Over the past few months, the retail sector has seen massive changes in online shopping behavior.
When stay at home orders were issued across the world, people took to their computers and other devices to do their essential and non-essential shopping. This shift from physical to digital shopping happened abruptly, thrusting many retailers into an ecommerce-first scenario, ready or not. And it’s highly likely that there is no going back.
This has led to two main refrains for retailers:
How do we deliver the best possible shopping experience ?
How do we make sure our business is able to stay flexible if something like this ever happens again?
Consider Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other massive shopping events. Teams spend months preparing for big changes in shopper behavior: Surges in traffic, increased demand for certain items, increased volume of support requests...
In the new normal, retailers need to view everyday as if it could be Cyber Monday. As if shopper behavior could change drastically, abruptly and without warning. The name of the game in this new reality is flexibility, adaptability, and—of course—customer-centricity.
"Maximize ecommerce readiness. Do not assume that what has worked up to now will work in the next 12-24 months." — “Recovery? This is a renaissance” via Wunderman Thompson Commerce
Tip #1: Keep a near-constant pulse on customer behavior
The name of the game is agility. You need to make sure the shopping experiences you’re building align with what your shoppers need and want in any given moment. To stay flexible, you need to get and stay as close to your customers as possible. This includes speaking directly to customers as well as observing how customers interact with your ecommerce experience.
Support tickets, chats, phone calls, online surveys—these are direct methods for understanding the digital customer experience. They allow you to collect feedback and identify shopper jobs-to-be-done.
But these methods also put all of the onus on your shopper to provide said feedback. They have to take the time to tell you what they’re experiencing, they have to articulate why it hurts, and often, this feedback is misleading because humans have a hard time translating experiences into words.
Be mindful that your shoppers likely have a lot on their minds—talking to you about their shopping experience may not be high on their list of priorities. That’s why it’s essential to have mechanisms in place to help you keep a pulse on digital shopping behavior.
Digital experience platforms like FullStory allow you to understand the digital experience through the eyes of your shoppers, in the wild. FullStory indexes billions of digital experience data points, illuminating how people interact with your website or mobile app in the wild. This includes behaviors that correlate to negative, frustrating online experiences. These events are searchable to developers, designers, customer support, and other teams.
Learn more about how FullStory works here.
Tip #2: Prioritize site and / or app usability
While the shift to ecommerce may have been abrupt for some, retailers need to close the usability gap as quickly as possible. A site or app that loads quickly and works as intended trumps flashy features or functionality.
In our guide to understanding user frustration online, we outline the most common offenders when it comes to bad usability, resulting in a bad user experience. Here’s a quick overview of six of the biggest causes of frustration online:
Clunky, dysfunctional, dated, or just bad site or app elements and design: Every element on your site or app has the potential to delight, help, confuse, or frustrate shoppers. Are you actually creating shopper frustration with design, UI/UX, or “stuff” you put on your site or app?
Performance: A slow-loading site or app is a non-starter.
Aggressive conversion tactics: Pop-ups, ads, confusing buttons, automatically opting-users-in—these tactics can definitely lead to increased frustration.
General brokenness: User errors and bugs, if your site or app isn’t working, shoppers will notice.
It takes too long to do [x]: If shoppers feel the process to reach a certain page on your site (or point of conversion) is too slow, they will become frustrated. This differs from performance because it’s something we often design into a process by making it overly complex, administrative, or tedious.
Confusion: UI confusion is a major cause of frustration. Most shoppers will just leave with only a select few making it over to the Help documents, with even fewer actually reaching out for support.
Identifying and fixing these usability issues must be a priority. According to GO Group, a global network of experimentation consultancies, A/B tests that address usability issues have the highest win-rate (60%). This indicates that you can achieve major boosts to conversion rate and your bottom line by focusing on usability.
“[Usability] is the best quick win out of all the best-practice advice we reviewed. Improving usability shows a 60% success rate of generating a winning result. In most cases, however, you don’t even require a test. Before you dive headfirst into full heuristic evaluations, the best performing usability quick wins come from major issues, not slight annoyances or tweaks that only UX experts would pick up on.
If you have a problem or something is broken on your site that is preventing customers from completing any of their main goals, fix it now. It’s much more likely to have a positive impact on conversion than any other optimization tactic.” — “Most CRO advice is misleading and here’s the data to prove it” via GO Group
Tip #3: Closely monitor key conversion funnels and shopper flows
Of course, few have the resources to optimize the entire ecommerce experience in one fell swoop. Which means you'll need to prioritize. To do this effectively, you’ll want to ensure you 1) know what your key ecommerce conversion funnels and shopper flows are, and 2) that you are closely monitoring these flows for any issues.
