We’ve all heard about how crucial it is for the customer experience to be seamless and consistent across channels. And we also know how important it is to your business’s bottom line: A great customer experience can help you grow your business. According to research by Deloitte, “consumers who have a positive brand experience (42%) are more likely to share with friends and family than those who have a negative experience (32%).”
When it comes to the customer experience, you can break it up into three main phases: pre-purchase, during the purchase, and post-purchase. In the first of a series of three articles about improving the customer experience, we’ll examine how to improve the pre-purchase phase online, offline, and from an omnichannel perspective.
Improve the Pre-Purchase Experience Online
When fostering a positive customer experience before the purchase online, think about what the typical path to purchase is. What do your customers want to know before they commit to the purchase? What do they expect from a brand?
Consider this: 81 percent of consumers research online before making a purchase. Your online customer experience should help customers conduct that research by being convenient, informative and accessible.
Convenient: For convenience, think about two main components to the online customer experience: your website overall and your specific product pages.
- When it comes to your website as a whole, it should be easy to navigate, with a hierarchy and categorization system that aids users in finding the exact products and information they’re looking for. Online shoppers consider on-site search and navigation to be the most important website features. And you can enhance the search experience on your site, especially given that visual search is used on half of ecommerce sites.
- For your product pages, make essential information easy to find, such as pricing, customer reviews, FAQs and product specs. One-third of shoppers consider sizing, product finders and customer tools to be very important, for example. Product photos should also show various angles, close-ups, products on white and in context, and any specific features the product description may have called out.
Informative: Well-written, compelling product descriptions that highlight specific benefits (rather than a list of features), as well as engaging product photos that showcase key features and details are key to the online pre-purchase process.
And there’s a big opportunity for ecommerce brands to step up their game: More than half of online shoppers seek more comprehensive product information directly from manufacturer websites.
- Use inventory and Google Shopping to share updated product availability
Accessible: Online tactics to enhance the customer experience before the point of purchase should make your brand accessible and easy to reach.
- Live chat: Implementing live chat on your ecommerce store enhances the customer experience in a few ways. Back in 2010, Forrester research found that nearly half of online consumers believe live chat to be the most important feature of the ecommerce shopping experience. Live chat is effective at improving the pre-purchase customer experience because it humanizes your brand, which builds trust. Additionally, customers can easily ask and learn about the information they need, when they need it, and you can glean insights from live chat to help improve your biz.
- Social media: 80 percent of consumers use social media to reach out to brands, usually for support. Be responsive to prospective customers who reach out — this is not only important to that specific interaction, but to other shoppers who can view these public interactions. It’s much the same with customer reviews: Respond to them to show others that you take the time to read and respond to each piece of feedback in a thoughtful manner.
Example: ModCloth has an exceptional online customer experience during the pre-purchase phase. Product pages have several photos, including photos with different models. An average star rating is next to the main product photo and pricing information, and shoppers can easily jump to reviews. If you need more assistance, the live chat function or “ModStylists” to help with sizing and other questions.
Humanizing Your Brand Through Pre-Purchase In-Person Interactions
Just as live chat can put a human face behind your brand, the in-person customer experience offers an arguably more impressionable opportunity to do the same. Focusing on the in-store experience, if you have a brick-and-mortar location, is essential. These customers will likely spend six times as much ($1,710) as online shoppers ($247), according to Rutgers University.
To enhance the offline pre-purchase customer experience, look at your store itself and the staff who keep it running.
72 percent of global consumers say that experience is important when visiting a brick-and-mortar store. Remember why customers visit your store in the first place: mostly to try on, touch, and test merchandise.
But there are other reasons, too. Rutgers also reports that 65 percent of consumers shop in-store to avoid delivery fees, and 60 percent do so in order to obtain the product immediately.
Present your merchandise in a store layout that encourages discovery and a path to purchase. Highlight your products to make them appealing to shoppers. Look carefully at the lighting, product displays and packaging (52 percent of consumers will make repeat purchases if you have premium packaging).
Beyond how your products look in-store, remember that consumers want to physically touch and experience your products too. Encourage interaction with the merchandise through immersive retail.
The space itself is just as important as the people who manage it. Your staff help create the customer experience, as well as serve as a “real-life” extension of your brand. That’s why it’s essential to train them well on not only how to provide a good customer experience, but what your specific customer experience strategy is.
Universally, associates should warmly greet customers upon walking in, with more than just a “how are you?” or “do you need any help?” Encourage associates to get more creative and personable to encourage in-store conversions. According to Salesforce data, it’s very important to 75 percent of consumers to be able to interact with a salesperson who is available when they need them.
Your staff should also be equipped with inventory information. 46 percent of shoppers believe associates should be able to access inventory from multiple store locations. Automated inventory management software can ensure that stock information is updated and accurate for multiple team members.
Example: Cosmetics brand LUSH provides shoppers with an immersive in-store experience. The stores are full of open containers of product inviting shoppers to try it for themselves. And the products themselves are displayed in a fun and creative way — the soaps actually look edible. Overall, the experience is true to the brand and remembers shoppers’ needs.
Salesforce estimates that about 44 percent of consumers typically know more about a product than a store associate. Considering this statistic, investing in quality training to ensure all sales staff at your store are well-trained, knowledgeable, and friendly could have a major positive impact on customer experience, differentiating yourself from your competitors.
The Omnichannel Pre-Purchase Customer Experience
As we know, consumers’ paths to purchase are no longer linear. Omnichannel is becoming increasingly important in eComm and retail. And while it’s crucial to maintain a consistent omnichannel customer experience, what does that mean if you want to improve it?
Because online and offline are becoming more connected thanks to new technologies, brands also need to understand how every interaction fits into the bigger picture. Here are a few ideas you can use to improve the pre-purchase customer experience from an omnichannel perspective:
Personalization: 64 percent of consumers want to see retail brands giving them personalized offers. And with the amount of interconnectedness between physical and online retail, brands are learning more about their customers than ever before. Use this information to anticipate shoppers’ needs and future purchases — and drive sales.
Targeting local: Mobile users especially are going online to find offline shopping opportunities, and half of consumers will visit a store within one day of a local search on their phone. Plus, in 2013, 78 percent of mobile phone searches and 77 percent of tablet searches resulted in an offline purchase. Drive sales and boost foot traffic through local search for your business, but improve the experience by providing accurate and updated inventory information (you can sync Google paid ads with your inventory management system) and optimize your Google My Business listing.
Syncing data: Making data available online and offline is essential to bringing the omnichannel experience together. Customers want to know which products are available and through which means (locally, online, ship-to-store, etc.) Centralizing your inventory management will help you maintain accurate stock data for all channels.
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