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Celebrate simplicity

October 26, 2011


When I think about the websites I enjoy shopping, they all have one thing in common: simplicity. And by that, I do not mean a paucity of options, detail or content.  I mean a well-curated, carefully edited navigation, content that is clearly organized and merchandised, links that are clear about where they are going, and steps that simply make intuitive sense. These are the kind of sites that are a pleasure to shop- whether you are a power-shopper, like me, or a less experienced shopper who’s not yet quite comfortable shopping online.

For newer websites, it’s about understanding what constitutes a good experience and building it that way.

For those that have been around for a while, it’s about evaluating the site from a holistic perspective, to clearly see the disconnects, redundancy or sub-optimal organization that can result from incremental changes over time: the implementation of new pages, new categories, and new additions to navigation; the older pages with out-of-date content, broken links and functionality; copy or design that seems antiquated. Yeah. It can get messy.

It’s hard. But you’ll always be behind if you don’t deal with it. Keeping it simple requires vigilance and devotion. A constant watch guard on the shopper’s experience. So how do you do it without loads of time and resources?

  1. Shop your own website all the time.
  2. Do it now. Repeat every week.
  3. Don’t just look at what’s new.
  4. Start from the beginning and follow the path all the way through checkout.
  5. You’ll be surprised at the things you notice- keep a list.
  6. Get everyone in the company in on it.
  7. See what your customer sees: try for a quick read.
  8. Start fixing things, one thing at a time.

Don’t have the time? It’s all about priorities.  This won’t necessarily make the top of your list. That’s okay. Just think of it as maintenance- like putting oil in your car. If you don’t do it, the car will stop running well. By refining the shopping experience now, you are making a choice that will lead towards better conversion, a happier customer, and a strong foundation on which to do more of the fun and remarkable things that add buzz-factor to your brand. But you need the car to keep running. You don’t have to stop everything else to do it. Do yourself, and your customers a favor. Just get it started.

5 brand imperatives for holiday (and beyond)

October 23, 2011


It’s prime time. The holiday season starts now.

Motivating shoppers is more challenging than ever. Shoppers are more thoughtful about the purchases they make, and far more likely to shop around for the best offers, policies and site experiences before they take out their wallets.

Getting people to your website is just the first obstacle. Next, you need to give them a reason to care about engaging with your brand- and not just because you have the best price or shipping offer. It’s about branding: delivering value on a meaningful emotional level, to make your website a destination worth bookmarking, and returning to, again and again. Your brand is your most significant competitive advantage. Make sure you’re well positioned with these 5 imperatives, and they will serve you well, long after the Holiday season has passed.

1. Play up your intrinsic brand value. Who are you, and how are you differentiating? Is it a philosophy? An aesthetic? Your policies? Your expertise? If you don’t have the answer, your customers are not likely to find it, either. Spend the time to figure out what it is, and develop content, messaging and events to support it.  It can be advice that differentiates you as the expert. It can be your opinion, that positions you as the authority. It can be the aesthetic, with visuals, copy and design that create compelling emotional connection. Consumers need a compelling reason to shop with you. What is yours?

2. Embody the brand, in all that you do. Create a voice and visual language for your brand, and be consistent. Whether it’s a product launch, a sale event, an editorial message, or a customer service email, it should convey a tone and quality that is uniquely you. Shopping is emotional. Any single incongruous communication can create a disconnect that gives your customer pause. Consistency makes your brand believable, dependable, and uniquely appealing.  You can continue to react to external factors like the economy, in a way that is motivating, yet uniquely you.

3. Be consistent at every touchpoint. Brand equity is about trust. Without consistency, customers begin to lose faith in you. Without trust, you will lose customer loyalty. Without loyalty…you risk losing repeat customers and brand evangelists who could bring in new traffic. It takes time to gain your customer’s trust in you as a brand, but a single bad experience can jeopardize it. Brand consistency takes vigilance- and training throughout the organization. Your leaders need to know it, nurture it, and police it. Everyone needs to live the brand, in every role, at every level. Start by looking inward: Shop your own site, stores, and print materials often. Call customer service for help with a size or product question. Look for customer service and read the FAQ’s on the website. Make an actual return. Ask yourself: is this a good brand experience?

