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Five ways to bring the high street shopping experience to the web

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2nd Apr 2009
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Online and in-store experiences will always provide different experiences for consumers but they must still complement each other to foster brand loyalty. John Lewis' David Walmsley explains how.

Seven lessons

By David Walmsley, John Lewis Direct

Shopping on the web may well be quick and convenient but it's a world away from the sights and sounds of the store. However, as brands are built on customer loyalty, it's vital that the web experience can complement real-life shopping. Successful ecommerce should offer all the choices, personalisation and price promises you'd get in store, while capturing the right look and feel to suit your brand.

Setting up a brand online is much more than creating a homogenous user experience. While online tactics need to be closely aligned with your business strategy, they also need to take into account the individuality of each and every customer. Naturally, customers want to be treated as individuals - whether they're on your shop floor or browsing your website. So just as you'd treat them in real life, so you should on the web.

The biggest challenge is personalising the impersonal. In stores, you can achieve the ultimate personalisation simply through dialogue between customers and shop-floor assistants. The online experience is by definition more generic but must appeal to the same sense of customer loyalty. THis can be achieved by:

  1. Understand. As always, success begins with knowing your audience. At John Lewis, for example, nine out of 10 of our online customers also shop in our stores. They choose to shop with us because they trust our brand, so we in turn must understand how our online experience fits in with their behaviour.

    • Create. Your editorial and functional choices make up your online language. Instead of friendly and helpful staff to show your customers around, your choice of words, pictures and design are there to do their work. In fact, one tiny change to our website's formatting led to an extra £1 million in revenue over the course of a year - so details really do make the difference!

      • Challenge. Personalising the online experience as much as possible can only really be achieved by challenging ebusiness orthodoxy. There should be no set-in-stone strategies. Instead, gradual and small experimental changes can achieve huge results, both in terms of brand value and in terms of revenue.

        • Reach out. One advantage of personalising the impersonal is the enhancement of your marketing techniques. But emarketing is more than just remembering what customers have purchased. Web 2.0 technologies, such as company blogs and social network outreach, can boost consumers' engagement with your brand.

          • Drill down. Through analytical measurement and multivariate testing, we can get a really good understanding of individual customer behaviour. For example, technology can tell us exactly where and when a particular customer abandoned their online shopping and give us a view of the frequency and specific times of visiting, browsing and buying. Essentially, a successful online strategy is led by central business strategy. In most cases, the technology is secondary to its actual application in practice so for this to deliver the best possible return on investment, it needs to match with customers' real-life expectations.

Already, we're making small and gradual changes to maximise online sales. In future, we may even come to understand the discrepancies between a customer's actions and their actual preferences or personality. And in this way, online strategists will be able to brand experience as well as simply branding the web.

David Walmsley is head of web selling at John Lewis Direct

Tell us more about the most important enablers and biggest barriers to delivering a great customer experience in 2009 Customer Experience State of the Nation survey in partnership with ClickTools.

Taken from the white paper Business Evolution 2009 by J.P. Morgan, John Lewis Direct, Linden Lab (Second Life), Cancer Research UK and Echo E-Business.

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By Geoff Galat
02nd Apr 2009 17:19

Thanks David, you raise some really interesting points here, especially concerning the trust and loyalty your customers have towards the John Lewis brand. There is research to back you up on this; last year, Harris found that 90% of UK consumers transacting online expected the same, or better, levels of customer service online as they do offline. For me, the biggest difference centres on the levels of visibility. As you mention, web analytics and multivariate testing can tell you the when and where in terms of customer abandonment, but they can’t tell you the why, and this is the crucial question. It is only when you can see exactly what your customers are doing on your website step by step - as you can instore - that you can really begin to understand their actions, improve their experiences and consolidate the loyalty to your brand.

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