To say that e-commerce is having a moment seems like a severe underestimation; with e-commerce accounting for 9% of retail sales in 2013 and expected to grow 10% annually until 2018, it’s clear that its “moment,” if we can call it that, is going to last a long time. Yet with our continued reliance on (and affection for) our devices, it’s easy to overlook the fact that our own “moment” in human history is marked by this monumental shift to screens. As people increasingly meet their needs online, from entertainment to shopping and employment, retailers need to adapt their business models to account for the loss of individualized interaction in online shopping.
An Automated, Less Personal World?
Digital advancements are supposed to make our world easier to navigate; as automated services offer consistency and predictability, our shopping experiences become similarly seamless as we move online. We trade the long lines, traffic, and pushy retail associates for relaxed and private browsing, as online shopping becomes easier and cheaper than ever with online-exclusive promotional offers and lenient return policies. Yet, in return, we lose the personal interaction of brick and mortar shopping, epitomized by the small business associate who knows our names and tastes. Thus, the seeming paradox: even as our world becomes more automated, we want more from our brands.
The Personalization Revolution
Online shopping may be easier, but shopping isn’t only about ease; as wandering through aisles and hunting for the perfect item (on sale) remains a consistent pastime, entrepreneurs are turning to consider ways in which online shopping can more fully reflect this experience. A new sector of ecommerce, with forerunners like Stitch Fix, JustFab, and Birchbox, has emerged to cater specifically to the need for personalization in online retail. These companies project the image of personalized “stylists” who curate items specifically for each consumer.
Outside of this niche market, pace-setting companies like Netflix and Amazon have built billion-dollar industries around personalized content and “suggestions.” Other companies have taken advantage of aesthetic opportunities for personalization. As minimalist marketing continues to trend, reflected in the pared-down design of everything from packaging to mass communication, companies are valuing consistency and clarity over design. Emails from CEOs are simple, non-salesy, and focus on a clear call to action.
The Consumer’s Voice
Consumers have come to expect–and even demand–individualized interactions from companies over the web. Personalization even thwarts concerns over privacy for many, as 61% of consumers prefer personalized offers even if it results in less privacy. With the marketing power of referrals and online reviews an undeniable force, companies must treat each customer like a VIP to avoid toxic social media attacks. Every interaction is important, which has proved a challenge for companies that are under-prepared to deal with customer service requests.
What can you do?
Customer service is a natural point of intervention. As web shopping experiences become more tailored, shoppers will expect a customer experience service to match. Driven by a sense of “needing it done yesterday,” customers expect immediate service and quick solutions- even if an associate is no longer sitting across the counter, but across the world behind a computer or headset. We can take a cue from in-person associates to know that joint customer service-sales opportunities are not just a matter of sitting back and waiting; outreach efforts have been proven to boost conversion rates. Online Live Chat Outsourcing for an example, provides individualized assistance from company representatives and helps to fill the interaction gap in online shopping.
Zappos has made headlines in recent years for its over-the-top customer service (including sending free shoes to deserving customers and paying the tolls for a day on the Massachusetts Turnpike). But connecting with customers and building brand loyalty doesn’t require grand gestures; web personalization offers a multitude of scalable opportunities to build relationships with customers. With 94% of businesses in agreement that personalization is “critical to current and future success,” it’s clear that if you don’t have your eyes on personalization, you’re behind the ball. But limited time and financial resources have slowed the tide of personalization relative to the desire for it–at least for now.