4. Listen to your customers. They may not always accurately predict their future behavior, but they can tell you how they feel. And how they feel is an important measure of how your brand is doing. Let’s face it: your brand is what your customers think it is.  Make sure it’s who you want to be.

5. Make it great. Be the best at what you do, and move it forward. What’s great today, is status-quo tomorrow. So push for what’s the next big, great thing you’ll center your efforts around. Solve a problem your shoppers didn’t know they had. Make it ever-easier to shop. Whether it’s a tool, a value proposition- or an event, make sure that you’re keeping it fresh. It’ll give you something to promote that isn’t about price, and creates a reason for customers to keep coming back. And that’s a win-win for everyone.

Navigation: love it, or lose her.

October 22, 2011


Here’s how I think about it. In a store, a customer walks in, scans the floor and either spots something she’s interested in or looking for, or loses interest and walks out. Online, it’s the same thing- except there’s no friendly associate at the door to ask if she can help. Online, you have just a few seconds to show a customer you have what she wants, or needs- or she’ll be off to Google before you can say, “live chat”.

Online it’s all about choices. We need to provide pathways for different kinds of shoppers: most notably, the navigator, the searcher, and the browser. And these are not necessarily different people. They are moments in time, based on mood, based on need- based on urgency, or any number of other factors. The point is, she needs options. There are 3 key ways to show your customer you get it.

  1. Navigation: keep it clear, simple, and intuitive. Use nomenclature and sequencing that makes sense to the customer (avoid merchant-talk, and put things where they make sense- not in the order in which you’d like to sell them).
  2. Search: make it prominent and productive. Make sure synonyms and misspellings work. Make sure she can shop by size. Study the logs of frequent searches, so you can continually improve your results sets.
  3. Content: inspire her. Give her ideas. Share a point of view. Show her something she didn’t know you had. Or that she wanted. But for the browsing shopper, her wallet is out. All you need to do is to give her a reason to buy.

A note on gender: I use “her” for convenience rather than the annoying he/she or the persistent third person… sorry if I’ve offended any guys out there.

mobile friendly, yet?

October 21, 2011


Let’s talk about mobile shopping. If you don’t yet have a mobile presence, you’ll fall quickly behind- as greater numbers of shoppers are browsing on their phones even while shopping in stores. According to Gartner Inc., mobile applications and social media will account for 50% of web sales by 2015.

Here are some things to think about, to get you started.

1. What devices will you optimize for? All of them? Careful…this becomes a morass very quickly. The first thing to do is to see where your mobile traffic is coming from using your web analytics program. You should be able to see very quickly which devices are browsing your site- most likely: iphone, android and blackberry, in that order.

2. Do you want your entire experience available via mobile? Keeping it simple is good, but too simple, and your customers could get frustrated that they can’t find a feature they love on your desktop site (a style-finder, or special editorial section). Be sure to include your most popular features and typical functionality- the navigation should be the same architecturally, though the steps and visuals should be simplified and customized to the smaller screen.

3. Are you going to build it, or outsource it? There are lots of great vendors out there. My choice currently is Moovweb. They are fairly new to the space- but they have quickly signed an impressive list of major retailers. Not surprising- given the low maintenance model, reasonable pricing- and great service.

4. How often will you update content? A mobile site does need maintenance and attention to align with your brand and marketing messages. Make sure that major promotions are reflected consistently across all channels. Shoppers are becoming increasingly channel agnostic- they will shop wherever, and however it’s convenient for them. So make sure that your messages are consistent, so that if she sees something compelling in your store window or homepage, it’s reflected consistently on the mobile site homepage as well.

5. Test and analyze. Be sure to try out the site on the mobile devices you’re optimizing for, so that you understand the experience, and are happy with it. Watch the analytics. Mobile shoppers may be more search directed than on your desktop site, because it’s simply easier. Make sure your search box is prominent and effective. Take a look at what’s working, and what’s not. Optimize and prioritize the site accordingly.

These are the basics you’ll need to get started. Please let me know how it goes.

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