With plummeting in-store customer traffic amid the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers must face the fact that their survival and future growth depend on maintaining an effective digital presence.
Conducting business over the web is becoming a necessary capability, and many businesses are finding the need to add e-commerce functions to their existing websites.
Here are three tips for businesses to keep in mind when spinning up an e-commerce website:
1. Design customer journeys from the buyer's perspective
Before customers buy anything, they must first find what they want and even discover items that they do not initially know they need. Yes, e-commerce includes a digital storefront -- a website where customers can browse and buy. But completing a digital transaction is only one step in a chain of events. It is important to consider how to engage customers in the first place.
Businesses have a gut sense about their customers and markets, accumulated over the years by operating physical stores, understanding buying cycles and knowing when to launch promotions. E‑commerce depends on transforming these implicit insights into explicit digital activities.
Companies should begin by mapping out two or three customer journeys for doing business on the web. Sellers need to start with an "I want, I need" statement, focusing on the buyer's perspective. From there, organizations should identify where and how customers find information that satisfies these requests, search through product catalogues, select items and complete purchases. These journey maps don't need to be extensive or detailed, as a top-level summary will often suffice. Sellers can map additional customer journeys as new situations arise.
Organizations should also consider how to attract customers and promote offerings within the digital storefront. Email marketing to targeted audiences and search engine optimization are important digital techniques for increasing site traffic, boosting engagement and making an e-commerce venture successful.
2. Maintain a consistent experience using a common content repository
E-commerce depends on generating digital experiences, where customers navigate through a series of webpages about product content and prices. Businesses need to be sure a digital storefront contains accurate information about everything for sale, on every page and within every experience.
Remember, there are many experiences within a digital storefront. The same information can appear on multiple pages -- such as within a summary list, on a product detail page or collected into a page with a promotional theme. There are bound to be experiences optimized for mobile devices as well. Regardless of presentation formats, all of these experiences should contain consistent content and access product information from a common content repository.
Companies should begin by developing a product content architecture -- defining product categories from a customer's perspective as well as identifying the different levels of detail that customers might want to consider. Next, organizations should define the fields and values that describe individual items -- such as product names, followed by short summaries, followed by detailed descriptions. It's also important to include images and video clips that supplement text.
3. Add e-commerce functions
Finally, transforming browsers into buyers and then fulfilling their orders depends on a variety of e‑commerce functions, including payment processing, transaction management, fulfillment, delivery and post-sales support. Some e-commerce platforms on the market include Shopify, Magento, Squarespace and OpenCart. Mapping customer journeys defines the expectations about the steps and process flows. Companies should make these e-commerce functions -- such as checking out, scheduling deliveries and so forth -- easy for customers to complete.
Organizations should also pay attention to mistakes, errors and interruptions, which is what happens when customers change their minds halfway through a transaction and want to repeat prior steps. Companies should optimize these e-commerce functions for customer experiences and not operational efficiency.