In the era of mobile technology, customers are no longer limited to their homes and hotspots to research businesses online and make buying decisions from their laptops and PCs. Nowadays, the world of retail is increasingly carried in the palm of the consumers’ hands. That means that your business has limited time and opportunity to differentiate itself from a virtual sea of e-commerce competitors. That is, perhaps, the bad news.
The good news, however, is that in an era in which the global marketplace is anywhere and everywhere, where consumer consumption is a 24/7 endeavor, your business is no longer limited by geographic or logistical boundaries when it comes to accessing your customers. But finding those customers, capturing their interest, and converting site visitors into buyers—ideally repeat buyers—doesn’t just happen by chance. It requires strategy, and that means understanding the customer experience, how that experience drives customer response, and how customer response spurs sales.
What Converts a Prospect into a Payer?
Paying customers aren’t born. They’re made. Fortunately, thanks to decades of research in consumer behavior, we understand better now than ever what drives customers to make that all-important transition from passive audience to active consumer. Unfortunately, however, the process is by no means straightforward. Rather, it’s a culmination of factors, some of which you can control, and some of which you can’t.
While you can’t prevent those nettling little life events—a bad day at work, a fight with a spouse, a misbehaving toddler—that distracts your target customer from your company’s message, you can build an online presence that positions your company as one that can provide what your customer wants and needs, on both good days and bad. But that comes from understanding human behavior and how this shapes consumption processes.
Basically, there are two primary mechanisms that drive purchasing decisions. The first is based on rational action theories. These theories suggest that purchases are the end result of a process of deliberation, of thoughtful decision-making that often includes research, comparison, and the customer’s consideration of her own past experiences.
Theories of rational action also often include needs theories, the idea that the decision to buy a product or service is often motivated by the buyers’ sense of need, even if that need is just to satisfy a desire. In other words, you can use needs theories to make the customer want your product or service so badly, they feel they just have to have it!
Of course, anyone who has ever made a purchase in their lives (in other words, anyone, period) knows that purchases aren’t always rational. Hence the wonder of the impulse buy, and the second major type of purchasing decision identified by consumer researchers. Many purchases are made deliberately, but many are not and the key driving sales is to determine how best to satisfy both the rational and the impulsive sides of your target consumer.
Of course, some products and services will work better as impulse buys and some will work better as considered purchases. A bag of potato chips at the checkout line of your local grocery store or the decision to upgrade to a super-sized soda for just a dime more are impulse buys par excellence.
However, unless you have the bank account of a Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey, you’re not likely to just pull into a car lot and buy the first SUV you see simply because it happened to be sitting there looking appealing! Again, it’s all about knowing your product and service and, above all, it’s about knowing what makes your target consumer tick.
Drawing the Customer Journey Map
Theories of rational action highlight the reality that the path from consideration to purchase is a highly ordered process, but even impulse buys usually follow a predictable pattern. This is often referred to as a customer journey map, and if you’re going to drive sales, especially online sales, then you need to know how it works.
In fact, when you’re looking to optimize your company’s online brand and optimize your virtual storefront, you don’t have the luxury of face-to-face interactions with your customer or of building a physical environment strategically designed to get them shopping—and spending.
Understanding, and using, the customer journey map will help you overcome those deficits. Research suggests that there are five major stages to the customer journey: awareness, consideration, decision, purchase, and loyalty. Your online content, across all your company’s digital platforms, needs to be tailored to the specific stages of the customer journey, developed to move your customer smoothly and efficiently from one stage to the next, from prospect to buyer to repeat customer.
Harness the Power of the Influencer
When you are looking to galvanize your company’s e-commerce success, you should never underestimate the power of the social media influencer. Influencer marketing is a relatively newer phenomenon, but it is rapidly gaining popularity across industries and customer demographics.
Online shoppers, especially habitual ones, are also the customer segment most likely to do a significant amount of online research before making a purchasing decision. And that means there are often particular sources they turn to in considering specific products and services. Not only this, but influencers often introduce new products (and companies) that your target audience may not have even known they wanted or needed!
So, influencers can be a powerful tool for winning customers across all stages of the customer journey, from awareness to decision to loyalty. After all, if a favorite influencer keeps combing back to the same company, chances are your target customer will too.
A word of warning, however: When you use an influencer, you need to be transparent about their relationship with your company. If the influencer is compensated, for instance, then you need to be clear and upfront about that. One of the fastest ways to lose your customers’ trust, and their business, is for your customers to discover that a seemingly impartial influencer was actually paid for their endorsement!
Building Your Virtual Storefront(s)
If you’re going to attract your customers to your online store and social media pages, inspire them to linger there for a while, and make sure they keep coming back, then you have to make sure your digital platforms are not only appealing but also highly user-friendly. Your sites should provide all the information your customers could want or need to make informed decisions about your company—and why they should buy from you!
That also means your sites should be easy to navigate while providing unsurpassed user experience. Fortunately, there are lots of strategies you can use to make your sites memorable and engaging, from providing videos and interactive experiences to building forums for your customers to communicate with your company and with one another. In this way, you integrate your company into your target customers’ everyday lives, becoming a virtual presence in their daily routine.
This provides your company with a ready and responsive audience eager to learn about—and own!—your latest innovations. Best of all, it also provides your company with real-time customer feedback to ensure that your business is at the frontlines of the market, identifying and addressing your target customers’ evolving wants and needs.
In fact, the ability to remain in near-constant communication with your target customer means that you have an unprecedented opportunity not only to tailor your business operations to your customers’ wants but also to build a messaging strategy that serves your clients’ interests. Customer reviews, comments, and questions are invaluable for product development and service delivery. But social media is also a fantastic platform for developing a messaging strategy that illustrates your company’s social and moral values.
In the era of corporate social responsibility (CSR), customers’ purchasing decisions are increasingly based on their sense of identification with the expressed values of a company. They are increasingly seeking to support businesses whose values they feel best to align with their own. Social media provides the perfect forum for building your company’s brand beyond the realm of profit, for giving your customers a sense of your business, what it stands for, and how whose interests it serves outside of itself.
In an increasingly competitive global business environment, it is harder than ever to make your business stand out. However, your company is by no means powerless when it comes to capturing customers, and their money. What it takes is a bit of strategy and a lot of knowledge, from understanding consumer behaviors to identifying the stages of the consumer journey.
You can use these insights to tailor your digital content to your customers’ needs and expectations at each stage of the buying process, moving them strategically from awareness to consideration to purchase to repeat. One of the most important tools you will have to help you in this process is the thoughtful design of your various digital platforms, providing your target customers with an experience that is informative, engaging, and irresistible.