A Shopper, a Sales Clerk and a Merchandiser (Don’t) Walk Into a Store: Why Reaching Customers Online Demands Quality Content
Remember when you would walk into a store, browse the merchandise, chat with a sales assistant, maybe try on a few things, and head to the register when you were ready to buy? It’s a breeze of an experience, but one that takes strategic, intentional effort to replicate when it moves online.
Simulating the Real Thing
Think of all the sensory information you would take in if you were in a store. From what you would see in an aisle or feel browsing through a product rack, to what you would smell in a candle shop or glean from chatting with a helpful sales assistant, it all now exists online in the form of content. As often the only communication between a brand and consumers, high-performing, relevant content is non-negotiable. It must exceed the standard.
Additionally, a new wave of shoppers has moved to digital and they're far more demanding in terms of what they expect from the experience. In the early days of e-commerce, businesses were mainly appealing to digitally savvy shoppers, who were more tolerant of inherent glitches in the online shopping experience, like incomplete product information or clunky navigation. In the last 16 months, a new demographic of shoppers have had no choice but to buy products online, after having largely avoided the digital realm for a good 20 years. Demonstrating this point, in a recent report, 29 percent of those surveyed tried a new digital shopping method during the pandemic, with 81 percent of that group indicating that they will continue to do so in 2021.
There's also a faction of shoppers who had historically avoided making certain select purchases digitally; particularly those of higher order value that they would have previously considered too risky to buy on the internet.
All of this is to say that e-commerce content must now speak to the needs of every one of these customer segments in a way that provides them with all of the information required to make informed purchase decisions quickly.
Following the New Buyer Journey
The journey an online consumer takes to make a purchase is also now much more multidirectional than linear. While there continue to be recognizable stages of the consumer journey — from brand awareness to product consideration to conversion — consumers are increasingly moving back and forth through these stages and are doing so across multiple shopping sites simultaneously. Therefore, it’s critically important that a shopper always finds the most relevant content that answers all of their pre-purchase questions, nudging them to buy on the spot rather than browsing away.
From a marketing perspective, content within each phase of the purchase journey serves a particular sales function.
Product Description = Conversion
By its position at the end of the customer journey, e-commerce content is the most measurable in its impact. If you can improve the performance of the product page just before checkout, you'll immediately see an increase in the conversion rate of browsers landing on that page. It thereby has a significant multiplier effect on the return on investment of the entire online marketing budget, which is why product page optimization should always be prioritized first.
Additionally, product descriptions can have a significant effect on the product return rate. For example, in the fashion industry, over and above simple sizing information, a good “fit and feel” description is essential for a consumer making a purchase decision without touching or trying on the product. Detailed information leads to better informed purchases, leading to lower return rates, saving retailers millions in the logistics and processing of returned products.
Category Page = Search Traffic
Building out the right sort of search-friendly content on category pages is one of the most effective gateways to significant streams of search engine traffic and revenues.
Online search data analysis shows us that most consumers aren’t searching for a particular product; they’re using generic search terms, such as “short black dress” or “wedge shoes.” By creating category pages that meet this search demand, with consumer-friendly content designed to be indexed in response to these generic search queries, retailers can attract the significant digital footfall that they would otherwise lose. Like product pages, the impact of category page content is measurable via the incremental search traffic and revenues attributed to these pages.
Guide Information = Average Order Value
Whether presenting matching clothing items or comparing the scents of different holiday candles, retailers need to feed the digital consumer as much descriptive content as possible to help them decide from what can sometimes be an overwhelming array of product choices. This is known as the “paradox of choice” — give a customer too much information and they will not decide at all.
Well-crafted guide content should provide consumers with a curated view of the products they might be interested in so they can quickly select the most appropriate products for them. High-quality guides can also attract search engine traffic while being a powerful way to cross-sell related products and drive up the average cart size.
E-commerce content is words and images, but its effectiveness is seen in the numbers. Here’s a simple illustration of what we mean: start with an average of 30 buyers for every 100 browsers who land on a page. When done well, product descriptions can improve the conversion rate by an average of 33 percent, which would turn those 30 buyers into 40. Multiply that increase in performance across all digital marketing channels, and in the case of a large retailer, you’re looking at a ROI in the millions of dollars.
From enhancing the virtual shopping experience to improving the performance of digital marketing budgets, the optimization of e-commerce content remains the critical key to unlocking a brand’s full potential.
Ed Bussey is chief solutions officer at digital partner company Jellyfish.