Differentiation is still key in eCommerce

In a previous article I mentioned the need to optimize strategic factors in eCommerce like the internationalization, mobile-oriented design, the shopping experience on different channels or the integration with social networks.

Although these elements are critical, today, the differences between eCommerce websites tend to be qualitative and the importance of the project execution is greater than the original idea or the target niche. The positive side of the situation is that while launching or managing an eCommerce website in 2014 is more complex than ever due to the maturity of the industry, we also have a greater number of tools and solutions available.

As maturity in the industry grows, everything count for differentiation and one factor often left aside (even by e-retail leaders) is customer service and complaints handling. Customers demand today an immediate response, on a toll free number, a chat system and especially over social networks. However, in many cases, the contact forms remain the only way of customer service. We must remember that good customer service creates confidence in business and therefore is also a loyalty tool.

With the use of multiple screens, we must follow the customer on different channels and, of course, the client support system must be available on all of them. No point having a support chat system if mobile visitors can not access it. In addition, we should provide costumer support in all languages the site is available.

Today, it is more important than ever bring innovation on the sales modelto stand out. Competing on price is possible in the Amazon era but on very specific circumstances and therefore, it is not advisable. A sale model such as subscription + curation tend to be successful and although this model is not applicable to all cases, it main advantage is to provide income stability.

In this scenario, the post-purchase process become more important. An efficient reverse logistics is yet another pillar for loyalty programs and for building confidence in future purchases. Not only the speed and delivery costs are critical, also simplicity in the return process is key.

On branding, we all know that design and site usability play a key role, but in a more mature market, the stakes are high and a nice design is not a competitive advantage any more. Because of that, it’s necessary to move a step further and try to make a difference in the purchasing interface. For example, 3D avatars are an interesting development over the traditional catalog. With this tool, customers can try before buy on a digital version of himself. The mechanism is simple for the potential buyer because he only need to take a photo and enter his measures in an iPhone app. Video is another very interesting tool for showing a catalog in more innovative way and also, video enhances our positioning (SEO) and therefore business results.

In summary, the complexity and maturity of the industry prevents us to leave a factor to chance, but we have more options (and solutions) than ever. It’s necessary then a big effort by marketers to focus resources on strategy and solutions rather than technologies or even product. In sum, I think the key today is not what to sell, but how we do it.

Key strategic factors to optimize in ecommerce

My first intention was to comment on the “latest” trends in e-commerce. Then, selecting topics to analyze, I’ve thought that efficiency or maximizing available resources is key to e-commerce success.

While optimizing operational aspects is central, we must not forget other equally important strategic issues.

It is somewhat basic, but often, some e-commerce sites are not optimized for international visits. in some cases there are few languages available on the site, the logistics is weak or the usability is poor. This is a very important issue because, for instance, purchases from abroad in 2013 on Spanish sites were more than 567 million euros, equivalent to 17% of the turnover, according to the latest report of the Spanish National Commission of Markets competition.

Despite its importance, too many sites are not optimized for mobile commerce. While nearly half of purchases are made today from mobile and this trend is increasing, still remains work to be done in this area. Having a responsive design or mobile version of the site is the way to maintain conversions. The creation of a dedicated native app is another option, but we have the risk of duplicate the efforts.

Closely related to the above, today the customer does not think of channels, devices or marketplaces, he or she wants to buy a product as simple and quick as possible. To achieve these, our customers use different devices and screens and very few websites are optimized to offer a unique shopping experience in different channels. Simply put, if we can not support our potential customers throughout the buying process on different channels (search, SMS, email, push, etc..) we will be losing sales.

Social networking is another area that require work. While integrating Facebook, twitter or Pinterest is a good first step, social commerce is a much more complex environment with different networks that require different types of practices. The social component of an online purchase goes beyond sharing products on social networks, refers to the creation of communities around the brand and therefore requires a dedicated strategy. Of course, there’s no single recipe to optimize the presence on social networks and each e-commerce should carefully select what strategy fit best.