It’s no secret that competition in online retail sales is a cutthroat business. To put the growth in perspective, research from Statista shows that during the 2014 holiday shopping season, retail e-commerce sales figures in the United States alone hit $53.3 billion. On a global scale, research from eMarketer “shows worldwide ecommerce sales will hit $1.5 trillion this year.” With numbers like this retailers must continuously evaluate their e-commerce and Web technologies to make sure that they’re doing all that they can to make their customer’s online retail experience as positive as possible.
How to Win the Battle for the Customer
In order to be successful both now and in the future, online retailers need to determine the best ways to establish a positive, differentiated customer experience in their segment. In addition, integrating multiple channels such as the website, mobile shopping, and social media, go a long way to securing satisfied customers who can serve as brand ambassadors.
Here are three areas that online retail teams should focus on while moving toward a unified commerce platform that not only lets you turn the dials on improving the customer experience across channels, but also improves internal processes and workflows.
Examine Key Integration Points
Mobile technologies have radically changed the world we live in. Smartphones, tablets and other handheld devices have become a huge part of the e-commerce experience. Yet, according to a report from Gleanster Research, “Three out of five retail organizations indicated they currently support a separate mobile website that is disconnected from the main enterprise website.” This is inefficient and, worse, may cause resentment from mobile customers who might get a different experience than if they were viewing the site on their desktop computer.
But the bigger issue here is that creating a content-rich, targeted and easy-to-use website combined with e-commerce and mobile capabilities takes multiple layers of functionality. As much as we’d like to believe that one product tackles all needs, that’s not reality. Other applications, such as analytics, digital asset management, and social media all contribute to a robust online presence. Therefore, it’s important to understand where you have silos of information and where integration will improve the experience not only for customers, but also save time for your internal teams.
Focus on content
Successful e-commerce websites take advantage of every possible way to educate their customers at every point in their journey, from query to purchase. Once this concept is embraced, it becomes obvious that an e-commerce website’s content strategy goes well beyond the basic structure of the homepage, category pages, product pages and basic housekeeping pages.
An expanded content strategy is not only beneficial for overall customer nurturing, but it also widens the possibilities with SEO and content personalization based on the buying cycle of your online shoppers. The content that you present to an uneducated shopper, such as buying guides and how-to advice, is much different than what you provide to shoppers who need that final push.
Sophisticated content strategies such as this are hard to implement when your content is spread across multiple departments and platforms and largely inaccessible to the e-commerce team. Therefore, it’s critical to get your head around all the potential areas where content can make a difference in the customer experience and ensure that your content can be easily integrated with the online store where it will have the greatest impact.
In the topsy-turvy world of online commerce brands are bought, sold, expanded, collapsed or re-focused continually as consumer demands or marketing conditions changes. The inevitable result is a melting pot of customer-facing platforms and an even more complex and mismatched set of back-end systems. Even when things are relatively stable, some technologies remain intact while others fade away.
While it may be tempting to simply hit the reset button and roll out a new stack across all your e-commerce ventures, rarely is such an approach likely to provide the desired result without a major disruption to customers. A more pragmatic approach is to build around major platforms (think e-commerce and Web content management) that have been designed from the ground up to support content and data sharing. This means you will likely end up with more than one content repository, but if you’re able to integrate systems at the content level you will have effectively eliminated the silo problem. Such a loosely coupled solution can provide all the benefits of a unified platform, but allows you the luxury of keeping existing systems and replacing older systems on an as-needed basis over time.
Get on the same page – and thrive
There’s no question that a unified e-commerce website is the next big trend in online retailing and holds the keys to taking control of the customer journey. Unfortunately, you can’t just go out and purchase such a piece of technology today – you have to assemble it from a mix of on-premise, cloud-based and existing technologies. By understanding your integrations points, your content needs, and taking a pragmatic approach, you can achieve steady progress in less time than you might expect.
Oliver Jaeger is Vice President Global Marketing & Communications for e-Spirit Inc. in North America.