Leveling the ECommerce Playing Field

Brick-and-mortar stores have an advantage over e-tailers when it comes to keeping customers engaged --it’s much harder for prospects to walk away from a face-to-face interaction than to click away from a website. In-store customers also go to greater lengths to shop there than online browsers, so they’re likely to be more receptive to immediate sales messages. E-commerce is clearly on the rise with growth estimates of 13.9 percent from Nov. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2014 compared with the same period in 2013.

Retailers need to find ways to attract and retain online shoppers beyond competitive pricing. Instead they should improve customers’ website experiences by focusing on the customer's larger wants and needs. For example, REI enhanced its brand (and its bottom line) through a content marketing initiative that include (among other things) attractive, high-quality instructional videos that both inform prospective customers and promote REI products.

Not every retailer can easily frame its wares in visually appealing vignettes, though, and it can be hard to convince the folks who control the budget that they need to invest heavily in anything that doesn’t directly and immediately bolster revenue flow. Nevertheless, there are online content management steps that retailers of all sizes can take to increase customer engagement and satisfaction.

Personalize Your Messages

Use the behavioral data you gather on your website to customize the content that individual shoppers see. If a frequent visitor spends most of his time browsing a particular line or brand of products on your site, be sure he sees items that match his interests when he comes to your home page.

Apply the same targeted approach to emails and other messages. When you hold a sale, alert individual recipients by highlighting the savings on products and/or categories of proven value to them, so they know you’re looking out for their specific interests.

Limit the Visual Chatter

In the online world, less is usually more. Offer your visitors a clean, easy-to-read site experience that gets them to where they want to be quickly. Cluttering their path with distractions, however eye-catching, doesn’t serve their ultimate purposes (or yours). Shoppers can abandon websites with just a click, and your competitors would be thrilled to give your customers what they want if you won’t.

Keep an eye on every element of your content. Choose colors, such as green and blue, that exude trust, rather than, say, red, which is commonly used to warn of impending online danger. Make sure your images give customers a clear understanding of your products, and keep your marketing copy short, to the point and positive. Create and reinforce a sense of ease and convenience at every opportunity.

Think Mobile First

The near-universal use of smartphones and tablets has made mobile shopping increasingly popular. About a third of all online purchases are made on mobile devices, and even when customers visit physical stores, they rely heavily on their devices to inform and influence their shopping decisions.

If people can’t navigate seamlessly across your website via tablets or smartphones, they won’t shop there. And you will lose out on a rich, rapidly expanding revenue stream. Employing a responsive, adaptive web design will ensure that shoppers can browse your online content smoothly and conveniently, no matter how they choose to interact with you.

Be Social

From social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to blog posts, emails, text alerts and other company-controlled channels, there are countless ways to communicate with and engage your audience. In addition to marketing your products and services, use these avenues to polish and support your brand; create a consistent, compelling voice; request and respond to customer feedback; and show your customers you care about their wishes and concerns.

Social platforms also offer an opportunity to benefit from content marketing. For instance, by developing a deep, accessible roster of expert tips, how-to guides and live assistants ready to help customers take full advantage of your offerings, you can become the go-to destination when consumers are in the market for instructions and products in your retail category.

Content marketing is a growing trend in the online retail industry. When executed properly, it can enhance a retailer’s brand, spread its name, expand its audience of prospects and help drive sales. Just as critically, retailers need to manage their existing online content to optimize their customers’ online experiences while making sure they find the information they need to make purchase decisions quickly and easily.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  doratagold