Why eCommerce Is Succeeding Where It Shouldn’t

How consumers shop online is changing. So are the products they buy.

Ten years ago, the idea of buying prescription eyeglasses online was unthinkable. Get groceries online? No one would dare. Yet, here we are, daring it all — and then some. We’re not just ordering glasses and groceries. We’re ordering stylish eyewear, same-day-delivery fresh produce and more. This is a real success story, but why is eCommerce succeeding in categories previously thought taboo for online shopping?

Now this phenomenon has penetrated the home category. Everyone thought home design was Amazon-proof. After all, who would buy home furnishings without seeing, feeling and touching them?

The answer is: more people than you’d think. In fact, growth for the home category sits at 18.5 percent, making it the fastest growing of any eCommerce category (eMarketer). Home furnishings rank even with food and beverage and a tad higher than health care. Consumers are purchasing best-sleep-of-our-lives mattresses without ever setting foot in a store — and it turns out that the same person who would buy a bed without having lain on it would also buy a sofa without sitting on it.

eCommerce is evolving away from home, too. Take ThirdLove, founded by women frustrated with poor bras and bad fits. The online-only company sells comfortable, perfect-fit bras and underwear without the dressing room. Or BarkBox, dedicated to spoiling dog people and their pups with a unique themed collection delivered monthly. Or Bombas, the sock maker that took a marketplace afterthought and turned it into an innovative, comfortable conversation starter. 

The reason? It all goes back to the customer journey. 

Aside from dreaming up innovative products, what these disruptive companies have done is identify and eliminate pain points in the customer journey — and sometimes, that’s as simple as promising your customer the privacy, confidence and simplicity they can’t get in the brick-and-mortar environment. Does the idea of lying on a bed in a public place give you the willies? Not to worry: Casper lets you try its mattresses at home for 100 days with no restocking fee.

Speaking of easy returns, you can try five pairs of picked-for-you glasses and return the ones you don’t want by sending them back to Warby Parker in a pre-labeled, prepaid box. As for easy buys, if you like the Crate and Barrel sofa in your favorite designer’s latest Pinterest post, simply click the Shop the Look pin to make the purchase.

For the modern consumer, the distance between researching online and clicking the Buy button is more of a hop than a leap. So, if you’re selling in a place where people are already accustomed to making purchases, you have the potential to move your customers more quickly on their journey to purchase. In fact, 46.7 percent of U.S. Internet users start their product searches on Amazon, so we know they’re already in the mindset to buy.

The implications for brands are real. According to the CMO Council report, “Ingenuity in the Global eCommerce Community,” brand marketers who are dependent on the retail channel must rethink every facet of their go-to-market strategy in order to accelerate their own evolution across all channels and touchpoints.

What can you do to continue evolving and help your customers make that click?

Start by thinking of your website as a seamless digital experience rather than a specific stop on the journey. A touchpoint is a touchpoint, so don’t think of your website as an “eCommerce site.” Instead, think of it as a brand experience portal where you happen to be able to buy the product. This mindset, vs. one that takes a more linear approach, will drive more profitable interactions.

Identify the pain points in the consumer journey. How can eCommerce help remove a road bump in the path to purchase, making what was previously painful and/or confusing more pleasurable? Consider that 60 percent of shoppers ranked a “stress-free shopping experience” as one of their four most important factors in shopping — just four percentage points below the timeless “feeling like I got a ‘good deal’” (Kantar Retail ShopperScape® April 2016–March 2017). It may be as simple as offering your customer the privacy and comfort of shopping in their yoga pants, though you should count on the need for some informed and objective reflection (and perhaps an investment in primary research).

Overcome barriers to trial or adoption. As Casper has shown with its success in the mattress market, lowering the risk of trial can be a driving force for business. Give your would-be customers a risk-free way to test-drive a mattress via a real night’s sleep, and suddenly clicking the Buy button feels far less scary. Close the loop by providing excellent customer support for requested returns.

Build brand ambassadors. Manufacturers and retailers focus on garnering positive reviews, and with good reason, but personal recommendations may have an even greater impact on consumers’ purchase decisions. In many cases, consumers, especially younger consumers, value the authentic feedback of their personal social network even more than unbiased product reviews. In fact, 81 percent of Gen Z’ers surveyed said advice from family and friends is more important than a review from a professional company. How are you cultivating those brand ambassadors who can transform your prospects into customers? Does your CRM process close the loop after a purchase, capturing that buyer’s information and positive feedback? And, when you earn positive reviews, do you shout the news from the rooftops? Casper lists 15,545 reviews — with an average rating of more than 4.5 stars — directly beneath the product name (compare that to Ashley Furniture’s 12" Foam Mattress In A Box, with just 125 reviews).

Leverage influencers and publisher partnerships. Successful eCommerce companies understand how to leverage influencers and nontraditional media. Many of these companies, for example, advertise on podcasts, which takes a chapter from influencer marketing. Yes, it’s paid advertising, but like radio ads in the old days, these people you trust and follow — the podcast hosts — are telling you they personally use these products and love them. Brooklinen, Casper, Havenly, Simple Contacts and Warby Parker are just a few of the brands that invest in podcast advertising.

Bring your product to life. Video content, augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D animated videos, design apps — the list of tools available to help marketers bring a product to life in the home of the consumer presents opportunities that fit any product, budget and customer experience goal. The rapid innovation of AR and VR will certainly help grow this category, and today’s eCommerce disruptors, many of whom were born in the era of the smartphone, understand the potential of these high-value digital capabilities. Consider Home Depot, which, with the help of VR headsets, launched a trial that lets customers preview how their custom kitchen installations might look (Furniture Today). While Home Depot is rapidly adopting some of the principles driving advanced digital tools, many other brick-and-mortar companies face a longer runway.

eCommerce is gaining traction everywhere. And objections to buying something online, sight unseen and sight unfelt, are fading. What was once seemingly taboo is now to do. And it’s up to manufacturers and marketers to make sure they’re providing customers with the confidence and compulsion to click buy.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Wray Ward blog.

Amanda Travaglini is a brand strategist whose expertise spans traditional consumer insights and profit-driving brand management. With more than 12 years of experience on the agency and client side, she has helped brands in the home, hospitality and sports industries identify white space and unlock their potential. She is innately curious about why people do what they do and how to catapult those nuggets into profitable growth. Travaglini is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a bachelor of arts in advertising/public relations and a master of arts in communication.

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