Tailoring The Customer Experience Boosts Online Sales
Michael J. Armstrong, Narongsak (Tek) Thongpapanl, 13 Oct 17

Businesses hoping to become successful e-tailers have to know their customers’ preferences when it comes to online shopping. (Shutterstock)

Annual online retail or “e-tail” sales now exceed $19 billion in CanadaAUS$21 billion in AustraliaUS$410 billion in the United States, and US$1 trillion in China.

In the United States, conventional retail is growing but e-tail is growing four times as fast. Amazon already captures 43 per cent of American online retail sales, and it continues to expand into new retail categories, such as groceries, and new countries, including Australia. Other e-tailers such as Wish are also growing rapidly.

In response, brick-and-mortar retailers are enhancing their online offerings. For example, Walmart and Loblaws now allow customers to “click-and-collect” by buying online and picking up their purchases in-store.

Brick-and-mortar retailers are encouraging their customers to buy online and pick up their purchases in-store. Clark Young/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

But e-tail isn’t easy. One challenge is foreign competition. Statistics Canada reports that 40 per cent of Canadian online sales come from foreign sources. That could increase if the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement winds up raising online duty-free limits.

For e-tailers, growth is not simply a matter of advertising more through Facebook or Google keyword searches. The fundamental problem is that only 2.5 per cent of retail website visitors purchase something.

Converting those browsers into buyers is difficult. To succeed, retailers need to tailor their websites and strategies to their target customers, whether they’re across town or across oceans.

Confident and trusting consumers?

The foundation for successful online retail is consumer confidence and trust. A multi-nation study, carried out by researchers from the Goodman School of Business at Brock University, found that consumers who feel confident using the internet generally view e-commerce more favourably. Likewise, consumers are more likely to buy from e-tailers they trust. If consumers lack confidence or retailers have bad corporate reputations, those must be fixed first.

With that foundation in place, companies can then turn their attention to the way their websites are designed. To encourage online shopping, websites should be useful: Do they have the products customers want? They should also be user-friendly: Is it easy for customers to find products and place orders?

For consumers with ample internet experience, usefulness has a greater impact on purchasing. For those with less experience, user-friendliness is more important.

Fun or functional designs?

Beyond those basics, web designers must make many other decisions. Another study shows the “best” choices depend on customers’ needs and wants.

For example, some consumers want to experience a sense of growth and accomplishment. These shoppers prefer web pages with colourful pictures and emotional language. They also like descriptions of the product’s performance or the pleasure it offers. Their favourite e-tail sites combine these features to make shopping fun.

The movie section of the Google Play store is a good example of pleasure-oriented design. Shoppers can watch previews, read and write reviews and rent movies.

By contrast, some shoppers say they want their shopping experience to feel secure and responsible. They want to avoid negative outcomes, such as accidentally ordering the wrong size or version of a product.

These negative-avoiding shoppers prefer pages with practical layouts and clear menus. They also like descriptions that emphasize product functions and reliability. Their favourite sites make shopping efficient.

Amazon’s site fits into this category. It offers many ways to search for products and suggests additional related products the shopper may like.

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