Customers are crucial to a successful business. They can be one-off customers or repeat buyers. Ideally, a business wants a mix of both. Problems arise when marketing tactics fail to attract either type, which is why customer engagement is so critical in today’s hypercompetitive e-commerce environment.
It should be no surprise that customers prefer companies that treat them as valued individuals. It is also no secret that engaged customers talk, shop and spend more. So, how do e-commerce brands stand out and tell customers that they (and not just their wallets) matter?
- With personalized user experiences (UX) that capture attention and make shopping convenient.
- With a seamless flow of content, data and functionality across channels.
- With quality service that customers respond to with sales.
- With the integration of new technology that deepens relationships, boosts retention rates and increases revenues.
Consider the real-life, in-store experiences that influence customer behavior. People touch objects, try them on, and test them out. They discuss products with friends and other customers. They wander around the aisles, get answers from friendly staff members, and make returns or exchanges.
The goal for e-commerce brands is to blend brick-and-mortar immediacy with the convenience of digital shopping. It is time to leverage technology to transcend the transactional, and deepen customer engagement. The following five e-commerce technologies can help build sales strategy to win the interest, business and loyalty of online customers.
1. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Technology
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are rising stars in e-commerce. The two technologies encourage deeper customer engagement by transforming in-store/in-person shopping activities into rewarding digital experiences.
For example, virtual try-on tools allow online customers to see how they look “wearing” a product rather than relying on mere photography. Customers can take a selfie, select the product they want to try, and the application “applies” it to their face or body.
Many virtual try-on tools also allow users to share on social media for feedback from friends and family. While fashion and beauty brands are rushing to integrate virtual try-on tools into their UX, AR and VR also have plenty to offer in other industries.
Furniture brand IKEA pioneered an AR technology called “home view” that allows users to place virtual furniture around their home with a smartphone camera. The virtual tours also provide similar value. When integrated with virtual try-on and sales functions, the technology allows users to explore and shop in a virtual store the same way they would at a brick-and-mortar location.
AR and VR technologies remove the barriers of digital platforms and allow for meaningful product interactions. They also decrease some of the uncertainty involved in buying a product without experiencing it first-hand. AR and VR offer customers convenient and personalized access to products and services regardless of time, location or device.
2. Conversational Commerce
Conversational commerce technology interacts with customers using clear, natural language. It replicates the one-on-one feel of a dedicated salesperson, and helps customers make the right purchase through personalized recommendations and support.
Brands can deliver outstanding service to customers through conversational commerce applications like chatbots, messaging apps, voice assistance, and other natural language interactions. Social media is conversational commerce, too.
As an example, chatbots are a form of artificial intelligence (more about AI soon) that connect with visitors based on event triggers and direct questions. The technology can function via messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, so that users can communicate the way they want to.
When a visitor lands on a website, the chatbot will connect and offer help. The user can ask for recommendations, answers and troubleshoot issues without having to browse through the website. After a purchase, the chatbot also can provide shipping updates, assist with returns, and collect customer surveys. Because a chatbot is not limited to the number of customers it can assist, the technology can provide excellent service at scale.
“App fatigue” is another reason to implement conversational commerce. People simply get tired of tapping, scrolling and typing. They do not want to read endless product descriptions or browse pages for answers. They just want to ask and receive an answer. This is where voice assistance technology and other conversational commerce tools, like Amazon Echo or Google Home, can turn an otherwise reluctant customer into a buyer.
Good conversation naturally deepens engagement with others, and it can drive them further down the conversion funnel. It is important for businesses to find ways to introduce conversation into UX. The conversions will follow.
3. Artificial Intelligence
Sales-focused AI provides real-time personalization of a customer’s shopping experience. It can help businesses deliver more engaging UX by treating customers as individuals rather than parts of a general segment or demographic. Ever since Amazon’s intelligent product recommendations, this feature has become a staple across the e-commerce industry.
AI helps businesses understand customers and market more effectively by gathering, sorting and analyzing behavioral data (e.g. user actions on a website or app, what they are interested in/searching for, etc.). Through intelligent algorithms, websites and apps can dynamically populate the user interface with targeted content to encourage greater interaction.
Simply put, AI helps businesses better understand customers and satisfy expectations. AI can also contribute to better UX by streamlining back-end functions, such as inventory management, instant customer service, and automated CRM (customer relationship management) systems.
Through the increase of operational efficiency on the business side, businesses can devote more time to nurturing customer relationships. When a brand offers an interaction that is natural and personal, a customer is more likely to be engaged and respond to its call-to-action.
4. The Internet of Things
In the Internet of Things (IoT), customer engagement is no longer restricted to a screen or store. This means that upsell opportunities are not restricted, either. Through the IoT, brands can maintain positive engagement, provide added convenience, and capitalize on new sales opportunities at any time and almost anywhere.
The IoT is the interconnection of technology that is embedded in everyday objects (think cars, kitchen appliances, suitcases, etc.) and enables the objects to send and receive data.
IoT items for disposable products also can allow for convenient, subscription-based sales related to product components. For example, the latest coffee makers have been updated to function in the IoT, meaning that the product not only makes coffee, but also alerts users when supplies are low — and can even reorder supplies automatically.
Devices like Amazon’s Echo products and Google Home offer new levels of control over the home environment and can act as hubs between other connected devices. The products also leverage the conversational commerce technology.
Brands interested in increased customer engagement also need to be looking into the IoT. While building smart e-commerce capabilities into products may be a big change/expensive, the cost of not getting involved in the IoT is greater.
5. API-Based E-Commerce
Running through and behind the aforementioned technologies are APIs, or application programming interfaces. These interfaces connect software, hardware, business platforms, third parties and customers to enable the seamless sharing of data. Due to API-based e-commerce, customers have complete freedom to continue their shopping journey whenever and wherever they want to.
For example, a customer might make a purchase online, consult with customer service via social media, and then exchange the product in-store — all without hassle, because an API has shared the customer’s information across all channels.
Thanks to APIs, businesses can engage intelligently with customers anywhere: from brick-and-mortar stores, online websites and social media, to digital apps and smart devices, wearables, vehicles, and much more. This saves customers hassle, and results in a more engaging shopping experience.
Interconnectivity leads to more engagement. Brand interactions can happen anywhere and at any time, and APIs can make them a seamless extension of the actual shopping experience.
Start Your Customer Engagement Strategy
New technology is driving deeper customer engagement every day by eliminating barriers to interaction and shopping. The customer experience is taking on new dimensions. Now, websites and apps show people exactly what they want (or help them find it), and then various technologies maintain and deepen that connection. The experience extends beyond the immediate interaction and becomes available at any time.
Separately, the technologies discussed here are valuable. Together, they support the kind of omnichannel e-commerce experience that nurtures long-term relationships with customers and drives significant increases in revenue.
In the competitive and ever-changing world of e-commerce, integrated technology across time, devices and locations is what drives (and capitalizes on) customer engagement. If businesses make it easy and convenient for people to do business, the conversions will follow.
My greatest takeaway from this engaging article is the importance of AI. AI adds context to customer data based on their online behavior. Data science is incomplete without AI as it helps frame relevant sales/marketing interactions based on customers’ expectations!