Competition in the age of Amazon.

 

TL;DR you're falling behind the competition if you're not keeping up where it matters most: customer experience. Here's how to get ahead and increase your digital shopping conversion rates.

Ecommerce and digital retail are saturated spaces. There seems to be an almost infinite supply of products from an almost infinite number of suppliers. Most online stores continue to operate on the manufacturing management paradigm, insufficient for our millenial sense-and-respond services. They continue to compete on price and product alone. Many online stores stores haven’t changed their core experience strategies since Lou Carbone coined the term ‘customer experience’ in the 90s.

For those selling identical or emulated products stocked by competing stores or Amazon, price and product alone don’t seem like rational strategies for cornering marketshare. If a consumer can easily find the same product for the same low price on another site, what makes you think they will choose to buy from you? And when the big kid on the block owns co-branded credit card agreements and a marketing and promotional service that even your competition can’t help but lust after, that question can really hit home.

But competition in the age of Amazon is more than just clipping at Jeff Bezos’s heels. It’s about the systematic homogenisation of our shopping experiences at a time when we’ve all got less £$£$s in our pockets. Fewer choices for customers and fewer free dollars and pounds in wallets mean our retail and ecommerce experiences are contracting to big names.

One of the few bright lights in the UK’s economy at the beginning of 2018 is a healthy grocery market. Average British households shrugged off concerns over a weakening pound and a dim view of Brexit to spend more than ever before at groceries in the final quarter of 2017.

According to the latest Kantar Worldpanel UK grocery market share figures, Tesco recorded a 3.1 per cent rise in sales in the three-month period ending December 31.

 

 

“Shoppers, it seems, are splashing out despite fewer promotions to tempt them. Only 36% of spending was on items on offer this year – the lowest level of promotional activity at Christmas since 2009. Consumers are still facing more expensive groceries: like for like prices rose by 3.7% in the 12 weeks to 31 December, a slight increase on the 3.6% rise reported last month.” - Fraser McKevitt, Head of Retail and Consumer Insight, Kantar UK

And while this holds some promising results for out-of-promotion competition amongst the big names of the UK’s grocery retail, it emphasises a worrying point. That last row shows a 4.1% contraction in British consumers’ spends at independent grocery stores. And this is just the tip of the iceberg for the move toward a homogenous future for retail, both instore and online.

But this isn’t just about the smaller companies. It just means that they’re most exposed in the age of Amazon to the volatilities of not having enough capital. Research from Nielsen has worrying news for the mainstays of British grocers too, despite the good recent quarter.

 

 

“The supermarkets did well this Christmas, particularly amid fierce price competition and shoppers starting to feel the squeeze on disposable incomes….It was in stark contrast to many high street retailers who saw less footfall and sales declines.” - Mike Watkins, Head of Retailer Insight, Nielsen UK

Those entrenched British brands like Tesco and Sainsbury are losing market share to Aldi and Lidl. The slide might be slow, but it’s palpable in these numbers. In short, the retail space is too crowded. Independent stores are susceptible to losses in the age of Amazon and even the high street titans are seeing their competitive advantage (capital, nostalgia, and, for post-Brexit Britain at least, quintessence) mean less and less in 2018.

So how can you stand out? You could compete on price, but that only leads to a race to the bottom. Instead, you could compete on customer experience. This is the new competitive arena for brands, with Gartner reporting that 89% of companies now expect to compete on the basis of customer experience. Compare that to only 36% just four years ago. So even if you can’t stand out with your products and services, you can create a customer experience that will make you shine. It can be unique, something that only you can offer, something your competitors can’t easily replicate.

It’s not so much about what you’re selling, it’s more about how you’re selling it. This covers everything from how easy it is to navigate your website, how well your messaging speaks to your customers, how attentive your staff are, and the quality of your after-sales support.

To set yourself apart from Amazon and everyone else clipping at Jeff Bezos’s heels, you need a competitive strategy that can deliver; customer experience is an aspect important to the customer through their unique buying journey and can mean that consumers choose you over similarly priced competitors.

The ecommerce market is heavily saturated but at busy periods, such as Christmas, the number of ecommerce sales dramatically increase. Online sales and mail orders are set to increase by 13.5% in the 2014 holiday season and holiday sales made up 23.5% of total ecommerce sales in 2013.

This increase in sales and the chance to grab more of the market should be helping you realise the importance of setting yourself apart from the competition with an outstanding customer experience.

