In the first installment of this ‘eCommerce Conversion Rates’ series, we looked at how changing the way you present your products on an eCommerce platform can greatly improve conversion rates; including the addition of good product descriptions, market-sensitive pricing and other product-level purchase drivers. But what about ensuring people trust your website in the first place? What about branding your eCommerce platform as a whole for optimal sales?
The fact is, you could stock the most extensive array of competitively priced products in your entire market and present them on their respective product pages perfectly, but if people think your website looks and feels untrustworthy then you won’t sell. Big household names like eBay and Amazon do tend to get away with slacking a little in the trust arena; but if (like most) you don’t have a captive market and a brand that everybody already trusts, then you have a lot more to prove to visitors.
Here are some basic pointers to make sure you’re at least checking the major tick-boxes; enticing traffic to browse further and making them feel comfortable and at ease while they do so.
Brand Ideals & Value Propositions
I could write an entire thesis just on branding, let alone the creation of good value propositions. But I’ll try to keep this short and to the point.
If you want to sell stuff, you need to justify the cost by offering value to the customer. Heck, if you want people to give you five minutes of their time, let alone their money, you have to offer some value in return. There’s a transaction taking place.
To state the obvious: It is the features and benefits of the products/services themselves that offer the core value; but value can also come from the emotional affiliations that consumers derive from branding.
Value can come from shared feelings and connections or just plain likeability; entertainment and education are both forms of value; there is even value in accessibility to other things, or social status for that matter. The emotional drivers of value are the real source of a brand’s power to differentiate its products/services from a sea of otherwise similar offerings. They allow a brand to be more relevant to its target audience.
There are too many elements that make up ‘a brand’ to go into detail here, so let’s just say for the sake of discussion that it’s a collection of four elements: Tone-of-voice, recognisable design, written communications and a promise to the customer. It is a personality that you shape, mould and evolve in order to attract your target customers and engage with them in a more meaningful and relevant way.
I won’t patronise so much as to talk about the need for an appropriate tone-of-voice, good copy & content (as covered in part 1 of this series) and universally recognised design. I will however go into more detail about one important aspect of your brand…
The Value Proposition
Wikipedia does a pretty good job of defining the value proposition:
“A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered and a belief from the customer that value will be experienced. A value proposition can apply to an entire organization, or parts thereof, or customer accounts, or products or services.”
So it’s a promise to deliver value. A promise that the customer must trust. When landing on your eCommerce site, customers will be looking for two things in that promise:
1. Differential Value – How does your brand compare to your competitors? This is not just about the relative benefits of ‘core product’ assets (i.e. colour, quality, quantity) but it also involves the ‘augmented product’ attributes such as warranties, guarantees, free delivery, after-sales, loyalty schemes, club memberships, future discounts or any other little added extras that the customer can benefit from (including social status, pride, accomplishment etc).
2. Referential Value – How does your pricing compare to other prices within your market? Are you a luxury brand or a budget brand? How reassuringly expensive or cheap should you be? Are you running promotions at the same time as everybody else?
The ‘perceived value’ is the resulting balance in the customer’s mind after evaluating the range of products and prices available. The customer is asking: Does your price-point represent value-for-money in the current market even after considering all the extra stuff that comes with a purchase?
This should be considered with every single price you set. However, before anybody will browse and consider buying your products, you need to make sure that within the first few seconds they have a good idea of the kind of value they will find if they do browse. Everything you do to communicate that message is your ‘value proposition’.
So how should you communicate it? Well, for starters, it’s more than just a slogan or strapline. There should be a headline sentence to serve as an attention grabbing hook but moreover it should be a holistic user experience. There should be an introductory paragraph (maybe 2 or 3 sentences), perhaps some key bullet points and some highly ‘telling’ product images. It must be clear, concise and tonally appropriate (i.e. ‘branded’) while clearly outlining the features and benefits on offer.
Together on your home page (and ideally every landing page throughout the site) these elements will outline three key things to the customer:
1. Your objective as a business (what you supply and to whom)
2. How your customers benefit from using your products/services (where the value is)
3. And finally what makes you the best supplier to choose (what differentiates you)
Your branding (if done properly) will give a lot away about your value proposition through the use of relevant colours, fonts and language. However, you can’t rely on either solely: Your brand and value proposition strengthen and corroborate each other. Make sure you are saying everything you want to say and leaving nothing to chance.
The Augmented Product
Ford doesn’t sell reliable cars; it sells packages that include a reliable car but also boast a great warranty, some guarantees, access to trustworthy mechanics, not to mention the piece-of-mind you get knowing your car was manufactured by a 110-year established engineering company. Likewise, ToysRUs.co.uk doesn’t sell toys; it sells toys with guaranteed delivery times, world-class safety testing and a generous returns policy.
