Merchants hoping to stand out in the increasingly competitive e-commerce landscape need to continually find new and inventive ways to remain relevant to their customers. Online shoppers are coming to expect that products are presented to them in ways that are tailored both to their unique interests and seamless across their chosen devices.
More than half of shoppers now say they expect brands to recognize them across screens and devices, and deliver personalized offers based on their preferences. This pursuit of relevance is prompting more merchants to experiment with ways to service shoppers in the moment and allow them to buy from anywhere.
Enhanced mobile offerings, digital wallets and social commerce initiatives are some of the ways merchants are trying to take the friction out of purchasing and widen the array of shopping opportunities beyond the e-commerce website.
There are no shortcuts, however. Simply slapping “Buy” buttons on far-flung products willy nilly is unlikely to result in success. Instead, merchants should consider the following steps:
Make the Mobile Experience Compelling
Mobile prowess is the starting point for merchants attempting to meet shoppers’ expectations — and one that many retailers still struggle to achieve. Mobile is now the default shopping touchpoint and the primary driver of consumers’ expectations to be able to buy anywhere. Fully 61 percent of all minutes spent interacting with retailers are on mobile devices, and a substantial percentage of younger shoppers rely exclusively on mobile devices, with one-third of 18-to-24-year-olds reporting they use no other touchpoints to shop.
Furthermore, mobile is now the default medium for the social media interactions that dominate so much screen time. Fully 57 percent of all social media visits are from mobile devices, making mobile-friendly content for social networks a must.
Developing a fully functional or, better yet, engaging mobile online presence is the first step merchants must take if they’re to liberate purchasing function beyond the flagship e-commerce website and offer truly seamless “buy anywhere” experiences. To that end, merchants should build a solid mobile foundation with compelling responsive design and integrated loyalty programs.
Responsive design can be the most efficient way to guarantee consistency across the vast array of mobile devices of all shapes and sizes. A growing number of retailers rely on responsive design principles to serve multiple iterations of their websites, adapting design and presentation on the fly depending on the screen size of the machine making the request rather than attempting to create and maintain multiple separate sites.
Beware however that some responsive designs strip too much functionality and content. Consider hybrid designs that adapt to the device type or screen resolution without stripping the features that make the site engaging. Merchants should explore what are called “hybrid” techniques, which rely on a preliminary determination of device type or screen resolution size to deliver the set of code and even enable the features and functions best suited to serve that device.
When it comes to creating seamless purchasing opportunities, merchants should also design mobile experiences with loyalty in mind. Mobile sites should support loyalty points redemption, access to order history, and allow shoppers to save payment methods and delivery address books. In addition, since most promotional emails will be opened on a mobile device, it’s imperative those crucial communications are optimized for the small screen.
Social Media "Buy" Buttons: Shopping Beyond the E-Commerce Borders
With “Buy” buttons sprouting up across social media, merchants should calibrate their offerings to entice their most engaged followers to buy. While most “Buy” button programs are still in the testing phase, early results suggest that consumers are responding positively to these serendipitous buying opportunities. Pinterest, for one, reports that pinned items with “Buy” buttons convert at twice the rate of regular posts on mobile devices.
These emerging contextual selling opportunities are getting plenty of buzz because they enable merchants to present relevant products without shoppers having to explicitly “go shopping online” by visiting a commerce-related website. By not having to leave the social environment to make a purchase, consumers can seize the moment to obtain products that are highly relevant to their immediate context.
While product-oriented social networks like Pinterest may seem like a natural starting point, to make the most of social “Buy” buttons merchants should first analyze their existing social activities to determine which sets of social followers are most likely to act on the impulse to purchase. Merchants that have determined they should get a jump-start on commerce enablement on social platforms can experiment via third-party providers such as Soldsie, Curalate and Instaorders for Instagram.
As merchants begin to transform social media outposts into commerce-enabled bazaars, it’s crucial that they bring along not just the technical capabilities for transactions, but also the trust-building tools that encourage shoppers to commit to purchasing in the first place. Chief among these: customer service content.
To ensure followers are as comfortable shopping on social sites as they are on a dedicated e-commerce site, merchants need to highlight their customer service content — e.g., product guarantees, return policies, shipping delivery timeframes. On social media, where promo codes and coupons are commonplace and free shipping offers are frequent, customer service can be a true differentiator.
Generate ‘Buy Anywhere’ Opportunities With Retail-Vendor Collaboration
With mobile device optimization and “Buy” buttons in place, you're well on your way to offering comprehensive buy anywhere shopping. But what about consumers who choose to purchase their desired product directly from the branded manufacturer? How can you capture that sale and drive that customer to your store? Integrated inventory sharing allows retailers to share their real-time inventory and data feeds directly into brands’ websites.
Successful retailers understand the importance of providing local inventory information not only on their website, but also on websites for brands they carry. Retailers can increase visibility across all platforms with APIs that allow them to share their real-time inventory and data feeds directly into brands’ websites. By being open to collaboration and allowing access to inventory data such as location, pricing, availability and much more, these retailers enable their inventory to be easily found where the consumer is researching or shopping.
Integrated inventory visibility can also enhance your in-store pickup omnichannel goals. Today’s modern shoppers will only take the time to drive to the store if they're confident that the item is there. With integrated inventory visibility, you can ensure that when the customer is ready to buy, they head to your store.
Omnichannel Success Comes With the Ability to Buy Anywhere
Consumers’ rising expectations for relevance, instantaneous service and seamless transactions give merchants high standards to meet. By expanding their purchasing capabilities systematically beyond the e-commerce site to environments with the potential for shoppers to encounter serendipitous finds, merchants have the opportunity to create new brand experiences that surprise and delight as well as boost efficiency, thereby expanding potential to win sales and earn loyalty.
Related story: How to Combat Eroding Consumer Loyalty