But here’s the thing: This isn’t news. CX has been around since the ‘90s, but it’s never been activated to its practical, true potential. The majority of customers are looking for companies that provide the full service across all channels, from acquisition through retention. Now that so much shopping is digital, customers expect more than just a cheap price online but also a good customer experience and a user-friendly website. They want what your bricks and mortar shops already have. They want that Human Touch in their experience. One in five UK and US consumers did ALL of their Christmas shopping online in 2013. Online shopping edged out in-store Christmas shopping in 2017, taking 51% of the anticipated total holiday spend.

Shoppers want an online experience that goes beyond stress-free including: searching for the product, delivery, and any refund system.. They want an exceptional customer experience in the age of Amazon: something that compels them to act. Ensure you’re delivering the best possible experience across all touchpoints. Let’s take a look at some of the key touches from attracting through to delighting customers in the age of Amazon. 

Hurdle 1
Search Engines: The Digital High Street

75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results…so it’s obvious how important SEO is to the traffic levels of your ecommerce store. It’s a similar environment to the high street; a shopper has an idea of what they need and will search out the store with a product to respond. Have you considered how crucial SEO is to customer experience in the age of Amazon?

Imagine a customer typing into Google the product that they really want and finding you at the top of the list for organic or paid results. They’ll love that they could find the product so quickly and they’ll attribute some of that love to you for stocking it and selling it to them.

This shows how important your product descriptions are, not only for customers making sure that they are buying the correct product but also for customers having a beautiful, stress-free experience finding the perfect product.

A tip for increasing your search engine ranking is using a few different phrases to describe the product in the product description, so that customers phrasing the product name differently can still find it. This works for your site’s own search function too, of course.

Hurdle 2
Mobile and Mobile SEO: The “Remote control of shopping”
“I feel like mobile phones are on their way to becoming the medium to shop online. My personal hypothesis is the mobile phone will become the remote control of shopping.” - Claudia Roggenkamp, VP Ecommerce Europe, Levi’s

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has a number of factors and nuances to get your desired results. Mobile SEO takes all those factors and adds to the equation with how your business website performs on your visitors mobile devices, tablets and smartphones. In order to get higher rankings and more customers, here are four crucial tips to get the most from your website’s mobile SEO and turn phones into the remote control of shopping. 

1. Optimize Your Website’s Design for Mobile

This is one of the most obvious suggestions, but even still, in 2017 there are websites that don’t cater to mobile users, especially local business websites. According to Alexa research highlighted by Mobiforge, 80% of the top websites are mobile optimized.

Chances are if you’re using a more modern Wordpress theme for your business website, it’s already somewhat mobile-ready. If that is not the case, a script can be added to your site that auto-detects and redirects users to mobile optimized content which can help in the interim. 

2. Keep Important Business Details "Above the Fold"

This one tip may be the easiest overall strategy to implement that will have the most immediate results. If you have visitors coming to your website but your phone number and contact details aren’t immediately visible, it’s doing a great disservice to both you and your customers. “Above the Fold” refers to whether or not your visitors have to scroll down the web page in order to find something.

There’s no more important details to your business than where you are and how to contact you. According to a Google Mobile Movement Study, 88% of consumers who searched for a type of local business visited or called that business within 24 hours. Don’t let the way information is displayed on your website cost you sales and customers. Google as well is judging whether or not your website is user-friendly to the visitors they send you in search, and they want to provide the most beneficial websites to their customers.

 

live chat on mobile
3. Use a Fast Loading CDN

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is usually used to deliver content to users far and wide to spread out all over the world. So why would you want to use one if your business and customers are within a 100 mile radius? Your actual website isn’t typically going to be hosted anywhere near your current business, or where your customers live.

Many businesses use shared hosting, meaning that your website is on a server rack somewhere far away. You want your website to load as quickly as possible to show up faster than your competitors, especially with slow mobile speeds. Speed is a very important factor when ranking your mobile website, so it’s worth the effort. 

4. Use Google My Business to Your Advantage

 The end goal is having your business appear first in Google and other search engines to bring in new business, right? That’s why if you can achieve the same result with less work, you should definitely do it.

Using Google My Business to have your physical location and/or phone number in Google is the quickest way to faster results. It’s very quick to take a look at which keywords you’re targeting and see which of your competitors are appearing.

