Online retailers have always been hungry to recreate the power of in-person sales. After all, people don’t buy from businesses; people buy from people. In today’s social media-centric world, that principle is truer than ever.
Unfortunately — even though improving sales, developing loyalty, and increasing ROI all hinge on forming personal connections — many brands struggle to cross that digital divide.
Thankfully, three emerging trends offer eCommerce human connection opportunities.
The first means getting conversational. The second, having the right people speak on your brand’s behalf. And the third, supercharging the search functionality on your website.
1. Let’s talk: After, during, and (even) before a purchase
Conversations will continue to be a core part of commerce. The shift is in how and where we have those conversations.
Brands are now adopting automation and intelligence — predominantly in the form of chatbots — to offer more personalized assistance and recommendations. The industry refers to this as conversational commerce, and Gartner predicts that by 2021, 15% of all global customer service interactions will be handled completely by AI.
We aren’t there just yet, however. For now, the best bots augment AI with human support to personalize everything from browsing products, to placing orders, to dealing with returns. When building a chatbot into your business, there are a few key elements to keep in mind.
The easiest way to start is by integrating transactional sequences like order confirmations and delivery updates. By eliminating the need for emails, click-throughs, logins, and separate shipping sites, bots can mediate the entire transactional process with flair and convenience.
Likewise, chatbots can servce as the frontlines of support: provided those bots are (1) infused with the same customer service skills as your support staff and (2) overseen by staff at sensitive moments through trigger-word monitoring.
At the other end of the eCommerce journey, Sephora’s chatbot uses augmented reality to help users discover products and virtually test makeup.
Chatbots can also function as your style guide: the H&M Kik bot asks users a series of questions on style options and then suggests ensembles.
As for upsales, chatbots are the perfect medium to serve recommended products built on a customer’s order history or send reminders about their wish list items.
However you deploy your bot, the future is talkative.
2. Your customers are your best salespeople (at least, they should be)
Whether it’s a friend, family member, or complete stranger, social proof is conversion gold. Harnessing that power is why user-generated content (UGC) — in the form of reviews, ratings, testimonials, pictures, and even videos — has exploded. According to Yotpo’s benchmark study of over half a million online shoppers, people exposed to UGC are 166% more likely to convert than those with no exposure. Moreover, average ‘star ratings’ were shown to have a direct correlation to order volume.
A study by Stackla further showed that UGC influenced 79% of consumers, compared to 13% who were swayed by brand-created content.
These stats are exactly why brands like Batoko invest heavily in soliciting, collecting, and promoting UGC across their social platforms, while also featuring it on their product pages.
Every Batoko product page has a gallery of 5-7 user-generated images pulled from Instagram, after the mandatory product description sections. These images show how Batoko swimwear looks on actual customers out in the wild and not just on models in the studio.
You can click on each image and see the original caption and the hashtags, along with an Add to Cart button.
These images are critical for establishing trust, and preemptively answer a lot of questions which might otherwise give a potential customer pause.
Another form of high-impact content is real-time social proof.
When you land on any of Missguided’s product pages, you will see text overlays for a few seconds which show real-time activity related to that particular product.
These overlays not only highlight demand, but also create a sense of scarcity and urgency, especially when stock is limited. Moreover, real-time social proof isn’t just for low price-point products. Consumer electronics, bathroom fixtures, and even plumbing supply retailers are using it as well.
The copy and imagery aren’t complicated. And they aren’t offers either… not exactly. Instead, they’re stripped-down notifications related closely to the products.
All this means two things. First, if you’re not leveraging UGC to empower social proof across your funnel, start now. Second, if you are leveraging UGC, bring it into real-time. The effect is just as powerful as overhearing someone in a retail store say, “I love this. I’m getting one.”
3. Can you help me find this? Onsite search on steroids
One of the most overlooked yet critical elements of delivering a human eCommerce user experience is search. Sadly, a majority of sites get search wrong.
According to the Barnyard Institute:
- 70% of queries only return results for exact match keywords
- 34% of sites don’t return results for misspelled words or model number searches
- 72% of mobile sites don’t suggest category options in their autocomplete recommendations
These stats are worrying, as one report found that 61% of customers used the search option frequently when shopping online, and 63% of customers will abandon a site if the search doesn’t work as expected.
When implemented properly:
- Cross-sells are easier because users are more receptive to checking out other relevant products suggested through autocomplete
- Adjust and tweak your inventory, improve your ad campaigns, and boost conversion rates for your website based on the volume, frequency, and language of top search queries
- Improve your site’s user experience and shorten the buying journey for those visitors who land up on your site knowing what they want.
Lastly, search data of logged-in customers can be a valuable signal for building a more complete user profile and can help in personalizing their online experience.
When eCommerce gets a human touch
All commerce revolves around the seller-buyer relationship. Online businesses have struggled for years to cross the chasm that separates the two — to create an experience that’s not only memorable, but also genuinely helpful for the customer.
Thankfully, three trends — conversational commerce, social proof, and onsite search — offer a way forward. Treat your customers as people, not as data points in a report. They will talk about you, become your evangelists and fans, and make your brand a part of their lives.