These factors combined make up ’the augmented product’. In eCommerce, the most important parts of the augmented product revolve around safety and trust. People need to know that they will get their orders on time, that they will have the option to return things if necessary and also that they have access to good customer care. Equally, they want to know that they can trust you with their card details and other personal information collected at account registration.
You need to show detailed shipping, privacy and returns policies; Offer live chat and clearly display your address and telephone contact numbers; Use trusted payment gateways and display relevant logos. Do everything you can to make your eCommerce site a haven for users, with as many safety nets and reassurances as possible. Build these things into your brand wherever you can because people simply expect them.
In a recent MySiteChecker.com survey, 80% of consumers said that the padlock symbol was the most popular security indicator that they actively look out for. There’s a very good place to start!
Search & Filters
Remember we said that accessibility to other things is a form of value? Well it’s just as true when giving access to your own catalogue of products. If a product is hard to find, people will get bored or decide you don’t have it and they will leave. Furthermore, if a certain product is easier to find on your website than on another website, you can bet you’ll be the one getting repeat business.
Around half of all online shoppers opt for the search bar functionality to navigate eCommerce sites. A useful tip can be setting up ‘auto-search’ functionality, where suggested products appear in a dynamic drop-down as the user is typing (similar to the way Google give suggested searches as you type).
If you have a particularly large range of stock, it may also be worthwhile installing some product filters. After all, you need a large range to ensure you cover your bases but you also need the customer to end up looking at only a handful of choices so that making a final decision isn’t too hard. Filters can be set to segment products by price, colour, size or indeed any custom field, allowing people to drill into your catalogue of products according to the most important purchasing factors in your particular market/industry.
If you want tot get really fancy, you can use slider and other cool functionality to make the experience more fun, memorable and interesting for the user.
Everybody loves to see a good review. For all the power of branding and value propositions and clever design and every other effort you throw at your site… You’ll never stop customers thinking that they are being sold to.
People are far and away more marketing-savvy than ever. But a review from another customer is like getting the ‘inside track’. People can spot fake reviews and biased ‘news’ stories a mile away, so get real reviews from real customers and start displaying them on your site.
Believe it or not, even a few negative reviews, if balanced with lots of glowing reviews, have been proven to help sales by making the good reviews seem more genuine. If 1 in 100 reviews is bad but 99 are outstanding, most people will trust that there is 99% chance of satisfaction and disregard the 1% as an awkward customer. A selection of all-perfect reviews would also subtly hint that maybe you were hiding the bad reviews, whereas showing a single bad review can waylay that fear in the customers mind.
Upsell & Cross-Sell
For those unfamiliar with the terms:
Upsell – Convincing someone to upgrade mid-purchase. For example, if someone puts a 30GB iPhone in their shopping basket while browsing your phone shop, you should be trying to get them to reconsider and ultimately buy the 60GB one.
Cross-sell – Convincing someone to add similar products to their basket (as opposed to replacing them). The rule of thumb here is to only ever push things that are related and are at least 60% cheaper than the product already in their basket. For example, if someone buys a laptop, sell them a laptop cover or a screen-cleaning kit.
You should do your upselling and cross-selling before the checkout stage. In the real world, impulse purchases are pushed directly next to the checkout counters (chocolate bars, magazines, chewing gum) but in the realm of eCommerce the customer is more interested in a fast, safe and transparent checkout process; so keep that bit simple and do your selling up-front.
Clear, Big Calls to Action
I’ve left this until last because it’s the one part of the article I really want you to take away with you above all others. It is overlooked far too often. And it is incredibly important for your overall branding, trustworthiness and value proposition.
Let’s get back to the ‘accessibility is value’ thing again. In laymen’s terms, we’re saying that people like it when you make stuff easy for them (whatever that ‘stuff’ may be). So, make it easy to ‘Add to Basket’. Make it easy to ‘Begin Checkout’. Make it easy to ‘Register an Account’. Make it easy to do the three or four things you really want them to do!
Every time a customer looks at your site for those all-important first few seconds, as they are digesting your brand and value propositions and making snap judgements about you, one consideration will be: ‘How easy will this site be to use?’.
Make sure a new visitor would look at your landing pages and instantly see the potential journey; the customer pathway; the user experience laid out before them. Eradicate doubt and you will find that people are suddenly much more willing to dive in, browse and purchase.
From these first 2 installments in the ‘eCommerce Conversion Rates’ series, you should now have a pretty good idea as to how to present yourself, your value and your products. Watch out for the next two installments in this series over the next few weeks:
Part 3: Optimising the Customer Journey
Shopping Cart Abandonment
Forms & Data Capture
User Testing & Mobile
Part 4: Different Conversion Rates to Track