seasonal looks, infographics and information about its history.
Since the blog went live, Naylors has seen a 35% growth in visits, 44% boost in transactions, 43% improvement in revenue, and its conversion rate has increased by 6%.
The next step for e-commerce
It’s vital that businesses understand what consumers want, how they want it and when, but the next step is implementing that change, which needs to be a faster process according to James Hammersley co-author of new book Leading Digital Strategy: Driving business growth through effective commerce.
The book highlights the changing nature of business in the digital world. It says that advances in all areas are coming faster and combining to create changes that can shift, create or destroy a market in months rather than years. It states that business leaders need to embrace a brave new world and become as “fluent” in e-commerce as they are in finance, sales and marketing.
It goes on to say that unless business leaders engage with and understand this new world they will never be able to set the appropriate performance criteria, judge what is the right strategy or appoint the right people.
Hammersley believes that brands do not have the “organisational flexibility to drive change” and that even though businesses have research telling them what consumers want, “websites look the same a year later”.
He says: “The biggest change is going to be that commercial leaders need to make a strategic choice. The movement to being increasingly curious and demanding of a channel needs to shift gear, into ‘I’m going to do something about it’, rather than devolving responsibility.”
The research shows there is room for improvement in e-commerce. To get there data needs to be used and analysed effectively, website design and layout needs to be adapted and brands need to personalise in the right way for consumers.
However, these changes also need to be approved and executed by senior leaders internally, which requires cultural chance. E-commerce, therefore, is still an education journey for many.