How to engage shoppers online like you do in store

By: Wanda Cadigan

You can’t (yet) have a proper conversation with your online customer, so online retailers can struggle to personalise and guide the shopper journey as much as they’d like.

Fortunately, there are ways to replicate that element of the in store experience online.

This article will explain how retailers can engage their customers online the same way they do offline.

Online, in store, and customer service aspirations

Abandoned warehouse

Take a deep breath. Relax. No matter what you may have read in the media, reports of a “retail apocalypse” are grossly exaggerated.

Yes, there’s a major digital transformation under way, spurred on by innovation that’s happening in online marketplaces. As many savvy retailers realise, there’s a tremendous growth opportunity ahead for brands who want to build deeper, lasting ties with customers.

While latest figures show Amazon cornering 43% of the online retail market, it’s important to remember that online sales still only account for about 8.9% of all U.S. retail sales, according to the Department of Commerce. That means over 90% of retail sales still happen in the offline world.

The greatest myth is that the battle for online retail is already over. It’s only just begun.

This helps to explain why the biggest online marketplace players like Amazon and are extending to the offline world. Alibaba founder Jack Ma is currently building a five-story mall in his hometown. Why? Because while he has achieved great heights through his online empire, he realises that 80% of the $4.9tn Chinese retail market still happens offline.

Amazon has also made recent moves via acquisition or partnership to extend its footprint in the brick-and-mortar space. Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods has enabled it to have physical presence in high-density cities throughout the United States. Its partnership with Kohl’s allows Amazon purchases to be returned to one of Kohl’s stores in L.A. or Chicago free of charge.

What do Jack Ma and Jeff Bezos realise? Having some form of physical presence is necessary to start chipping away at that significant portion of retail pie that is still spent offline.

How can I engage my customer online the way I do offline?

Personalisation is growing rapidly in ecommerce, but most efforts until now have consisted of simple product recommendations.

That approach can lead to increased sales but, because it’s the only personalisation, there’s also an opportunity lost. That’s because it fails to leverage other important data about your visitors, such as whether they’re just starting to research a product category or making a final purchase decision about a specific product. And that sort of information can lead to much greater sales.

Sending a premature product recommendation can seem pushy and even scare customers away. Instead, try to engage customers with the most relevant information for them at that moment. After all, the more you engage your visitors, the more they’ll end up buying.

To better engage your visitors, try these 10 personalisation tactics, which address shopper needs at all levels. You’ll find more details on these strategies in our white paper, “10 tactics for optimising the commerce experience.”  

For unknown customers

welcome mat

  1. Understand inbound intent—By noting the inbound channel and source (e.g., a PPC campaign for 4K 60-inch TV), you’ll get a good idea of why visitors came to your site. That lets you offer them the information they’ll find most relevant.
  2. Implicit browsing behaviour—Walk in the digital steps of your customers. Are they looking at broad product categories? Or at detailed information about a specific product? Once you understand that, you can send information they need to help them reach a decision—and complete a purchase.
  3. Propensity to buy—Score visitors on their likelihood to buy something. If they view product details, reviews, and availability, there’s a higher propensity to buy. Viewing just the home page or high category pages suggests a lower propensity. This helps personalise your approach for each visitor.
  4. Integrate content and commerce—Tight integration between content and commerce delivers an experience that makes it easier for the spontaneous visitor to transact. For example, a blog post may also contain personalised product reviews and a button to “add to cart.”

For returning customers

  1. Onboarding customers—When customers return, they may want to buy more or simply get information about the product or service they already bought. You can enhance that experience by recognising who they are, what they want, and making the appropriate content available to them.
  2. Profiling with past purchases—If you know what customers bought in the past, you can personalise their next visit by showing them related products instead of unrelated items. For example, a customer who bought soccer shoes might be more interested in a soccer jersey than a hockey stick.

For active baskets

  1. Trust messages—After customers adds your products to their baskets, support their decision with relevant information such as strong reviews from other customers who have bought the same product or services. This will minimise pre-purchase exits.
  2. Related products—Based on what is in their basket and location, highlight important related products, including active promotions. This may help them ensure they have everything they need.

For missed sales opportunities

  1. Tactic 9: Abandoned cart—Oh! You were so close, but lost the transaction. For known customers, contact them and get them back to the basket. For unknown customers, provide a shortcut to the basket for when they return.
  2. Tactic 10: Re-engaging by product views—When customers view detailed product information, then exit before purchase, use the sum of their page views to determine the most relevant offers. Then use this insight when contacting known customers, and try to influence other visitors when they return.

What do customers really want?

Brands have a tremendous opportunity to leverage their strengths to compete. Look at the customer holistically. While they may want to purchase online, they also want an easy return experience. Or perhaps they want to drop into a brick-and-mortar store to touch and feel the merchandise before they purchase.

Traditional retailers already have some form of physical presence. Leverage it. Use all the tools at your disposal—from your online assets to your offline assets—in service of the total customer experience.

Customers want to be viewed as more than a transaction. They want and expect brands to get to know them, to present relevant personalised content and offers to them in context. Brands that leverage both their own and third-party data can deliver more value over time—resulting in not just transactions but lifetime customers.


Wanda Cadigan, Vice President, Sitecore

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