COVID-19 has wrought many changes in society. For retailers, perhaps the most important is the massive shift to online purchases of just about everything. On the one hand, online retailers of all kinds are facing more competition from newcomers which previously concentrated on in-store sales. With more e-commerce sites to compete against — especially, of course, Amazon.com, Walmart, and the other giants — online retailers are having a harder time attracting shoppers and converting them into customers.
But there's also an important benefit for retailers that know how to take advantage of it: more online customers means more data that retailers can analyze to increase sales and beat competitors. Using that data, retailers can measure what makes online customers tick — e.g., what they're interested in, why they chose a specific brand/online store, what site features attract them, why they chose to shop at a particular site in the first place, and much more.
All this data is out there on the devices used by online consumers to interface with online retailers. E-commerce sites that know how to find and use this data have a major leg up over their competition, and have a much greater opportunity to attract customers, close sales, and see their businesses thrive — even given the tougher COVID-era competition. Here are some ways they can do that:
Disrupt the Customer Journey
When consumers decide to make a purchase, they often begin to research the product they're interested in, most likely starting on Amazon, where they get initial information. After that, they may seek out opinions on user forums, social media, and other sites where consumers discuss their purchases.
Those stops on the consumer journey are disruption points (“digital touchpoints”), and research indicates that retailers that can insert their messages into the disruption points can sway consumers, providing them with information on product quality, price, customer service, etc., all designed to attract consumers to their e-commerce site. Those disruption points are rife with data that retailers can utilize.
Cookies, trackers, CRM systems, data management platforms (DMPs), and automated data gathering and measurement tools lay out the customer journey for retailers. Data will provide a clear picture of what consumers care about most when they're still in the pre-decision stage of their purchase journey.
Target Your Audience
Armed with a map of the customer journey, retailers can present their messages at the appropriate disruption points. Based on the data gleaned by studying customer activities, preferences and choices at those disruption points — forums/sites/social media where opinions on products, purchases, sites, customer service, and all other relevant data are discussed — retailers can tailor messages that will appeal to potential customers.
Again, using automated data gathering tools, retailers can get a good sense of what consumers are looking for. Those tools can capture all interactions of consumers with Google searches, phrases, questions, text structure, mouse clicks, etc.
A good example of this was the use of data by Turkey-based Pegasus Airlines, which was experiencing problems in converting site visitors into customers. Using Google data on all interactions with its website — clicks, time spent on site, bounce rate, etc. — Pegasus was able to determine that visitors were dropping out because of flexibility issues. The airline then used that information to promote one of its products, called Flex, which allowed customers to make unlimited ticket changes. Pegasus also made changes to its web pages — e.g., emphasizing specific messages for Flex, providing offers, redesigning pages — until it came up with a winning formula. The company tested its formula for 35 days, and saw a 22 percent increase in conversions for the Flex product.
The technology to mine and contextualize all this data has been around for years, and retailers that know how to take advantage of it will be able to intelligently target audiences, spending their advertising money and resources in the most effective way possible, and maximizing the flow of customers to their site. By following the data — gathering and utilizing it properly — retailers are very likely to see positive results.
Give the People What They Want
Armed with data about how customers made their way to an e-commerce site, retailers can now close sales with the appropriate message/offer. If it was quality, customer service, Made in the USA, etc., that brought a customer to the site, the messages on the product page can emphasize that. Add in a coupon as an incentive, and the chances that a conversion will take place grow significantly.
What if a visitor decides not to buy? Here, too, data is key. Automated data gathering tools can tell retailers where visitors went after leaving their site, enabling them to determine what the problem was. Therefore, if a consumer begins searching for similar products on another site and lists the products by lowest price first, that would indicate that price was an issue. Based on that insight, retailers can decide if they want to make another offer to the consumer.
Many brands believe they can get all the data they need from direct interactions with customers on their own sites, but that isn't enough in today's competitive marketplace. Brands need data from the entire customer journey — understanding why consumers came to their site in the first place, and where they went afterwards — in order to get a full picture of motivations, desires, and reasons to buy. The more ground a brand can “cover,” the more data it can gather on the overall consumer journey, the better it will be able to attract customers.
Not only that, but data will enable brands to better compete with other retailers (new competitors enter the fray daily) and identify consumer needs, both current and future. Using automated data gathering tools, retailers can meet the competition head-on and emerge victorious.