A lot of the information on these former Google Local pages aren’t updated or optimized. There’s another layer of SEO to these pages, and Google tries to fill in the gaps to the best of their ability, often leaving out details. That’s why you should ensure yours is up to date and populated to get the most out of it.

With smartphones and mobile technology steadily and surely on the rise, it’s important to keep them involved in your mobile marketing strategies going forward. Mobile SEO is one way to ensure that you’re getting customers that are interested in your services right now. From there, you and your business can make them lifelong customers.

And once your mobile SEO optimization is up and running, consider mobile live chat to get your newfound visitors converting. We know that live chat on mobile can convert up to 400% more visitors who are exploring your products and services on their phones and tablets. 

Hurdle 3
Digital Store Experience

Finding the right product is just one of the hurdles a customer must conquer before completing a satisfying purchase. After finding the product page it won’t be a surprise that the customer often need more information before clicking ‘Add to basket;’ online shoppers often need delivery, returns, and warranty information.

Shoppers are rarely pleased with their experience if they can’t find the answers to their questions. A recent Forrester study proved that 45% of U.S. shoppers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. An ATG Global Consumer Trend study found that 90% of customers consider live chat to be helpful for getting the answers to those all important questions quickly.

Site design and the user experience design are crucial to ecommerce customers. Your site visitors want to navigate your site easily, even if it’s their first time visiting – that’s where user experience design comes in. A professional design also builds trust with consumers; if a consumer has found the product that they really want then they want to be able to trust you, they want the payment page to be secure and easy to follow.

Product reviews can also be a source of social trust for customers and getting feedback from consumers who have already bought from your store adds to the positive experience; this means more customers will convert if real and honest reviews are present on product pages.

Getting your desktop and mobile site ready is actually a pretty basic step towards optimising your online conversion process. A good UX can dramatically improve consumers’ abilities to convert. However, a good design alone won’t encourage them to convert.First off you need a good value proposition. What do they get by purchasing your product? Why should they choose you over a competitor?Then you of course need to convey that proposition through copy and design. You need to help potential customers find products that are perfect for them. You need a good UX and few barriers to conversion if you want more people to make that final purchase decision. And not just make that decision but actually follow through by clicking ‘buy.’

Hurdle 4
Delivery as CX
“Amazon is looking at a key factor -- fulfillment -- that likely has a huge impact on customer satisfaction and is attempting to gain greater control of those parts of the customer journey.” - Eric Feinberg Head of Marketing, ForeSee

For Valentine's day, the Christmas period, and birthdays, when delivery by a certain date is crucial, ecommerce and retail shoppers want reasonable delivery prices, speedy delivery dates, and reliable couriers. Amazon’s already understanding a value proposition in retail delivery as a component of CX, so now is the time to strike to keep up.

Choose a reliable delivery company for your customers so that they can be trusted to complete this part of the process for you. A professional delivery company means that you’ll be able to give accurate delivery date estimates to customers; your shoppers want to know that they’ll be able to get their product in time and that they can be in the right place to receive the package.

Space 48 has some great examples of delivery do’s and don’ts which explain how you can make the customer happy whilst maintaining high conversion rates and low delivery costs. 

Hurdle 5
Returns Policy
“The retail market is big so there is plenty of room for Amazon and Kohl’s to co-exist.” - Michelle Gass, Chief Merchandising and Customer Officer, on the new Kohl’s-Amazon return partnership

For customers to be happy to buy from your ecommerce store rather than Amazon, customers need to know that they are able to return products if they are not happy with them.

Your refunds and returns policy needs to be clear for all customers to see. That means making it clear on your website and with your product. Even if customers don’t have the intention of returning a product, knowing that they have the option is a positive experience; they don’t want to end up paying for the wrong product and being stuck with it. Knowing that they can return a product quickly is also part of a positive experience at busy periods of the year.

Customer experience is an important factor for winning and retaining customers in the age of Amazon. Customers remember positive experiences and will return to you if you give them one from the start to finish of their unique journeys.

On the other hand, negative experiences can turn customers away and/or cause negative word of mouth on social media. 91% of customers leave after a bad customer service experience and will not willingly do business with that company again.

It’s imperative in the crowded digital retail and ecommerce space to deliver an excellent experience for every experience of your brand. Celebrate the diversity of your audience, your customers, and your prospective leads. Engage them where they are, when they want, how they want, and with the perfect message for where they are in their journey; not where your computer software says they are. Give them the power of the Human Touch in a digital world. Give them unparalleled customer experience.