By Tom Caporaso
CEO of Clarus Marketing Group
Retailers are facing challenges that differ significantly from those that existed for the last two millennia. The biggest differences come from the rise and continuing evolution of e-commerce. While the Internet has created a global market of customers, thereby expanding every retailer’s potential audience, it’s also unleashed a virtual flood of information, opinions, and expert reviews — and given every plugged-in (and wireless) shopper instant access to all of it.
Knowledge is indeed power, and today’s consumers are happy to prove it. Armed with data about the pros and cons of products, retailers, prices, services, and policies, they’re more empowered than ever — ready, willing, and able to abandon carts, not to mention their long-term preferences for certain merchants, in search of better deals and more favorable conditions.
As a retailer, you can grudgingly accept the growth of technologically advanced shoppers, or you can wholeheartedly embrace the opportunities they offer — and enjoy the rewards that come from satisfying today’s customers. Here are a few tips:
Mine their data. The information explosion cuts both ways: Shoppers can now find whatever they want whenever they want it, but retailers can collect and analyze reams of data about their behaviors, interests, needs, frustrations, and more. Continually test every facet of every possible customer interaction, from site design, traffic, and checkout flows to promotions, prices, messages, and more, so you can optimize their experiences — and your results.
Feed their desires. Consumers are more open to retailer communications delivered via “owned media,” such as websites, social networks, and emails, than they are to paid advertisements. Your data-mining discoveries can help you tailor messages to individual customers — such as special-offer alerts that match their proven interests — that build long-term bonds with them.
Serve their wants. You know what shoppers really want: Reliable savings. Every retailer offers limited-time deals that intermittently boost traffic and sales, but if you want your customers to keep coming back, make sure they know that they can save with you throughout the year.
Take free shipping offers, for instance, which have become so prevalent, particularly during the holiday season, that many online shoppers won’t place orders without guaranteed free delivery. Free shipping isn’t free to you, but you can test different purchase levels to find the ideal balance between delivery costs and lost sales. By prominently displaying a standard, ongoing free shipping offer on your website, you can create and meet a savings expectation among consumers and establish your site as a desirable destination whenever they’re in the market for what you sell.
Or consider free return shipping policies. These are much less common, of course, because absorbing that cost while potentially erasing a sale can impose a double hit to a retailer’s bottom line. That rarity, however, offers you a chance to stand out from your competitors — and to enhance your reputation as a customer-friendly retailer. (While you can make up some of the shipping costs with stricter refund policies, you can also find ways to offer free return shipping to your audience without risking backlash from those policies.)
Respect their choices. Mobile commerce is here to stay, and as the record-long lines for Apple’s recent iPhone 6 release strongly suggest, it’s only going to keep growing in coming years. If you truly want to accommodate your customers, make sure you can reach them on the devices where they spend the most time — their smartphones and tablets. Your website should therefore incorporate responsive web design, to ensure that your customers can access your site quickly and easily, regardless of how they choose to do so.
Similarly, shoppers these days use a variety of ways to interact with retailers, from mobile devices to desktop computers, from website contact forms to phone calls and emails. To deliver an optimal shopping experience — and, just as critically, to provide world-class customer service — you need to embrace a multichannel approach that allows your customers to engage with you through any platform they choose.
To thrive in any industry at any time, you need to keep up with the latest technologies. Retailers that best succeed in catering to today’s consumers will please both their audiences and their bottom lines.
Tom Caporaso is the CEO of Clarus Marketing Group, a firm that creates subscription commerce solutions, including FreeShipping.com, which offers members 10% cash back, free shipping, and other savings opportunities; Return Saver, which offers members free return shipping on practically any online purchase; and a variety of customized programs. He has nearly two decades of senior management experience, specializing in continuity, subscription, and custom loyalty programs.