If you haven’t yet mapped out your key conversion funnels and shopper flows, start there. Audit relevant sources of customer insight—trending search terms, customer support tickets, call center recordings, traditional analytics, etc.—and compare current shopper behavior with the flows that are most important to your bottom line.
Keep in mind that you will likely map and re-map these flows many times as shopper behavior evolves. Stay agile by staying attuned to your shoppers’ click paths: What are the top links people are currently clicking on your homepage? Pay particular attention to the areas that may be receiving a spike in visits, such as shipping terms and conditions, your return policy, branded content, delivery service updates—anything out of the ordinary.
"Within days of implementing FullStory, we identified multiple friction points in our checkout process that were impacting millions of conversions on the web and via our mobile app. Being able to see and understand how shoppers are engaging with our digital experiences has helped us prioritize ‘small’ fixes to the checkout process that will have a big impact, boosting conversions and improving the overall experience for our shoppers." — Stephen Stewart, Sr Manager Merchandising Analytics, Lowe’s
Curious about how to build and monitor a conversion funnel in FullStory? Learn more here.
Tip #4: Refine your bug triage workflow
It is critical that you can respond quickly to any errors and breaks that occur in your ecommerce experience. Whether it's a third-party script slowing things down, a weird edge-case rendering problem on a popular mobile device, or a broken button on your checkout page, the key is to prepare for the unknown and know exactly how you'll respond when it happens.
Whatever technologies you’re using to surface errors and ship fixes, you’ll want to refine your workflow from identification to remediation. Here’s how the process looks if you’re using FullStory.
With the "Report a bug" feature in FullStory, you can share sessions and important details for debugging with anyone on your team, which massively cuts down on the amount of time you'd normally spend reproducing a problem someone reported.
When errors do happen, the FullStory Console captures them. You can even use Dev Tools to inspect the Network activity and request-level details. Here's what to do:
Make sure you have FullStory integrated with your other key apps like Slack or JIRA.
Check that you've got FullStory Dev Tools running (you can start a 14-day trial from the app!)
Watch a session and use the "Share & Note" feature to create a Note. Click "Report a bug" on your Note to practice sending that Note into your system for triage. (You can even copy/paste session metadata.)
Work with your team to confirm that they received the FullStory sessions and debugging details and that they're able to see exactly what you reported.
How fast can you go from catching a bug to releasing a hotfix? Test it out and get a sense for how quickly you'll be able to turn around issues when they're reported.
Tip #5: Connect your tech stack
Your ability to move quickly to respond to changes in shopper behavior depends, in part, on your ability to limit unnecessary back and forth between teams. This is where an integrated tech stack is very helpful.
Consider all of the technologies you use to power your ecommerce experience, including software you use to connect with your shoppers, customers, and users via digital channels such as:
Customer support software (chatbots, ticketing systems, etc.)
Engineering platforms (project management, debugging, etc.)
Product management (analytics, a/b testing, etc.)
UX design (user research, voice of customer, etc.)
Digital marketing (a/b testing, analytics, automation, etc.)
Internal collaboration and communication (messaging, project management, etc.)
Many of these platforms play nicely together. You should explore the integrations available to you and activate them where you can. Because the more connected your tech stack, the easier it is to facilitate cross-team alignment and reduce time wasted “syncing.” This is particularly important right now as distributed work continues to be the de facto status.
If your tools don’t integrate with each other, reach out to your vendors to express interest in a specific integration. Chances are that integration is already on their product roadmap; if so, they can give you a timeline estimate. If it isn’t on their roadmap, perhaps they can add it or they can support in building a custom integration. Either way, it never hurts to ask!
As you evaluate additional technologies to enable you in a new era of ecommerce, make sure you consider extensibility. Look for platforms that integrate seamlessly with your existing stack and provide data and insights where your teams already spend their time.
Retailers need to prioritize increased flexibility. From developing a smarter, faster A/B testing program that allows you to continuously iterate on your ecommerce experience, to connecting you technologies to ensure efficient, seamless error remediation—you should prepare your organization for a new reality wherein continuous change is the only constant.
Related reading for retailers preparing for a new world: