Knowledge is power: Five ways to empower customers with knowledge

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The internet has transformed the way shoppers receive information, they are now able to access and learn about products faster and more thoroughly than ever before. While customers want to receive information, the sheer volume of it can overload them, and so it’s becoming increasingly important that retailers offer timely and meaningful advice.

Today’s shoppers are meticulous. With the current economic climate, budgets are tight and customers want reassurance before committing to a purchase. According to research from PwC, more than 80% of consumers conduct preliminary research before making a purchase.

A lack of detailed information can leave shoppers feeling undecided and dissatisfied, whereas a knowledgeable shopper is empowered to make educated choices based on the information they’ve received.

But how do you know what information is required to optimally convert customers to purchase? How do you optimise for what you don't know?

1. Let your customers ask

Allow an online dialogue with customers to happen. There are various tools and options to enable a dialogue – it can take place in off-site social networks, but even better it can happen in an on-site community. Either way, retailers need to provide a place where shoppers can ask questions and gain knowledge.

This gives customers a greater understanding of products and increases their buying confidence. It also allows the customer to control the information they receive.

And in fact it's what customers have been used to doing in the offline world since retail began - they could walk into a shop, and get help and advice.

2. Give prompt replies

Questions from shoppers are fantastic insights for retailers into what isn't being answered in their onsite content, and they should be promptly replied to. Responding to such questions is also a very natural way for a retailer to demonstrate why they are specialists in a particular product range.

And a really savvy retailer can also use these tools help reduce returns, a huge cost for many - guiding shoppers in this way ensures that they are sure about what they're buying.

3. Let your customers answer

As customers ask these questions, retailers have another great opportunity - to let their online customers to help each other.

Customers should be able to gain advice not only from the retailer but also from other shoppers. This authentic feedback gives customers trusted advice from other shoppers who have bought and tried products they’re interested in. It also allows customers offering feedback to act as brand advocates.

Retailers shouldn’t see this as a loss of power. By allowing a two-way conversation between shoppers, retailers are letting them actively support each other in their purchasing journey. This lets customers know that their feedback is appreciated and acknowledged, and gives them the information they need to purchase.

4. Use this resource across the site

Retailers go to great lengths to improve the online shopping experience – most have invested into smart technologies that aim to increase sales, such as on-site video and search tools, but if shoppers aren’t gaining the information they need, the efforts effectiveness are reduced.

It should be made easy for customers to get advice at any point in their research across the retailer’s site. Every retail site is different, but areas of high bounce rates are particularly important places to offer clear calls to action that shoppers can engage with. 

This resource also gives the online store added utility for most shoppers. This utility shouldn't be underestimated - making a site simpler to shop on, making a purchase decision easier to make, these are the things that help drive sales.

5. Feed all of this back into the site

Apart from building into an effective 'pre-sales' FAQ these questions and the community they come from can also be used to feed back into the site content. Retailers can improve the content of product and category pages, or even build customer questions into purchasing guides. Retailers can gauge a better understanding of what their customers want and don’t want, and should take all feedback on board to improve products, services and even the functionality of the online store.

With more information becoming available to shoppers online, and their increasing demand to communicate with each other, the opportunities for both shoppers and retailers are endless. By actively allowing shoppers to gain information, which in turn, offers the retailer knowledge, the customer is provided with a much more relevant and stronger offering.

Retailers should embrace the knowledgeable shopper. If customers want to search for more information about products, they will find it. But it’s up to the retailer to decide whether they are the ones to provide it.

Phil Woodward is the CEO at community shopping platform provider HipSnip.

About Phil Woodward

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