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How Online Retailers Can Recreate the In-Store Experience and Drive Sales

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Since the 1990s, when the internet reached mainstream popularity, ecommerce has been a piece of the equation that entrepreneurs and business owners must consider to ensure long-term success. Retailers like Amazon and eBay ushered in a new era of buying and selling online.

In 1998, widely believed to be the breakthrough year for online shopping, U.S. retailers sold $5 billion in goods and services. Over the next two decades, that number grew steadily as more shoppers embraced the idea of saving time and shopping from home; by 2019, that number had climbed to nearly $572 billion. In that time, social media, smartphones and other technologies made it easier than ever for consumers to shop for their favorite brands from anywhere.

Then came Covid-19. Online shopping was no longer a convenience; it was the only way consumers could get what they needed. Click-and-collect services, where consumers purchase online and drive to the store to pick up items curbside or at a kiosk, grew 106% to a $72.5 billion market in 2020 and continued to climb near $100 billion in 2022. Some businesses, like Pier 1 Imports, closed their brick-and-mortar locations and shifted to an online-only model. Even as stores and malls reopened for in-person shopping, U.S. ecommerce sales reached almost $959 billion in 2021.

Though the method in which consumers do their shopping has evolved over the last quarter century, their demand for a seamless shopping experience has not wavered. Customers are increasingly prioritizing service: According to our State of Customer Experience report, 58% of customer support professionals and 64% of marketing professionals expected customer expectations to increase in 2023. Today’s consumer still wants the in-store experience without always having to go to the store.

To meet and exceed these expectations, business owners and entrepreneurs should use conversational commerce to blend the best of the old shopping experience with modern trends. Below, I’ll discuss conversational commerce and how omnichannel strategies can unlock its value for today’s brands.

Related: Personalization Is an Overused Buzzword. This Is the Real Future of Ecommerce.

What is conversational commerce?

Conversational commerce delivers convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go with only partial attention to spare. It melds the old with the new, bringing the personal aspect of shopping to the digital space through communication channels like SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram. These have been crucial customer support and marketing tools, but they’re great for conversions, too. A customer engaging with a live agent, AI bot or both can have questions answered in a two-way setting and purchase during the chat without ever leaving the screen.

There are three required elements for a strong conversational CX:

  • Personalization: Brands can demonstrate an understanding of customer preferences and frustrations through personalized conversations. Customized shopping suggestions, ongoing support and quick resolutions make customers feel valued.
  • Proactive communication: Communication about shipment delays, inventory availability and time-sensitive discounts keeps customers in the know. A survey found that 91% of consumers say a good CX makes waiting for a product bearable, and 93% are more likely to be patient with delays if they associate a brand with good customer service.
  • Meaningful automation: AI can quickly resolve common inquiries so shoppers aren’t waiting too long and can find solutions 24/7. Chatbots can provide support and guidance at crucial times of need, including when customers are researching a product or finalizing a transaction. Furthermore, busy consumers can reply to a conversation on their terms without experiencing the delayed wait times of a phone call.

The value of connection

Hybrid shopping is increasingly common, with purchases made online and picked up in-store or purchases made in person, then augmented with online post-purchase support. It’s important for these experiences to feel cohesive to build a strong brand identity and offer a holistic CX. Businesses can use conversational commerce to recreate the in-store experience online and ensure that, wherever they are, customers feel in control of their shopping experience and get the answers they need right away. The importance of excellent customer support cannot be understated: In another survey, 71% of consumers said it takes three or fewer negative experiences to stop buying from a brand.

There are numerous benefits to adopting a conversational commerce model. It offers fast, efficient service: customers no longer have to wait on hold or sit around for a response because they can chat with a support team member immediately. Today’s consumers consider their experience more important than the products they buy. Two-way conversations allow customers to feel like they’re talking with brands rather than having brands talk at them. The process shouldn’t feel like a transaction; it should feel like a personal conversation with a friend where attention is focused only on the customer. Humans are social beings and want to feel like they have a connection with a sales associate from wherever they are and can trust that person to guide them in the right direction.

Related: 3 Surefire Ways to Extend Your Customer’s Shopping Experience

Constant conversation drives conversion

Today’s customer journey is dynamic. Customers aren’t singularly focused on driving to the local mall to speak to a sales associate and purchase at a physical register. But that doesn’t mean they want to get lost down an online rabbit hole searching for solutions, either. Customers typically use multiple channels to shop and brands need to be there to answer the call and resolve issues without delay. Omnichannel strategy blurs the lines between online and offline experiences and is a critical driver of a robust conversational commerce strategy. For example, customers can purchase on Facebook, receive notifications via SMS and pick their items up curbside, a seamless experience that makes them want to shop again soon.

Using digital channels, business owners and entrepreneurs can drive conversions. Take abandoned carts, for example. A recent survey found that 93% of shoppers leave at least one product in their online cart for an extended time before purchasing or leaving. Shoppers might forget to return or end up buying from another source. The survey also found that SMS reminders are likely to drive Americans to purchase, with 73% ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ likely to return to an abandoned online shopping cart when sent a text from the brand. 71% say they would appreciate more follow-up SMS reminders of abandoned carts.

Our State of Customer Experience report found a strong correlation between implementing a mature omnichannel strategy and business success across a variety of metrics:

  • 68% of companies saw modest or significant revenue increases
  • 83% experienced a more loyal customer base
  • 61% were able to respond to customer inquiries in real time in under an hour
  • An 8.5 Net Promoter Score (NPS) on average, compared to 5.8 with a less mature strategy

Related: What You Need To Know About Omni-Channel Marketing

Business owners and entrepreneurs are acutely aware of the importance of making a great first impression and improving upon it with each subsequent touchpoint. It’s impossible to be successful in today’s hyper-competitive business environment amid rising consumer expectations without a strong customer support program. Consumers are more likely to highlight great experiences publicly than bad ones, which keeps them coming back repeatedly and opens the door to expanding the customer base.

Success begins with conversational commerce and an omnichannel strategy that enables two-way communication on every channel, every time.

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