It's hard to talk about retail without talking about conversion. At the end of the day, it's all about making the sale. But just because it's the digital age doesn't mean you should only be focusing on your e-store. How do you ensure sales growth that continues to surge? It all starts with broadening your view of conversion.
Gwellyn Daandels, Senior Director Digital Business at Cognizant, and Sharon van Elteren, Senior Conversion Specialist at Mirabeau, say that conversion is much more a long-term journey than a short-term goal. "Conversion doesn't happen in a single moment," Gwellyn begins.
It happens in a series of many moments throughout the customer journey. Retailers who only focus on the decision to purchase miss countless opportunities to impact that decision along the way."Gwellyn Daandels, Sr Director Digital Business Cognizant
"That's especially true in cases when customers want to take their time, and when they're exploring luxury items or products they'll use for a long time," Sharon says. "Avinash Kaushik put it best when he said: 'you don't pop out an engagement ring on the first date. So why push for conversion in the first contact?' When you know what customers want and need, you can personalize their experience and find the short-term metrics that lead to long-term conversion."
Gwellyn says it's also a mistake to focus too much attention on the online channels. "It's much easier to track, measure and influence conversion in an online environment," he says. "But European Commission statistics show that, in the EU-28, only one in five companies have digital sales channels. And only 18% of turnover in 2016 happened online. That means that 82% of turnover was still generated in brick-and-mortar stores. Retailers need to make the most of that channel if they want to stay ahead."
Creating the blend
Facing the conversion challenges of the future will take a strategy that combines the technology that drives your digital channels and the human touches that optimize the power of your brick-and-mortar stores. The secret, according to Gwellyn and Sharon, is to develop a strategy that answers three key questions:
- How do you establish a complete view of the customer journey that will allow analytics-driven optimization of all relevant conversion moments?
- What role do your brick-and-mortar touchpoints play in your customers' specific journeys?
- How can you expand your analytics and data-driven strategies to create a seamless experience, both on- and offline?
Tip 1: Create the roadmap
The key to successful conversion strategies lies in creating concrete roadmaps. For Gwellyn and Sharon, those roadmaps always begin with a deeper look into human behavior. "When you start from a position of understanding why people do what they do, you can develop strategies that really hit home," Gwellyn says.
"If you know your customers' intrinsic motivations, you don't have to manipulate them with over-the-top persuasion techniques," Sharon continues. "Of course, we're not against using persuasion techniques in general, since behavior and psychological insights are very important input for optimizing retail. It's just that relevance beats manipulation every time."
Gwellyn explains how to get closer to the goal. "After you have the roadmap in place, you can blend in your data and set benchmarks for your conversion goals. Next, you should map the entire end-to-end journey for every customer segment. This will help you target every marketing effort to address each step in that journey." Here, Gwellyn reminds us, is a good time to pay attention to cannibalization. Your increased efforts in one channel may simply be detracting from another.
Last but not least, IoT and AI can be just as helpful in measuring customer behavior in the brick-and-mortar store as it is in your online shop. Gwellyn: "from small group sessions to face recognition cameras to EEG headsets that track customer moods and emotions. There's almost no end to the ways that you can digitally gather customer data in the physical store and use those insights to achieve stronger conversion."
And 'stronger conversion' doesn't end at the sale. After all, a shop's after-sales service is another key component of building longer-term loyalty. Plus, word-of-mouth is still one of the most powerful drivers of increased sales. When you turn a one-time shopper in a life-long loyal promoter, your conversion will also grow as they send friends and family to your shop. Gwellyn and Sharon offer some more detailed advice for retailers who want to step away from short-term conversion and aim for Lifetime Customer Value.
Tip 2: Embrace the bricks
At the start of the online retail revolution, many experts wondered whether online shops would kill brick-and-mortar business. But there's growing evidence that the role of this impactful sales channel is merely changing. When Amazon launched Amazon Go earlier this year, they did so with a clear objective in mind: to serve the specific needs of shoppers who still prefer to do business face-to-face.
Gwellyn continues: "another great example of this is Coolblue in the Netherlands. The electronics company exploded onto the scene with an online-only offering. But they discovered that there were certain elements of the experience that they couldn't copy online. Customers wanted to touch and see their electronics before they bought them. They wanted expert advice about the right product. They didn't want to wait for their phone to be delivered, but rather wanted to easily pay and walk out with it. So now, Coolblue is opening more and more brick-and-mortar stores."
