birds on a wire
"Know thy customer" may seem like obvious advice, but it isn't as simple as it may seem PHOTO: Slava Bowman

Even if a retailer has the hottest product, the lowest price and the fastest shipping, if their digital and non-digital experiences lack coherence they risk alienating existing and would-be buyers.

Unfortunately, this happens all too frequently. 

Companies pursue e-commerce goals and strategies without first clearly understanding or aligning their overarching business strategy, customers and point of differentiation. 

By taking a few preventative steps, businesses can reduce the risk of this happening.

Define and Focus on the Key Value Proposition

A company’s unique value proposition generally falls into a few big buckets: proprietary pricing, proprietary selection, proprietary experience or proprietary product. Where companies run into trouble here is when the digital experience fails to align with the unique value proposition(s) that their customers appreciate the most. 

For example, if your company defines itself as a “lowest price leader” (like Walmart), and consumers believe and value that, your digital experience must emphasize that low price point and focus on the fact that a shopper won’t find that particular product at a lower price. 

In cases like this, incorporating and making clearly visible features such as comparison shopping and the equivalent pricing of major competitors into the e-commerce experience will go far with the consumer. 

Neglect emphasizing your key value offering, and you risk going out of business or losing considerable ground to your competitors. 

If instead your proprietary product is a key differentiator — and products of any well known brand would fall into this category — the user experience should highlight the uniqueness of the product. Emphasize how it was designed, how it was crafted or made, and the richness of history/tradition/special expertise that went into making it just the way it is. 

In this scenario the experience that was appropriate for the “low price leader” would distract your customer and probably would result in lower conversion rates and potential damage to the brand value.

Understand the Target Market

While “know thy customer” may seem like obvious advice, it's not always as simple as it seems. 

First of all, a lot of established brands have limited direct relationship with consumers. It's not uncommon in these cases to sell 90 percent of the products through “channels” that obfuscate the end buyer and end buyer motivations. 

When a brand in this circumstance strategically embraces e-commerce, or starts building out its relationships with end consumers, it must be open to re-evaluating its previous assumptions about the world. 

Secondly, your digital consumer can be completely different from your traditional consumer. By developing an environment to engage directly, a brand may find segments of consumers that it “was not speaking to” before. 

This makes understanding and evolving segmentation as well as deciding on a specific strategy with regards to each consumer segment even more important. With this knowledge you can determine the appropriate level of customized digital experience for each specific consumer type.  

Retailers must also recognize that consumer types may not fit neatly into specific buckets. The diversity and variety of interests in modern consumers makes trying to create a personalized experience for every specific one unfeasible. Start by understanding who the most important consumers are for your brand, and then tailor your digital strategy to your most valuable consumer segment. 

The last big piece of the puzzle is to engage with consumers more frequently during the purchase process. 

As commerce continues to move online (an estimated 108.5 million Americans shopped online over the Thanksgiving weekend), retailers don’t have the opportunity to engage in-store through sales associates and physical tactics. Social media and other communication tactics can fill that void. 

Constantly Test and Measure ROI

E-commerce provides a fertile ground for both experimentation and testing. However, you must think through each experiment or element both in terms of structure and execution. 

This isn’t a place to try any strategy for the sake of strategy. Directionally, each effort must match key elements of brand value, build upon on the company’s differentiating proposition(s), and align with the overarching corporate strategy. 

Once you've fulfilled these high-level objectives, you can move into the testing and measurement stages. These are by far the most important parts of the digital experience. It doesn’t matter if consumers like that new shiny piece of your e-commerce website if it doesn’t convert.

One way to make sure that the digital experience has high ROI is to strategically evaluate each individual component of the conversion funnel, instead of the funnel as a whole. Sometimes, one key misplaced element or page can derail an entire experience. 

For example, if customers routinely abandon carts at checkout, determining exactly why this happens should be a priority. Evaluate your checkout process, payment entering step and other final components of the conversion stage. Once you've exposed low-performing aspects of your digital experience, you can correct the errors and increase ROI. 

Move Before It’s Too Late

A winning digital experience goes beyond alignment across digital initiatives with your company’s overall strategy, to enforcing that strategy. 

Traditional “one-size-fits-all” e-commerce won't cut it in today’s retail market. Success depends on creating digital experiences that resonate with your specific consumer groups to consistently deliver ROI.