Let's take a moment and look back at the history of shopping habits…
Until the 1950s, walking into a local store, a person would be met with a limited selection, in a limited size range oblivious to the fact that other stores might have something similar or potentially better for a similar price. It was an easy time as shoppers were able to grasp the full range of products on offer and identify what they wanted quite quickly; touching and testing items before heading to the checkout.
The shopping mall arrived and people became acutely aware that the limited selection in one store was only a fraction of what was available within a 30 feet of their current location. It was the same physical shopping experience as the dark ages, but people would have more choice and go from one shop to another looking for the best deal.
The internet was born. Today, you can search for a product online, learn who sells it (and more recently are shown some products) and then visit an ecommerce store and sift through page after page of products. Now with all that being said, you would be forgiven to read that and think: we have gone backwards.
In the modern world, we have more choice than ever (think rack after rack after rack of products) and more shops to consider (an online store in a different part of the world). Taking that into consideration, the argument for the modern world is that you can search and browse at your leisure. But the modern consumer just does not have the time to go through a portion of the 15,000+ SKU's you might have on your website. The modern mom has better things to do, time is a asset she cannot give away. The millennial hipster won’t realize another style might suit him better if he keeps getting the same skinny jeans, unaware of other fashion options due to the sheer volume.
So the modern consumer faces two challenges which can be solved easily in today’s technical landscape; personalization and personification. I'll start with the problems (the first one) in a moment. First, however, let me talk about personalization, a marketing concept which sits in the 'Slope of Enlightenment" in the Gartner Hype cycle. It has been there for some time, labelled as a concept which is MATURE and a must-have for most businesses. So with that we get to the first problem the modern customer is facing: discovery.
Seth Godin said: "Discovery (...) is what happens when the universe (or an organization, or a friend) helps you encounter something you didn't even know you were looking for."
I think that line is very apt. Our current marketing approach relies on the customer being specific about what they want to find. The current approach also relies on the customer sifting through page after page of products for the chance to see something new or be surprised. In essence, we are training those who are purchase-focussed, e.g. 'I want to go buy some new trousers' and want to get it done quickly, to visit our online properties and look for the same stuff time after time. Brand X fits. Blue looks good on me. Store A has reliable shipping.
I would seriously implore you to have a looksy at your own website or processes and see how you are currently treating this, checking if people come back, if they buy the same'ish products and of course how long it takes them to achieve their goals. The solution is simple and in most cases very passive in practice. If you don’t have it already, adding recommendations to a product page is the foundation for this. Recommending similar products based on merchandising needs or what other people, like the above millennial hipster, have bought in the past (in the same category) is a great way of including social proof which aids discovery.
Taking this a little further is always a great idea when you do it on a segment, category or color level:
- What do other people in the same segment shop for and how are their habits changing with relation to trends, weather etc.?
- If searching for trousers, showing more trousers based on brand or style might allow the user to see something a little more expensive or add another item to their cart.
- If looking for that little black dress, consider adding recommendations based on the occasion or color.
These are basic variants but they all play into offering the shopper the products they are most likely to buy. Not wildly different, but something which could offer great customer service (discovery of a new or better value product) or helping them stay on trend with a popular brand.
If you wanted to go even further down the rabbit hole (still quite easy with today’s tech), then you could start personalizing the experiences based on what shoppers are looking at or have looked at in the past. Got a promotion on a particular brand of jeans, then consider displaying a banner on each page for this sale to shoppers who are browsing trousers (or some form of leg-based garment). This can be further enhanced by matching the promotion images with the customer’s current behaviors on colors, e.g. black trousers would trigger an image of black jeans and other color preferences trigger the default blue jeans. This persistence and consistent story where brand/category or colors are introduced will lead to greater discovery with the limited space you might have.
Stay tuned for Part 2 which will be addressing the second challenge consumers face in today's world: Convenience.