The pandemic has accelerated digital trends across all sectors, from the ways we work to payments to online shopping. However, the move to online shopping was a bit of a ‘forced trend’ as consumers during the height of the pandemic had few options than to turn to ecommerce when brick-and-mortar stores were forced to close.
As the economy and stores reopen it is difficult to say if consumers will continue to use ecommerce to the same level as more traditional options return.
“Consumer preferences are always changing, I’d say the only constant is change,”
says Marina Ben-Zvi, Director of Product Marketing at Blueshift.
“Many of those behaviours are likely to stay because consumers want greater convenience and choice. What remains unknown is what consumer preferences are permanent and which were situational as the world reopens.”
There are signs of pent-up demand, with consumers eager to use savings that have accumulated over the past year. Much of the demand is going towards high-contact services, like in hospitality and leisure.
But as consumers move towards activities they couldn’t do last year, reopening is not necessarily a negative for ecommerce. Businesses that have taken the time to improve their customers’ experience will be in a strong position.
“Last year the companies that really pulled ahead were the ones that were really agile, listened to their customers, and where responsive to their needs”,
“It’s only a risk if they haven’t invested in delivering a good customer experience. Those [customers] that have seen value from your service or business are more likely to stay with you.”
One way in which ecommerce can improve their customer’s experience is through product recommendations, which in many ways mimics the role of an employee in a brick-and-mortar store.
“In an online setting, you don’t have the beautiful merchandising of a store or even the store associates to help you out in the same personalized way,”
“When done right, product recommendations are meant to show customers products that they actually want and help them discover new products they didn’t know they needed.”
Product recommendations are however not as simple as connecting similar products.
“If you’re showing the same product recommendations to all your customers those aren’t recommendations, that’s just marketing.”
One of the pitfalls of recommending a product is treating it as a one-size-fits-all. They should be tailored to the customer and evolve over time, using search and browser history to change recommendations in order to provide a better customer experience. Consumers are also sometimes skeptical of product recommendations and Ben-Zvi says one way to further add credibility to product recommendations is to demonstrate why they are receiving certain recommendations.
“You received this product recommendation because you searched for this product or highlighting this is a best seller. That really helps the recommendations be more credible and desirable.”
Businesses also need to adapt how they engage different types of customers, even if they are purchasing the same product. One such differentiator is whether a customer is new, returning or lapsed Ben-Zvi says. With new customers it’s about “putting your best foot forward” and for those returning, it’s utilizing the data you’ve collected to start “curating” their shopping experience.
Ben-Zvi recommends giving more attention to lapsing customers, “it’s one of the most critical points in the customer journey because it’s so much easier and cheaper to retain customers than to acquire new ones.”
She adds it’s especially important to have an engagement strategy that incorporates product and content recommendations for products that are purchased infrequently.
“Here, it’s all about getting them to think about your brand. How do you get top of mind.”
“If it’s something that you only buy once a year, or even less frequently, then it’s about still staying top of mind by providing value, information or inspiration in some way.”
In order to get the right product recommendation to the right customers the use of data is key.
“The good news is that today, we have both the volume and variety of the data, as well as the tools to actually put your customers at the center of what marketing does,” says Ben-Zvi.
“But data can only be valuable if you’re actually able to really put it into action immediately.”
New technology will be a key enabler in helping the marketing department utilize customer data to help improve their shopping experience.
Ben-Zvi says that with how much data can now be generated from across customer interactions with a brand, it is becoming increasingly important for data to be integrated into departments beyond marketing.
“The more integrated that marketing data and transactional data points can be, the more seamless and cohesive the customer experience will be and the happier your customers will be.”
To learn more about product recommendations for omnichannel ecommerce click here.
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