by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff

12 ways to improve the customer experience for online shoppers

Apr 27, 20159 mins
CRM SystemsE-commerce Software

Digital marketing, usability and customer relationship pros share their top tips for how to ensure that when customers visit your website they enjoy the experience -- and will buy from you.

ecomm thinkstock
Credit: Thinkstock

Consumers today have more places and ways to shop than ever. And they have increasingly shorter attention spans. So if you have an ecommerce business, and you want online shoppers to buy from you, you need to be able to quickly attract their attention – and make the shopping experience pleasant and easy.

So what can ecommerce businesses do to help ensure that the online shopping experience is a pleasant one? Following are 12 ways to create a customer experience that will have consumers buying from you – and coming back for more.

1. Make sure your site loads quickly, whether on a computer or a mobile device. “Aim to keep website load time to [a few] seconds or less,” says Gabriel A. Mays, founder, Just Add Content, a website platform for businesses. “Your biggest threat isn’t a competitor, it’s the back button. If your website loads too slowly, customers won’t wait around. They’ll go elsewhere.”

And don’t forget mobile users. “Studies reveal that nearly two-thirds of cell phone owners in the U.S. now use their phone as their primary access to the Internet,” says Mark Taylor, global lead for Customer Experience Transformation at Capgemini Consulting. “As a result, companies need to enable all aspects of the customer relationship – from browsing to purchasing to engaging with the brand – to have mobile functionality.

“Today’s online customers want the information they need when they need it, at the click of a mouse or a swipe of a tablet or smartphone,” says Ari Weil, vice president of Yottaa, a cloud-based automation platform. “And retailers have only milliseconds to grab their attention and complete the transaction. Amazon, for example, has shown that every 100 milliseconds of latency cost them 1 percent in sales, while Walmart reports conversion rates rise 2 percent for every second of reduced load time.”

“In order to keep potential customers on their Web pages,” he says, “e-retailers need to optimize their websites to guarantee maximum performance regardless of a customer’s network connection and location or whether they are on a desktop, tablet or a mobile device.”

2. Focus on navigation – and don’t forget about site search. “Customers should be able to easily navigate an organization’s website,” says Ali Mirian, senior vice president of Product, Collective Bias, a marketing & shopper social media company. “Limit unnecessary clicks and implement features like auto-scroll to help avoid users losing interest.”

And “invest in good site search technology,” adds Will Cook, vice president, Multichannel, HP Marketing Optimization. “Site search remains a neglected part of the customer journey. [Yet] search provides an easy way to connect the user’s intent with the right content.” Moreover, “search queries and results clicks [provide] user feedback, [which can be] used to drive a more personalized experience in the future,” he explains.

3. Remember that a good photo can be worth a thousand words (and maybe a thousand dollars). Don’t underestimate the power of high quality photographs of products, says Mira Risek, user experience designer, Usability Matters, a user experience studio. “Some [companies feel that] commonly recognized or generic products might not need that level of visual appeal, but online shoppers find images reassuring, not to mention immensely helpful in identifying that they’re getting the thing they want.”

“We live in a visual world,” says Carolyn Blank, founder, Home Garden Directory. “A website without great images will not get customers to checkout,” she says. “Great photos, and lots of them [though not so many you overwhelm customers], will give shoppers the same feeling as if they were picking something up in a store.”

Furthermore, “make [the online shopping experience] as real as possible by providing photos of the product being used,” she suggests. For example, next to that photo of a vase, show that same vase placed on a table, filled with flowers.

In addition, give shoppers the ability to zoom in and see multiple angles and views of products (if relevant).

4. Less is often more when it comes to content. “When it comes to content online, the ‘less is more’ adage often holds true,” says Mirian. Too much “text, [or] excessive images or videos, can quickly clutter the customer’s screen and hinder their overall experience,” as well as distract them from making a purchase.

5. Include customer reviews. “Customer reviews are trusted 12 times more than a marketing piece from an organization,” says Hunter Montgomery, CMO, HigherLogic, which provides community management services. “So let them do the talking.”

