Essential e-commerce features & functionality to drive great customer experience (part 1)

To prosper in a complex, competitive and fast paced market, retailers must deliver a superior and fulfilling customer experience, consistently and seamlessly across all marketing channels. It is a monumental challenge but one that retailers, big and small, need to overcome and marketers, at all levels, need to grasp if they are to win new customers and build valuable, long-term relationships with them.

The choice of e-commerce platform can have a major impact on a retailer’s ability to deliver this experience. The right features and functionality can greatly aid the likelihood of succeeding at each stage of the buying journey, beginning with visibility of the site in search engines (thereby acquiring targeted traffic), helping to convert that traffic and then retaining new customers through a good post purchase experience.

Our Retail Marketing Machine visualises the complex journey consumers make when researching, considering and purchasing products, along with every touch point that shapes and influences their decision.

There are a number of key stages that I will refer to during the course of this post, namely:

The shop window of opportunity
This is the point at which a prospect has decided they want to purchase a particular product or service. Are you in their shop window when they are in research and consideration mode?

Moment of purchase
This is the point at which the prospect is engaged with your brand and is ready to purchase. A wide range of factors will determine whether they progress to sale (or not) with the look and feel, features and functionality of your site playing a key role.

Post purchase experience
Here we refer to both the practical and emotional experience the customer receives once they have made their purchase. The practical involves delivery, for example. The emotional more concerned with how the retailer builds a loyal brand advocate through channels, such as content and social media.

This two part blog post looks at the features and functionality that will aid and improve each of the above stages and therefore what to consider when choosing an e-commerce platform. This is by no means an exhaustive list but more a guide to those features that help drive a superlative experience at each of the key buying stages outlined above.

Shop window of opportunity

For your site to reach and acquire customers during their ‘period of active consideration’, it needs to be found across search engines – that’s pretty much a given. But once they arrive at your site it must also present prospects with access to as much information as possible to evaluate your products sufficiently. With this in mind, let’s take a look at a number of e-commerce features that are essential to meeting this goal:

Categorising products
The ability to categorise products will aid natural search visibility, as well as improve usability. Features associated with product categorising might include:

  • Unlimited products and categories – Surprising as it might sound, some platforms have a limit to the number of products and categories you can create. Ensure you choose a platform that allows unlimited products and categories
  • Product option selection – A product should be able to have unlimited options such as size, colour, etc. rather than having to create new product pages for each variation
  • Grouped product view – Allows products to be grouped together. This works well if you are presenting a number of different products into collections or ranges
  • Faceted navigation for filtering of products – It should be easy to add new filters and tag products. Filtering should also be search engine friendly i.e. it should create ‘friendly’ URLs and use keyword insertion in page titles, meta descriptions and h1 headers. The Marks and Spencer site is a good example of clear and comprehensive faceted navigation:

Product detail
By creating content over and above that of simple product descriptions, you are creating a more memorable experience should encourage a prospect to return to the site oe perhaps share that content even if they are not quite ready to commit to the purchase at this stage. Content might include:

  • Product reviews – Usually a score out of 5, the ability to display average customer ratings for a product can help make your site a destination at the consideration stage but also help be a decision trigger
  • Question and Answers – A Q&A sections take FAQs a step further by allowing customers to ask product specific questions. This level of interaction can significantly increase conversion rates as any doubts the customer has about a product can be dispelled
  • User Generated Content (UGC) – Allow people not only to review but upload photos and videos of their experiences in using products. In turn, this helps prospects see products in their real world setting used by actual customers
  • Product comparisons – Where products are complex, the ability to compare side by side is a very powerful feature to aid decision making. uses both a Q&A areas and reviews across their products with many of the customer reviews including images as well

Site search

Configurable search with auto-suggested terms. Many e-commerce systems fall down here. Users expect the search function to be as good as that of Google.

Store pages
More often than not, store pages are dull, un-engaging and lack personality. An e-commerce platform with advanced multichannel availability and logistic capabilities can significantly help with a smooth in-store/online purchase path.

  • Store-specific content – Imagery, events, offers, staff biographies and the store manager’s ‘favourite product of the week’ are all methods by which to add relevant content to the page
  • Store locator/search – Provide advanced search and filtering functionality, as well as a reliable mapping tool and directions
  • Click and collect – The ability for a customer to select their local store and collect their order is a growing expectation of savvy customers. Obviously, the business needs to support this logistically before offering the service on the site!
  • Save a store preference – Associate a store with a customer’s account to quickly allow the customer to look at stock availability locally to them

Although not injecting much personality, do a good job with their store pages in terms of information. By capturing postcode searches from people looking for their nearest store, they can potentially start to join the dots between online and offline.

Ensuring the e-commerce platform is not going to cause any headaches for search engines will give your business the best possible foundation for natural search visibility.

  • URL rewrites – Rewriting URLs in a friendly format, using words and not parameters is better for both the user and the search engines
  • HTML mark-up – Marking up HTML using can result in rich snippets in search results and improve click through rates
  • Sitemaps – Both XML and HTML sitemaps should be generated and auto update
  • Shopping feed creation – Important for shopping comparison engines, the ability to generate comprehensive feeds that auto update but can also be customised to add or change product attributes
  • Meta-information – It should be possible to specify page titles and meta descriptions for products and categories both template driven and specified by page
  • Duplicate content prevention – Advanced canonical functionality across the site can help prevent duplication of products if placed in different categories and also help pagination issues

In part 2 we’ll look at e-commerce platform features that are important at the ‘moment of purpose’ and ‘post purchase’ stages.

Article by senior natural search consultant, Ben Adam

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