Guest Column: The Five Keys to Ecommerce Consistency
By Ina Steiner
Ten years ago, an online seller might have sold successfully on one channel exclusively, but the proliferation of hosting services, marketplaces and Comparison Shopping Engines - not to mention mobile and social networking sites - means most sellers now have a presence across the Web. Michael Harvey is Chief Operating Officer of CorraTech, a leading provider of ecommerce and multi-channel commerce solutions for Magento merchants. In today's Guest Column, he discusses the importance of presenting a consistent image and experience across all channels, and how to accomplish it.
Both online and traditional retailers will attest to the importance of consistency when trying to engage customers and drive sales. Yet what, precisely, does consistency mean? It means creating a familiar, positive experience every time a customer purchases your products or engages with your brand - wherever, however and whenever that interaction occurs.
In today's ecommerce environment, there are more ways than ever to reach customers with your brands and products. But myriad devices, communication tools, distribution channels and logistics concerns - yes even your shipping department and the box your product shows up in - can make maintaining a consistent presentation and identity challenging.
In order to meet the rising demands of consumers there are five keys to ecommerce and multichannel consistency that businesses need to consider.
1) Channel Consistency
Between physical locations, websites and social networking platforms, there are more ways for consumers to view and purchase products than ever before. But it is critically important that regardless of what channel a customer might be using to shop, he or she must have access to the same products, at the same prices, and have a similar overall experience.
As the lines between ecommerce merchants and traditional brick-and-mortar retailers continue to blur, this level of consistency becomes even more important.
2) Cross-Device Consistency
It used to be that if someone wanted to access your ecommerce store, they had only one place to sit: in front of their computer. Even if on a laptop, the purchase was likely consummated from a stationary workspace. Now with increasingly ubiquitous smartphones and tablets, people are browsing and purchasing products from almost any location using multiple devices with different screen sizes and capabilities.
Cross-device consistency actually isn't about putting the exact same image up on each screen; what looks good on a computer won't look good on a smartphone. Instead, businesses need to adapt their sites to take advantage of the characteristics of each device.
Techniques include "Responsive Design" in which site elements scale and arrange themselves elegantly to any device form factor, and mobile-specific themes optimized for particular devices. Mobile Commerce (m-Commerce) is predicted to grow 60% in 2012 to $17 billion. For some companies, that will mean that traffic to their sites from mobile devices will soon eclipse that of traditional computers.
3) Communications Consistency
Communicating with customers about upcoming deals, promotions, individualized offers and new products can help build an ongoing relationship with them and give them an incentive to visit your store. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution to these communications.
Research has shown that about 30% of customers don't really want to hear from you at all after they purchase - they will come back to your store when they are ready; 40% are ambivalent and are interested in specific products and deals; and 30% appreciate vigorous communications and updates.
Many merchants feel that if they send more email, they will generate more sales. In fact, email marketing has rapidly diminishing returns. Less is not more.
The trick is to segment your customers based on their behaviors and expressed desires and communicate with them accordingly and consistently.
4) Operational Consistency
In addition to traditional front-of-house customer interactions, e-tailers also need to be consistent with their back-end processes. If someone asks for next-day shipping, the package had better come the next day, regardless of the customer's geographic location or product specifics. Even if there is consistency in all other aspects of an ecommerce platform, the resulting benefits will be ruined if a customer does not receive a shipment on time or receives the wrong shipment.
Customers need to believe that they can consistently rely on you to deliver on your promises. In order to ensure this, there must be a high level of integration and coordination between warehouses, manufacturing and delivery operations.
4) Be Consistent with Your Inconsistencies
In spite of all that we've said about consistency, sometimes it actually benefits online retailers to be inconsistent when it comes to targeting individual customers. For example, greeting a returning customer with personalized content is a great way to increase conversion rates.
Another way to boost conversion rates is executing abandoned shopping-cart campaigns that feature not only products that were placed in a particular customer's shopping cart, but related products or offers that will appeal to that customer.
Everyone knows that A/B testing - or better yet, true multi-variant testing - is a great way to optimize conversions. If you show one particular test page to a particular customer, however, you should show them that same page the next time they come to the site.
In all of these cases, inconsistency can actually increase sales. So, if you're going to be inconsistent, do it consistently.
While maintaining consistency in any one of these areas will certainly improve an e-tailer's ability to retain and engage customers, to achieve true consistency, all five must be mastered. As the world of ecommerce continues to evolve, there are likely to be new channels, new devices and new ways of communicating with consumers that have not yet been imagined.
Regardless of what these new innovations are, one thing that businesses can count on is that consistency must be embraced for them to be successful.
About the Guest Author
Michael Harvey is Chief Operating Officer of CorraTech, a leading provider of ecommerce and multi-channel commerce solutions for Magento merchants. CorraTech provides design, development, strategy and support for both multichannel and pure online commerce projects. The company was honored with the 2011 Magento Partner Excellence Award, one of only 5 U.S. companies to receive the distinction.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to email@example.com.
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