Does your e-commerce site still look like an electronic version of a mail-order catalog? If so, it’s time to take a big leap forward. It's 2014, after all.

“Consumers are looking for more than just a product online. They’re looking for something to support their lifestyle,” said Glenn Conradt, vice president of Global Product Marketing at CoreMedia, a web content management software provider. "It's no longer enough just to handle the transactional elements of the e-commerce relationship. It has to go beyond that and be experiential.”

This means adding features to those flat, featureless sites to give them new energy and life. Think videos, for instance, showing consumers how a product actually works, as well as providing creative ideas and tips.

Online Shopping? It's Big

By 2017, 60 percent of all US retail sales will involve the Internet in some way, either as a direct e-commerce transaction or as part of a shopper’s research on a laptop or mobile device, according to Forrester Research. About 10.3 percent of total retail sales in the US in four years will be online purchases: $370 billion in web sales compared to $3.6 trillion in total retail sales.

But are companies ready? CoreMedia tried to find out recently by conducting a survey of 143 attendees at IBM’s Smarter Commerce Global Summit. The goal: To get a better understanding of how businesses view e-commerce and gauge their willingness to embrace this newer, more comprehensive e-commerce model.

In short, are organizations ready to make changes and how close are they to putting these changes into practice?

Of those surveyed, 75 percent said they were interested in moving toward building an e-commerce site that gives customers a broader experience.

Only 24 percent said they weren’t aiming in that direction. This may be the case because some are still struggling with basic functionality, said Conradt. “There are a lot of people struggling with the operational requirements,” he said. “Traditional e-commerce is very complex.”

Among the other survey findings:

  • 23 percent of those surveyed were already implementing new features to their e-commerce sites
  • 10 percent have already implemented experiential commerce
  • 21 percent are starting to discuss the idea

It's Working: Why Fix It?

Moving to a more comprehensive e-commerce model can be a challenge. Why expend the energy if your e-commerce site is chugging along and doing well? There are three main reasons, said Conradt.

  1. With upwards of 100,000 e-commerce sites in the US alone it’s getting more challenging for companies to stand out. Having a more comprehensive e-commerce site can help your organization differentiate itself in a sea of online vendors.
  2. Online customers are fickle. All it takes is a click of the mouse and they’re on to the next website. By providing them with useful, pertinent information you’ve got a better chance of encouraging them to stick around and become loyal customers. Whenever possible your e-commerce site should enable you to tell stories that can engage people and influence behavior.
  3. Shopping cart abandonment is a big issue for online retailers. One way of reducing cart abandonment is to do more than just present a product, it’s to provide more information to show how the customer can use it and make it part of their life. Videos are a good tool for providing this richer content, and helping customers to pull the trigger.

However, making the change to a value-added e-commerce site isn’t always easy. There are some challenges that you will likely face when trying to create a more interactive site.

  • You’ll need to focus on more than one touchpoint. You not only need to think about your website, but also a mobile site and social channels, which makes this task an additional challenge, said Conradt.
  • You have to make it personal. You’ve probably got copious amounts of information about your customers. How do you turn that data into personalized experiences? 
  • You’ll likely need integration assistance. Often marketing sites and e-commerce pages are separate. They need to be melded together so you’re not giving customers a disjointed experience.
  • You’ll need to find the right balance. There’s a fine line between augmenting  online experiences and annoying customers. You don’t want to put so much content on your site that customers mistake it for an online magazine. You also don’t want the bland cookie-cutter experience, said Condradt.

3 Tips for E-Commerce Success

The best advice is to move strategically and plan carefully.

Take it slow. Organizational change can be difficult, so moving in incremental steps can reduce push-back and problems. “Don’t try to boil the ocean,” said Conradt. “Pick specific things that you want to change." For example, if Thanksgiving is coming up move beyond the landing page and create a page on how to decorate a table or provide entertaining tips he said.

Focus on technology challenges. Take an inventory of your current technology. Is it able to accommodate the changes you want to make? Once you get a picture of where you are current at in terms of technology, you can focus the existing gaps and determine how to fill them to provide enriched content to your site.

Choose an experienced partner. Making changes is easier if you choose a partner that has experience both in e-commerce and web content management. Having both of these skill sets adds tremendous value.

Ultimately, slowing adding to your content over time can help your build a site that has a better chance of attracting consumer attention — and keeping it for the long haul.

Title image by nothing to hide  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.