In fact, Coolblue's offline stores are currently growing faster than their online channel. And every time they open an offline store in a new city, their online sales grow, as well. Coolblue's CEO Pieter Zwart explains how it works (in Dutch).
"The truth is, the brick-and-mortar store is the place where retailers can represent their brand exactly the way they want to. That's why I suspect that flagship stores are here to stay," says Gwellyn. "A strong percentage of customers simply aren't ready to give up that in-person experience. And with the right research, tools and automation strategies, you can help create a seamless customer experience across the board."
Tip 3: Erase the seams
Creating a seamless experience also means bringing the personal touch of the brick-and-mortar store into the online shop. "Personalization and machine learning are erasing a lot of the boundaries in the online shopping experience," Sharon explains. "Data and algorithms can help customers get the ultimate service online. The 3Daboutme app lets people scan their feet with their mobile phones, and uses algorithms to find the right match from among hundreds of options. Variables like foot width, arches and insteps are no longer a barrier in the shoe-buying arena. The result is higher online conversion and fewer returns. So new technologies improve customers' shopping experience, and optimize conversions for retailers at the same time."
Sharon explains that quite often, retailers focus on changing elements on their page or adding features to increase conversion. "But there should be equal focus on removing obstacles, too," she says. "Think of your brick-and-mortar store. Sales would significantly slow if customers had to complete an obstacle course before reaching the checkout counter. Google created one-tap sign-up as a way to remove obstacles in online buying, in the same way Amazon made shopping easier by eliminating long checkout lines in their Go stores. Remove the obstacles, and you improve the conversion."
Tip 4: Find the measure
Gwellyn: "Peter Drucker said: 'if you can't measure it, you can't improve it'. In retail, if you want to improve conversion, you have to be able to measure it, and then use the measurement insights to develop new models and approaches. Many companies are embracing the Lean Startup method to produce iterations of products and/or services. There's a 'build-measure-learn' cycle for each iteration. But when you're looking to increase conversion, actually the inverse of that process seems to work much better. We learn from customer insights and use that as the basis to determine a hypothesis of how we can improve. Then, we determine how we can measure that hypothesis, and make sure we build the solution in a way that helps us achieve our goals."
"Without measurable indicators of conversion drivers, retailers are in as much danger as a pilot flying an Airbus 380 without instruments," laughs Gwellyn. "The direct result is a lot of untargeted marketing budget spend, reduced success in the marketplace, and eventually a take-over by data-driven competitors."
Gwellyn cites an example of a major retailer with international reach. "When we visited a flagship store of theirs in London, we looked for the five products that were the top sellers in their online store. We didn't find them in the physical store. Why? Because the store manager didn't believe those particular items would sell. When we put those products on the shelves, they of course sold like crazy."
Tip 5: Clean up your act
This may sound like an obvious one, but it's still an area in which many retailers struggle. Customers will have a much harder time spending money in your shop if they perceive it as dirty or unorganized. Want to increase conversion? Clean your bathrooms. CS News reports that 95% of consumers will have a negative view of a retail shop if the bathrooms or dressing rooms are dirty or missing essential supplies. And QSR magazine says 14% of shoppers will not return to your stores for the same reason, and almost a third of shoppers will only return if absolutely necessary. "Retailers who want to increase conversion will have a strong, continuous strategy for cleaning and maintenance," Gwellyn warns. "Otherwise, they're just flushing money down the toilet."
The Mirabeau difference
Gwellyn and Sharon have seen these approaches work in practice. "Using the power of customer insight, we improved a major retailer's brick-and-mortar sales by changing the clothes that the mannequins wore at different times of the day. Knowing which customers passed by at which times of the day and night helped us adjust the store's image to attract the customers most likely to buy," Gwellyn says.
And the travel industry continues to improve traveller's experiences, too. "For two clients in the travel industry, we explored the points on the online journey in which customers got confused or couldn't find the information they were looking for, which almost always resulted in travellers abandoning the site without purchasing," Sharon explains. "By deeply studying their specific needs and expectations, we were able to offer a better online experience and boost sales."
Ready to take conversion to new heights? Then expand your view of conversion, and use deep customer insight to create a seamless customer journey. And don't forget: your brick-and-mortar store is still a major influence on your bottom line. Make sure you're getting everything out of it that you can.
Our top tip
Your objective is seamlessness. Use both online and offline insights to create a customer journey filled with conversion opportunities.
Up next in The Click
Fulfillment: Creating satisfaction in every purchase and process.
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