How retailers can compete in the age of Amazon
"In the age of Amazon the notion of competing online with global players can seem daunting to even a mid-size retailer, so many cede the space entirely. This is a mistake."
Shopping has changed drastically over the last decade, as technological advances have reshaped consumer habits and transformed the marketplace. In the midst of these sweeping changes, many small- and mid-tier retailers have struggled to keep pace. To wit: In 2018, 51% of Americans (and 67% of millennials) said they prefer to shop online—but 46% of American small businesses still don’t have a website.*
In the age of Amazon, this is understandable. The notion of competing online with global players can seem daunting to even a mid-size retailer, so many cede the space entirely. This is a mistake. By borrowing three digital practices from their (very) big competition, retailers can make a positive impact on both their customers’ lives and their bottom lines.
1. Remove doubt from buyers’ minds
Before making an online purchase, most shoppers don’t have the opportunity to touch, hold, or meaningfully experience the product that caught their interest. This creates uncertainty, which in turn can depress sales. It doesn’t have to. Savvy retailers can build customer confidence by facilitating digital experiential access to their products.
At Archer, we did exactly that for a national eyewear provider. To give its customers a keener sense of whether a new pair of glasses was a fit, we introduced a virtual try-on feature. The tool allows visitors to use their computer’s camera—or upload a recent photo—to get a 360 view of how they look in different frames, and make a more self-assured purchasing decision.
A solution like this isn’t right for every brand, but there are plenty of less-techy ways to impart peace-of-mind to online customers. First, ensure product pages include high-quality images that are viewable from multiple angles, so customers can inspect each item. Product reviews from previous buyers are also helpful, as they provide answers to common questions and (ideally) act as persuasive testimonials. Offering free returns or money back guarantees to first-time customers can also remove barriers to purchase.
2. Bring the best parts of your in-store experience online
If you have a brick and mortar business, think about what makes your in-store experience special. It could be the design of your space, your range of inventory, or the attentiveness and care of your staff and customer service personnel. Then ask if these points of differentiation carry over to your online experience. If the answer is no, you’d benefit from bridging the gap.
We recently consulted a high-end couture retailer with a similar challenge. Their in-store experience was phenomenal—complete with private shoppers who create custom wardrobes, then personally call each customer the moment their new garments arrive. But the online experience wasn’t nearly as satisfying. Their expert sartorial advice was absent, and it was difficult to navigate through the site to find the right item.
We made three recommendations to ensure omnichannel customers had a consistent and integrated experience no matter where they shopped. Implement stylist suggestions throughout the website, remember users and their preferences (for example: brands, categories, colors, etc.) to add a layer of personalization, and cross-sell product pairings just like an in-store stylist would. Two disparate customer touchpoints became a single, cohesive brand experience.
3. Listen and respond
Always on mobile access has empowered consumers to ask more questions and get the answers they need anytime, anywhere. People rely on their smartphones and search to find what they need. This behavioral shift has in turn precipitated an explosion of new chatbots and digital assistants, which work to provide users with real time answers to their queries. These technologies are both responsive to and accelerators of shifts in consumer behavior: customers are trending toward having shorter but more frequent interactions with brands, and they expect answers immediately.
While managing a chat service might be cost prohibitive for some retailers, the onus is still on them to meet this growing need. When customers look for answers, retailers must be ready and waiting.
One accessible solution is leveraging website traffic data to determine the common paths and search terms users take to and through your site. With these data points, retailers can begin to predict what similar users will need and provide it to them. For example, let’s imagine you own a vintage furniture store and your analytics data shows that many visitors land on your site after searching for credenzas. Rather than directing these visitors to a product list page of all your credenzas – where they need to browse and dig for the right thing on their own – you could instead drive those users to a personalized landing page experience. This experience would be customized, relevant, and informative. The landing page could:
- Let visitors drill down by product facets, providing visual or textual aids that educate the user about each facet along the way
- Show a sampling of the newest products with the ability to find more
- Display information that makes the purchasing process more seamless, such as delivery options or shipping costs.
These experiences show customers you know what they’re looking for and provide them with the help they need when they need it.
Online and off, people are loyal to brands who understand them. When a business shows visitors it knows what they’re looking for, they don’t stay visitors for long. They become customers.