Using Search to Improve Ecommerce and Own the Customer Journey

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Owning the customer journey is key to cultivating loyalty and retention, yet it seems to be difficult for brands who are competing with marketplaces and third-party retailers to keep customers on their websites. 

In our latest webinar Improving Ecommerce and Owning the Customer Journey, Lee Zucker, Head of CPG and DTC Industries at Yext, presented on the new customer journey shaped by Covid-19. Afterwards, he was joined by Nick Antoniades, Vice President, CRM and Analytics at Ashley Stewart, Vivian Chang, VP Growth at Clorox DTC and Stacey Eddy, Director, eCommerce at KEEN Footwear for a panel discussion.

Read the recap below and watch the replay here.

SESSION RECAP

Zucker’s presentation focused on 3 trends Covid-19 is driving in ecommerce: the customer journey becoming a conversation, digital transformation and the tech stack. 

The Customer Journey is a Conversation

Consumers are being trained to ask questions and interact with search platforms differently than in the past—they can ask computers questions, rather than searching for a few key words, and get the answers we’re looking for. The customer journey has also become non-linear and more complex—73% of shoppers use multiple channels for question-asking and information gathering during their shopping journey before they make a purchase. 

This move towards a complex customer journey makes brands’ jobs harder because marketplaces often draw consumers’ eyes instead of brand.com sites. Even though 43% of surveyed brands reported their website as the most used channel for customers doing research, consumers usually default to Amazon and other marketplaces (61% of consumers begin their product search at Amazon). 

Why is this happening? Answering questions is complicated—there are multiple components to answer any given question, and many search engines are not smart enough to break down all the parts. The search experience on marketplaces is so good at giving consumers the end result of what they’re looking for that if they begin their product search there, they’re likely to purchase there as well.

Explosion of Digital Transformation

It’s no secret that ecommerce is on the rise everywhere. Ecommerce sales in China account for 52.1% of all retail sales, and that number is projected to increase to 58% in the next 3 years. In the U.S., ecommerce is projected to account for 15% of retail sales this year and 16.3% in 2022. This trend’s origin is twofold: more people are buying online because of Covid-19, and more and more traditional brick-and-mortar companies are moving to DTC ecommerce experiences. General Mills is a great example of this shift: their ecommerce sales increased from 5% to 10% in the last 18 months, and their website now includes recipes and products to incentivize consumers to conduct research and purchase products all on the brand.com website.   

Conversational Experiences and Changing the Tech Stack

With the explosion of ecommerce and the customer journey’s evolution, technology has to shift to align with this new reality. Companies’ best bet at competing with marketplaces is making their content more searchable. For example, Google uses a knowledge graph, which takes into account relevant information about searches and directs the customer to the right place. Knowledge graphs help you personalize your websites’ search experience, allowing customers to ask questions on the website rather than searching for keywords—this makes your website more like Google, motivating customers to complete research and purchase all on your website.

PANEL DISCUSSION

Our panelists shared their consensus that marketplaces may not be the enemy the industry portrays them as—they can be partners and friends and ultimately, your products are still being bought whether that’s on Amazon’s website or your brand.com. 

However, bringing and keeping customers to your brand.com will always remain your first priority, so they offered a few key ways to enhance the ecommerce experience:

  1. Focus on where customers get stuck along the journey—look to heat maps and also understand how they find your products, whether that’s search, navigation or something else.
  2. Create exclusive brand.com experiences—these special experiences will improve stickiness and incentivize your customers to shop on your website rather than on a marketplace or third-party retailer.
  3. Make customer service accessible—people want to talk and are moving to ask brands questions to replace the role sales associates used to fill.
  4. Alternately, create a search experience that decreases unwarranted talk times—while customer service is essential, make sure easily answerable questions are easily found on your website.

Changes in the Customer Journey

Retailers agree that the customer journey has been impacted by lack of in-person shopping. Covid necessities like BOPUS (buy online, pick up in store) or 100% online shopping make the ecommerce experience essential to the customer journey. Alongside these shifts, the touchpoints for customers to interact with your brand continue expanding—on your website, through influencers, shopping ads, social media and of course, word of mouth. And from these channels, customers require more information than ever before to inform their purchase decision—they want to understand the product, the brand overall and how their similar peers view it. 

Between multiple channels and increasing customer demands, the customer journey is no longer linear. Someone might see a brand on social media a few times before deciding to click on an ad and purchase, convert after they see a few outstanding reviews, watch a product video or even read an article about sustainable companies and decide to check out your website. Therefore, content must be woven into the entire ecommerce experience to provide customers the comprehensive information-seeking experience they desire. 

How do you know you’re succeeding? 

A few important metrics to track are:

  • Traffic levels
  • Engagement
  • Bounce rates
  • Product detail page views
  • Conversion (buying the product)
  • Repeat purchases
  • Heat mapping

 

To end the panel, our experts shared who in their company owns the customer journey:

  • Keen’s ecommerce team owns the customer journey, beginning with the planning of the product.
  • Clorox has an omnichannel team for their CPG products, starting with getting the right people in the room to begin the conversation.
  • Yext sees CMOs or ecommerce teams owning the customer journey.

 

As ecommerce grows and customers change their needs, the best practices for owning the customer journey will change. For now, build your website’s search experience to best fit your customer’s needs, giving them all the information they could need to research and buy products. Keep tuning in to the CommerceNext Webinar Series to learn about the newest technologies and practices to keep your customers satisfied.

 

To get more insights like these, join us for our upcoming virtual events and apply to attend CommerceNext IRL today. The conference will take place on September 28-29, 2021 in NYC. Inc.com named CommerceNext one of "Top 5 ECommerce Conferences for 2019 and 2020." We hope you will join us for an upcoming event.

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