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The key to e-commerce companies successfully engaging with customers is understanding the consumer's needs, solving the customer's problem and ultimately delivering the best CX possible to encourage them to revisit the site and make a purchase.
Engagement in relation to e-commerce refers to any way in which there is a two-way relationship between a customer and a business, which can include customer feedback and loyalty programs.
Here are three of the best ways to engage with customers via e-commerce:
1. Surveys and customer reviews
Surveys and customer reviews, when used correctly, can provide businesses with insight and data about a customer's experience that the business can use to make improvements. On the other hand, if customer feedback is positive it can reinforce what a business is already doing to provide an exceptional customer experience.
"It's especially valuable for product managers or merchandisers internally to understand what customers are saying about products so that they can either take that back to their buying team -- or the suppliers they're buying from -- and ultimately improve the products," said Jason Daigler, senior director, analyst and key initiative leader at Gartner.
A well-designed survey is effective when it is concise and to the point, but it is a form of engagement that businesses should not overuse.
A big problem that companies face is survey fatigue. When businesses frequently prompt website visitors to take long, boring surveys, they may not be effective, said Nicole France, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc.
When businesses develop survey questions, they need to think about how they will use the data they collect. Companies need to make sure that their survey questions target the right audience and use a variety of questions -- both quantitative and qualitative. It is also important that surveys don't ask questions that businesses already know the answer to avoid wasting a customer's time.
"There's a lot of psychology that goes into well-designed surveys," France said.
2. Easy-to-use UI
A simple, fast UI is also important for customer engagement on e-commerce sites. Because the UI is the direct interface a customer uses, it needs to be intuitive and give customers exactly what they are looking for, fast. Retailers such as Amazon have a simple and functional UI that offers customers easy checkout and personalized recommendations based on previous searches. Amazon also makes product information available on product pages, which enables customers to locate all necessary information in one place.
"The more efficient the UI, the more likely you can reduce friction," said R "Ray" Wang, principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research.
If an e-commerce site is difficult to navigate, has slow page load times or doesn't offer the information a customer is looking for, the page visitor may make their purchase on another site, resulting in both a poor customer experience, and a potentially bad customer review.
"There are just too many other options out there for customers. If your site is not that easy to use, they'll find another site," Daigler said.
3. Loyalty programs
Some e-commerce sites offer loyalty programs to customers to encourage frequent spending by offering free gifts, discounts or free shipping when a customer spends a certain amount of money. Loyalty programs can help retain customers, as well as attract new visitors.
Nicole FranceVice president and principal analyst, Constellation Research Inc.
Sephora's Beauty Insider loyalty program, for example, is free to join and offers a mobile app to track how many points a customer has. The loyalty program separates customers into three tiers that offer different rewards. Customers receive one point with each dollar spent and the more they spend, the more rewards they receive. Sephora customers can use the loyalty program both on the e-commerce site and in stores.
While loyalty programs are appealing to customers, businesses should not make these programs their sole point of focus.
"Some customers really love [loyalty rewards] and they will only buy if they can get some sort of loyalty points, but developing a great customer experience is more than just giving loyalty points," Daigler said.
Prioritize quality of customer engagement strategies
Businesses can engage with customers through social media, give offers and discounts and host giveaways, but experts said these are not long-term or sustainable options for companies to rely on, as this may condition customers to expect them every time they shop.
"These can be extremely important and useful parts of any sort of customer engagement strategy, particularly if you're trying to gain awareness and foothold in the market, but it's a very fine line to walk because if you overuse those things, you put yourself in a position where you can't really operate without them," France said.
The quality of customer interactions is more important than the quantity. Businesses need to effectively target their audiences, personalize experiences and show their customers that they care, and want to solve their problems.
"More or less engagement is not the factor. How relevant the engagement and how personalized to the need of a prospect and customer will drive better CX and revenue," Wang said.