There are four metrics that drive growth for e-commerce companies: traffic, conversion rate, order size and margin. These metrics are enhanced by improving the customer experience across each interaction your customer has with your brand. These interactions are had across the customer's entire buying journey. We've created a framework to analyze this journey called the E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle. This framework breaks the customer e-commerce experience into five key areas: acquisition, conversion, fulfillment, retention and measurement. Each of these areas have their own 'touch points' or points of customer interaction inherent in them. Improving the customer e-commerce experience stems from improving each of these interactions by focusing on three key pillars: Humanity, Consistency and Narrative. In this article, we'll examine each of these three pillars and the impact they can have on improving a specific specific 'touch point', in this case email marketing.
The first e-commerce experience pillar, Humanity, is all about thinking of your customer as a human being rather than just a 'user' or 'session'. While sitting behind a dashboard of analytics, it's far too easy to de-humanize your customers and think of them as just a number. This act, however, distances you from their identities and what makes them unique. The irony is that it's your ability to understand the uniqueness of your customers that allows you to create a better experience for theme. When it comes to thinking about Humanity as part of your e-commerce experience, there are three strategies to consider:
The ideal situation for any e-commerce company is one where they have a detailed understanding of every customer, in a form we call the Customer Hub. This Customer Hub would give you the ability to group your customers based on shared traits across their unique identities. These groups, or segments, then allow you to personalize your interaction with customers as you start drawing on this deeper understanding of them. In our email example, rather than sending a generalized email to all of your subscribers, you can divide your customers into distinct groups and send specific emails to each group. This ensures their getting content that is better suited to their profile and better suited to them as individual humans.
The second aspect of a more human-centered e-commerce experience is integrating more community into your interactions. In this case, community is giving the ability for customers to create their own identity with your product. It's about giving them the opportunity to share, comment, review and create within the ecosystem of your brand. In our email example, you might create an email campaign that specifically targets customers who've recently purchased from you and asking them to review your product, with the promise that the review will be featured on your website. This gives your customers the opportunity to participate in your brand and serve as part of you larger customer community.
The third aspect of a more human-centered e-commerce experience is one that's focused on service and connecting directly with the customer. Your customers want to feel as though there is another person on the line / behind an email / behind a social media account. They want to trust that their concerns are being heard and that someone else is thinking through those problems. In our email example, you'd want to consider personalizing the support-side of your email strategy by creating unique email address for each employee that's involved in the support process and have them openly share their identities with the customer. This provides the opportunity for a more human relationship to be formed between customer and employee.
For a customer to purchase from you, they need to trust your brand. Trust is slowly built over time but can quickly be ruined through inconsistency in the customer experience. Customers need a fair amount of affirmation in your brand before they'll make a purchasing decision. This is why they turn to reviews and peer opinions as part of their buying process. It's why they like to spend time looking through your website and don't always make a purchase on the first time they visit. If trust is a lever for purchasing, then we'd want to examine the role Consistency plays in establishing trust with your customers. When it comes to thinking about Consistency as part of your e-commerce experience, there are three strategies to consider:
At a base level, messaging is simply the Consistency of what you say across your various marketing channels. At a higher level, it's the Consistency between what you say you believe as a company vs what you actually say in all of your marketing. A company's values can often be a major selling point and reason why customers believe in the brand. If your actions or messaging differs between those values and what you're putting out to the world, that inconsistency could negatively impact your business. In our email example, you'd want to ensure the content of your emails aligns with the content you share through your website. If your website is all about how earth-friendly and green your products are, yet you don't ever highlight that in your email marketing, that inconsistency can raise flags.
It's no surprise that your customers come to identify your brand by a number of key visuals such as logo, color scheme and font choice. These visual elements, often the core base in defining a company's 'brand', must be consistent across every interaction with the customer. In our email example, customers would experience inconsistency from companies who fail to uphold the same 'brand standards' in their email design as they do within their website. A customer can only assume that if you don't value maintaining Consistency in your email communications with them, there isn't a strong reason why they should value them as well.
Likely the most critical aspect of Consistency is the ability for your brand to uphold customer expectations. Inconsistency in what you do vs what you say you'll do has one of the biggest impacts on trust that a customer has for your brand. In our email example, if you don't have your email systems effectively integrated with your order management system and fail to set expectations of when an order will arrive, you're bound to create an inconsistent e-commerce experience and a not-so-happy customer.
Narrative is simply taking a story-driven approach to marketing your products. Most e-commerce experiences are driven by the 'features and benefits' of a product. The websites of these types of companies often only support 'attribute-driven navigation', meaning you can only find products by filtering through different product attributes such as type, size, color, price, etc. These types of buying experiences tend to be very static and leave the customers to create their own 'context' around the product. It leaves them to visualize how the product fits into their life, how it would be perceived by their peers and how it compares to other product alternatives. By shifting to a Narrative-driven approach towards marketing, you have the ability to create the context that you want your customers to have around your product. When it comes to thinking about this context and Narrative as part of your e-commerce experience, there are three strategies to consider:
Recognize that your customers will vary in terms of the 'stage' they're in with their buying process. Some are early in the process and therefore might not be ready to buy upon first interaction with your brand, while others are deep in the buying process and are looking to make their final purchasing decision. Each of these buyer profiles will require a slightly different means of navigating your website. We've written about creating different navigation experiences for each buyer profile extensively. In our email example, the same applies to the type of email you'd send to your customer depending on what stage they've indicated their in with their buying process. Customers who opted into your newsletter voluntarily but made no effort to purchase a product might be early in the buying process vs those that abandoned their cart and were right about to make a purchasing decision. Each of these groups would need to be catered to differently based on their buyer profile.
If an e-commerce company were to take the time to analyze their values, beliefs and points of differentiation, the resulting elements would likely form the base of the 'themes' that company would use at the center of their marketing. These themes are simply the strains of your brand that speak to more than just your products, they speak to what your brand represents from a larger perspective. A very common perspective on theme-driven marketing is to focus on the 'lifestyle' of your target customers. Brands such as Patagonia will focus much of the Narrative they create on the outdoor activities that inspire their customers. Their products play some role in this marketing, but often sit more on the sidelines while the core lifestyle activity is showcased at the forefront. In our email example, the same notion could be applied where a company shifts their focus from just promoting their products to promoting the lifestyle those products support.
One of the most fundamental strategies to a Narrative-driven customer experience is the use of 'merchandising' on your company's website . As mentioned earlier, many companies offer a very static navigational experience that limits customers to using product attributes as the primary way to discovery products. Merchandising embraces the idea of creating curated groups of products with a unique story, or Narrative, around why they exist as a collection. These Narratives go beyond shared attributes between the products and could get into deeper themes, for example "products inspired by a specific movie". In our email example, you could create an email campaign that features five different products that are all inspired by the same movie. This provides a new context around these existing products and gives the user a story to embrace when it comes to thinking about those products and evaluating their own buying decisions.
The pillars of e-commerce experience (Humanity, Consistency and Narrative) should be applied across every 'touch point' or interaction a customer has with your brand. What's even more powerful about this concept is using these pillars to align your various 'touch points' in a way that reinforces the experience during each stage of the customer's experience of your brand. If every piece of content, image, email, package, etc. addresses them as human beings, is consistent and driven by a unique story, you'll see a huge improvement in the customer's response to your brand.