Bridging the Ecommerce-Store Experience Gap

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Many thought ecommerce spelled the beginning of the end for physical stores. But now it’s clear that digital platforms and offline stores are not competitors, but allies who complement each other’s capabilities.

While ecommerce offers clear advantages like the ability to read product reviews, use mobile payments, choose the perfect size and color, check availability, and more, physical stores still have the edge of personal interactions. Sometimes, there’s no substitute for seeing a product in real life and trying it out before deciding to buy.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to bridge the physical-digital commerce gap. Let’s take a more in-depth look at how brands and retailers can do so.

Website Optimization Drives Cross-Channel Conversions

Customers don’t care about channels. However, they do care about convenience, and that’s where cross-channel optimization can make all the difference. They might visit your website on their laptop but decide to purchase through the mobile app or drive to the closest store. Today it’s essential for your website to be designed and optimized in a way that facilitates cross-channel continuity, providing the kind of flexibility that modern shoppers expect.

A good example of cross-channel optimization is click and collect. The simple fact is no one wants to wait to receive their orders. Studies have shown that while most shoppers prefer to buy online, they still like to pick up their order from the store. 

Improve Store Information on the Website

Even though ecommerce offers unmatched convenience, many shoppers still want to see, touch, and try out products. So, it’s always a good idea to provide store information on the website, often the first touchpoint on the customer journey. This could be as simple as adding the address and opening hours of the nearest store based on geolocation, or highlighting relevant items in the catalog, based on interest or purchase history. Not only does this facilitate smoother online-to-offline interactions, but it also feeds Google search results, resulting in a more substantial online presence.

Here’s another example. When people view your products online, you can encourage a visit to the closest store before making the final decision. Now, if they like what they see on your site, they can head over to the store for a closer look. This is beneficial for customers not entirely sure about their orders. They can get assistance from associates and will probably end up happier with their purchase. And of course, an added benefit is the reduced risk of return orders.

Inventory Integration Helps In-Store Conversion

Consumers are using more channels during their buying journey than ever before. According to a recent study,  many buyers expect to review in-store inventory online.

Let’s think about a common scenario – a shopper is checking out a pair of jeans on your website. She checks if the right size is available and decides to hit the nearby store to try them on. This can only happen if the store’s inventory is reflected accurately online. If it’s not updated in real time, she might find the item out of stock at the store. Not exactly a great customer experience, right? 

Upgrade Shipping Practices for a Better Experience

It pays to go above and beyond expectations when it comes to shipping practices. For example, 64% of consumers aged 18-34 are more likely to make an online purchase if same-day delivery is offered. Leading brands and retailers have started offering free shipping options and same-day delivery, as they seek to compete directly with ecommerce giants.

Here are some simple ways to provide a hassle-free shipping experience.

  • Provide an estimated or, if possible, a guaranteed delivery date
  • Double up on shipping notification emails and SMS updates for added peace of mind
  • Give a more comprehensive range of delivery time options to appeal to a broader customer range
  • Streamline the order fulfillment and packing process to reduce shipping times
  • Try to offer a combination of on-site tracking, links to the carrier’s site for monitoring and the ability to track orders on mobile devices

Make the Benefits Clearly Visible to Your Customers

It’s relatively easy for a store customer to learn about various purchase benefits from an associate, but this information can often be more difficult to discern online. Retailers should strive to make that experience as intuitive as it is in store.

A simple way to help your customers get a clear picture of the benefits is to create an FAQ section addressing the most common queries. The product page is usually the right place for more specific information. Total visibility of fulfillment perks on conversion-oriented pages will give shoppers a sense of flexibility. Something as simple as a highlighted exchange offer, a seasonal discount or an interest-free EMI plan on your conversion page can become the deciding factor that results in a purchase.

There’s no point in trying to choose between ecommerce and physical stores. The ultimate goal is to stop catering to individual channels and serve the individual shopper, whenever and wherever the need arises. To that end, integrating online and offline experiences is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

Shashin Shah is CEO of Pimcore Global Services