Suggestions are nice, but real-life solutions are better. Likewise, simple “what to-buy” recommendations on e-commerce websites are useful. But the presentation of relevant, in-stock and available-to-purchase options that are easy to find via intuitive navigation, and prominently displayed, are especially valuable.
Recently, I encountered several e-commerce website features that clearly and unashamedly present options that allow customers to make quick, yet well-informed decisions. All shared some key features:
- Simplify the decision-making process. “Live chat” is useful in answering specific questions, but an even more helpful feature illuminates what these questions should be and presents solutions with a clear path to selection and purchase.
- Give choices that fulfill needs without overwhelming the customer. Basically, employ simple yet clever ways of narrowing choices for customers.
- Reassure the customer that all relevant information is available.
- Improve the customer experience while driving sales. Expert guidance helps shoppers locate and purchase desired products without pushing irrelevant items.
That’s well and good. But how about some examples?
1. Product selection and presentation based on individual needs and anticipated use
Scenario: Your customer wants to buy a pair of running shoes but is unsure which brand and style to purchase. He knows that the right type of shoe may help him run swiftly, stay comfortable while training, and prevent injury. Your business offers a deep selection of shoes but finding the right one is time-consuming and difficult.
Solution: Recommend running shoes that meet the needs and demands of your customer. Present a limited number of styles, which can be evaluated and purchased directly from this list. Keep the customer engaged from inquiry through selection to purchase. Avoid making him memorize or write down his choice, and then search for product availability and finalize his purchase elsewhere on the site.
Killer Feature: “Shoe Dog” on Roadrunnersports.com, a running shoe shop, retrieves or “fetches” shoe recommendations based on the customer’s responses to a series of prompts. These questions relate to running terrain, weekly mileages and injury concerns as well as foot mechanics, body frame, and gender. Results can be narrowed by brand and size.
Using this feature, the customer does not need to know what attributes to consider when purchasing a running shoe; these are established by the e-commerce site owner and the customer simply responds to questions. Having a depth of inventory is essential so that recommendations are available for purchase.
2. Fashion advice combined with outfit design and presentation
Scenario: Your customer needs help assembling an outfit. She wants to dress fashionably but is unsure about which styles, colors and accessories go together. Plus, she’d like to be able to find what she wants quickly rather than spending hours on your website.
Solution: Create fashionable outfits for your customer. Design a mechanism that allows her to select and buy the items.
Killer Feature: “Outfit Ideas” on Athleta.com, a Gap Inc. brand and seller of athletic-inspired lifestyle apparel and accessories for women, takes shoppers to a gallery of images portraying specially-designed outfits. From this page, shoppers can choose an outfit and be transported to a page featuring these items, ready to be selected and placed in the shopping cart.
This feature reflects a brick-and-mortar experience by mimicking window and in-store displays and offering fashion advice that might be dispensed during face-to-face visits.
3. Visibility of options for delivery dates with associated shipping costs
Scenario: Your customer wants to know the total cost to purchase and deliver a gift to a business associate, family member or friend. She has an arrival date in mind but hopes to avoid spending too much on shipping (despite her procrastination in ordering). However, she may consider paying the extra cost to make sure the package arrives on time.
Solution: Delivery dates and prices are presented in a way that the customer can see her options at a glance.
Killer Feature: A calendar on Gourmet Gift Baskets displays delivery dates along with associated shipping fees in the delivery and messaging section. After selecting a gift basket and providing details such as the recipient’s zip code and type of location (e.g., home, business), options are displayed.
Rather than having to play with shipping calculators in the check-out space, the customer is able to make a quick decision based on available shipping alternatives. The cost of making a last-minute order is visible and understandable.
Adding killer features to your website
To infuse exciting and useful functionality into your website, start by considering a common scenario and typical area of customer frustration, then follow these steps to design your own solution:
- Determine and dissect your offline solution, which should involve using your expertise to educate customers, guide them in making a decision, and close the sale.
- Design and build a feature that automates this process and requires minimal effort on the part of the customer.
- Finally, make sure that products and services presented to the customer are available for purchase immediately.
Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.