“Brands can significantly improve the customer experience by [showcasing] product reviews not only on their site but also on their mobile apps and in-store displays,” says Theresa O’Neil, senior vice president of Marketing at PowerReviews.

“In a PowerReviews study conducted in late 2014, we found that more than 86 percent of consumers see reviews as an essential resource when making purchase decisions, and 56 percent of shoppers specifically seek out websites with reviews,” O’Neil says. “By making ratings and reviews easily accessible across every touchpoint, brands can ensure a positive customer experience.”

6. Use color psychology. “Pay attention to color psychology when planning your color scheme,” says Leah Preston, marketing coordinator, Enclave Hotels & Suites. “For websites that utilize booking engines, try using green for the checkout or payment button. Green stands for ‘go,’ just like a traffic light, and will have a positive association in the customer’s mind.”

7. Let customers know if an item is in stock, or what the backorder date is, right on the product page. “If you’re selling a tangible product, make sure your shoppers know early on about stock availability and delivery options,” says Risek. “There’s nothing more frustrating than doing the work of finding just the right rug or shoe or garden hose and then finding it is back-ordered or discontinued, or not available for delivery to your location.”

8. Make it easy for customers to contact you, get a quote or sign up for email. “Make it easy to find contact information on your website,” says Marilyn Suttle, president, Suttle Enterprises, a customer experience training company.

“Customers have short attention spans, and have no patience when it comes to hunting down your phone number or email address.” Moreover, “their impression of your business drops dramatically when their time is wasted searching for something that should be easy to find in seconds,” Suttle says.

“If you want customers to call you to make an appointment, put your phone number front and center,” says Mays. “If you want customers to sign up [for email] or request a quote, make it obvious [and easy to do]. You’d be surprised how often we see websites for established companies missing an obvious call to action,” he says, and not providing an easy way for customers to contact or interact with them.

9. Offer live chat. “One of my top tips for improving the online customer experience is to allow customers to real-time chat with you,” says Aalap Shah, cofounder, SoMe Connect, a social media agency. “We’ve successfully installed live chat software on a number of our B2B and ecommerce clients, [which has increased] conversion [rates] as potential customers [now] have a method to more easily connect and ask questions [about products] without [having to] pick up the phone or wait for an email reply.”

Live chat can also provide businesses with real-time feedback on products, price and how well your website is working, he adds.

10. Provide a self-service option or FAQ page. “According to Aspect research, 73 percent of consumers said they should have the ability to solve most product or service issues on their own,” says Joe Gagnon, senior vice president & general manager, Cloud Solutions, Aspect Software, which provides contact/call center software solutions. “Over two thirds of them also said that they feel really good about both the company and themselves when they are able to answer a question or solve a problem without having to talk with a customer service agent.”

So if you can, offer customers a self-service option, or at least include an FAQ page.

11. Make checking out simple – and allow shoppers to save their carts. “One of the most important [things] that most online retailers fail to do, which greatly affects CXM, is not [making] the cart process streamlined and easy,” says Justin Emig, search marketing manager, Web Talent Marketing, an Internet marketing company. “People are trying to give you their money. Make it easy for them to do that with a straightforward and easy-to-follow checkout process,” with a small visual letting customers know where they are in the checkout process.

“Make it as easy as possible to access the shopping cart or the final checkout area,” says Preston. “Attention spans are getting increasingly shorter online, so you want the user to be able to access the final destination in no more than two or three clicks. If it takes too long to [complete a purchase], your user may get frustrated and give up.”

“For customers who aren’t yet ready to buy, offer them the chance to save items to a wish list,” suggests Rob Garf, vice president of Strategy & Insights, Demandware, an enterprise cloud commerce solution provider. “And, if possible, consider extending your cart life since many shoppers may choose to return later to complete the transaction.”

12. Offer free shipping. Customers love free shipping. “As long as you can absorb the cost, offering free shipping is a must to stay competitive nowadays as an online store,” says Nima Noori, founder & CEO, TorontoVaporizer. “With free shipping, customers don’t need to worry about hidden costs,” he explains. “This makes the buying process more [transparent], and customers will be much happier with the shopping experience.”

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