track with six lanes
PHOTO: Marvin Ronsdorf

What makes some businesses succeed with ecommerce, while other ones fail? While having a good product to sell is an obvious foundation, are there certain elements that can make or break a customer's experience? 

Ecommerce experts provided the following six factors which add to ecommerce success:

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A Highly Transactional Website

Highly transactional websites have relatively low-priced, basic products, so it focuses on a high number of transactions with relatively low margins on each sale, said John Talbott, associate director of the Center for Education and Research in Retailing at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

Talbott pointed to Readers.com as an example. “It’s a very successful website selling reading glasses, and computer glasses primarily to older individuals who have developed presbyopia as they age. The price point for the reading glasses on the site is quite reasonable and the felt need is high. The site makes it easy to sort product along a number of dimensions and is structured to facilitate easy cart placement and final transaction. The site shows compelling reasonably priced solutions to the problem and makes it easy for consumers to acquire their solution. Frictionless transaction and easy flow to the purchase page is prioritized.”

A High Engagement Website

High engagement websites are ones where the goal is to create a strong brand affinity, Talbott said. “Story matters very much in these situations.”

Talbott offers Koio, a purveyor of high-end luxury sneakers made in Italy, as an example. “The story behind the brand is really what drives the success they have enjoyed. The site is image- and text-rich and tells the story of the founders carefully selecting Italian crafts persons from the cradle of all things luxury, Italy."

This is a section from the company’s craftsmanship page: "Gianluca, our head lastmaker, and his colleagues understand the anatomy of the foot better than anyone else. Their organization has been making highest quality lasts for 70 years and you can see all their accumulated knowledge in their archive, which holds thousands of wooden lasts, dating back to the 1940s. That knowledge translates into shoes that wrap around your foot like they’re custom made.”

“The goal of the site is to create strong customer engagement around the story being told rather than prioritizing rapid movement to transaction. The site is designed to create sticky (long dwell time page views) and connection,” Talbott said.

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A Product Assortment With a Point of View

“Amazon has everything, and it is cheaper than you,” said Bruce Clark, associate professor, marketing at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. 

“Your product assortment therefore needs to stress some particular customer segment or set of benefits. ‘Novelty T shirts,’ ‘Romantic gifts,’ ‘Your hiking needs,' etc. Curation is a buzzword, but it’s not a bad way to think about your product assortment: what are the items that your customer with a certain problem needs to see? You convey yourself as an expert who has credibility than Amazon in whatever area of the market you have chosen.”

An Easy, Pleasurable Shopping Experience

The website needs to be easy to navigate and easy to purchase from, Clark continued. “Products should be organized in a way customers are likely to shop (e.g., men’s t-shirts, women’s t-shirts, kid's t-shirts). The website needs a good search function so I can find the products that don’t fit the standard classification (e.g., science fiction t-shirts). If a lot of people search on a particular category of goods, organize a section of your website around that. You need to accept all major credit cards. (I am amazed at the few websites I run across that still want me to have a PayPal account.)”

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Good Search Advertising and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

“You have to get people to your website, and these days the entrance to the virtual mall is Google,” Clark said. “If I type 'novelty t-shirts' into a Google search, you had better show up on the first page of results. That can be organic, through SEO, or by buying search ads.”

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Personalized Omnichannel Experiences

“The modern customer has upended traditional interactions between brands and consumers,” said John Nash, chief marketing and strategy officer for RedPoint Global. “They can seek out user reviews, research product ratings from industry experts, and compare dozens of options well before ever interacting directly with a brand. Consumers want to be personally recognized across channels and devices, receiving offers that are relevant in their moment of need. The shift in power dynamic is forcing retailers to change how they operate.”

So to succeed in this new environment, brands and retailers must provide a consistent and seamless experience across all possible channels of engagement — informed by context and past interactions, Nash said. “Keeping up with a customer’s pace and understanding what messages to provide requires a single customer view in a way that is accessible in real-time. However, brands often lack this unified customer view needed to be effective. Those brands that unify digital and physical touchpoints and their underlying data have the deep customer insights necessary to provide the relevant messaging the connected customer wants in real-time.”