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5 Steps to Increase Customer Engagement in eCommerce

Last updated March 22, 2021 15 min to read
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We recently teamed up with customer journey optimization (CJO) company Yieldify to discuss what online sellers need to know about eCommerce disengagement in an age of better technology and faster internet and how consumer demands have changed.

Our masterclass-style webinar touched on what online businesses can do at five key stages of the customer journey to resolve their disengagement problem, referencing real-life examples from top names such as Marks & Spencer, ASOS and Virgin Trains, to name just a few.

Watch the webinar below!

Webinar transcript

Cat: First of all, I’d like to start today off with a question. Since we’re talking about improving customer engagement in e-commerce, why don’t we make sure everyone is wide awake. Our question today is, the average human attention span has fallen to how many seconds since the year 2000, is it?

  • 12 seconds
  • 8 seconds
  • 9 seconds

The results: Answer B, 8 seconds, with 40 percent of the vote and answer C with 30 percent of the vote. So actually you guys are right, the human attention span is now 8 seconds. This research came from researchers in Canada who were researching attention span and this attention span is even shorter than a goldfish.

Why improving customer engagement in eCommerce matters

Lyndsay: It should come as no surprise to any of you that improving customer engagement is hugely important to the success of your e-commerce store.

And thanks to better technology and faster internet speeds, consumer expectations are growing every day. If they can’t find what they’re looking for on your website, or can’t get their questions answered quickly, they’ll go somewhere else. According to the Economist, 71 percent of consumers said their typical response to a bad experience is to stop doing business with that company altogether.

Here we’ll take a look at a few of the key trends that are impacting how customers engage with e-commerce brands and websites.

A few years ago show-rooming was a big issue for brick-and-mortar retailers. Typically it involved a customer browsing in-store before buying online or at a competing retailer for a lower price. It was a huge problem at the time, and with online shopping becoming more and more prevalent, many thought of it as the final nail in the coffin for brick-and-mortar.

Fast forward to today, however, and shoppers are now doing the opposite and reverse show-rooming, or buying a product offline in a store after doing their research online.

In fact, more than 65 percent of consumers research products online before shopping for them in a store, according to a survey conducted by Retail Dive. That research typically involves consumers reading both online reviews—which we’ll talk about in more detail a little later on—and company websites.

Basically, that means that online is now the first touchpoint in the customer journey. And if your website isn’t user-friendly or engaging or, worse, not optimized for browsing on mobile devices, potential customers are falling off at the first hurdle.

Cat: Next up we’ll discuss the volume of engagement, specifically around engaged customers and how our best customers are our engaged customers. It comes back to the old rule of business that 20 percent of your customers can drive up to 80 percent of your sales and engagement is a great indicator of who these customers might actually be. So in terms of e-commerce what this means is that they’ll visit your website more and they’ll spend more money on your website.

Lyndsay: Here’s an optimistic statistic: 75 percent of customers who abandon their online shopping cart do so with the intent to purchase. That means that for every 100 potential customers who add something to their shopping cart, 75 of them leave without buying anything—but do intend to come back and complete the purchase later. And it’s your job to make sure they do.

Remember, like we said at the start, the average human attention span is now just 8 seconds. So you can’t assume that a shopper is going to remember they left something in a virtual shopping cart—you have to remind them.

Cat: Finally, we already talked a little bit about smartphones. So what does improving customer engagement mean in this new mobile world? It comes back to the question yet again.

Remember the researchers were looking at the impact of smartphones on the attention span of the average human and unsurprisingly they found our love for mobile devices was changing how we interact with and consume content online, driving our attention span down. What this means for you and your e-commerce site is unfortunately pretty harsh: you could be losing over half of your potential customers if your experience on this channel isn’t right.

And so, with all this in mind, it’s time for us to explore how you can defeat disengagement. So what we’re going to do is take a look at five different stages of the customer journey and understand the objections customers might have at each stage and how you can re-engage them.

Visitors can become disengaged at different points in their journey. Oftentimes, we hear people talk about disengagement in terms of cart abandonment, but the truth is that potential customers will disengage with your site at different stages of their journey and for a wide variety of different reasons. So it’s really important to remember that your approach needs to take this into consideration.

#1. First impressions count

Cat: Today, marketers work really hard to drive visitors on site. In fact, they’re spending a lot of money doing that.

For every $91 spent on acquiring traffic, only $1 is spent on conversion. So once the traffic actually gets there, not a lot might be happening with it. This is the first point in the customer journey where they can potentially become disengaged and that impacts your ROI on your acquisition spend, so it really makes sense to try to keep them on site.

Looking at our data here at Yieldify, we discover that the likelihood of retail e-commerce customers converting will increase by up to 14 percent after they’ve spent five minutes on your site. So as you expect this trend also continues the longer the customer stays on your site which speaks to the power of engagement.

Now, we’re going to take at the reasons a customer might have for disengaging in those vital first five minutes.

A good place to start to understand it is by checking your bounce rate. If it’s higher than expected then it’s likely that the visitor didn’t find what they were looking for or the page is too difficult to use. So if it’s the former, there are a few things you can do and it’s all about meeting expectations: you need to think about whether you’re using the right channels to attract the right visitors and secondly, you need to look at your content.

For example, getting your landing page right is really important, having a clear call-to-action, and matching the campaign that the visitor came from. Going back to that statistic about mobile, making sure that it’s optimized for that channel.

When visitors come on site you’ll hopefully know whether they’re new or returning and since this is your first chance to engage, it’s a really great chance to use this knowledge to do some really simple personalization.

If they’re a new visitor you could highlight your USPs or direct them to bestsellers so that they know why or what to buy from you. This is particularly useful if they have come from something like Google Shopping where they might have been comparing prices. Alternatively, if they’re a returning visitor then a welcome message can be another way to craft a more engaging experience and showcase the products and offers you’d like to promote.

Lyndsay: Sometimes you will have customers that arrive on your site and they’re not really sure what they’re looking for, and they don’t know who to ask to help them. The best way to get past that is to offer assistance.

Live chat, when used proactively, is a great way to engage with shoppers one-on-one, offer assistance, improve the customer experience and, in turn, increase conversions.

But it’s not enough to simply have a live chat option on your e-commerce site—you need to proactively reach out to people browsing your site.

Look at it this way: Imagine you’re browsing a brick-and-mortar store and you run into an issue, say you’re not sure about sizing or you want to know what the store’s returns policy is or something similar, and a sales associate appears beside you and asks if there’s anything they can help you with. Live chat can basically replicate that experience but online.

You can set up triggers to initiate the live chat and invite customers to chat with a customers service rep when they’ve been on a certain product page for a specific length of time, or if you think they’re about to click away from your site.

But you do need to have a good understanding of how to use it without annoying your customers. It can be irritating when an invitation to chat pops up as soon as a customer lands on your website, or if a message continues to appear every five seconds or so. Both of those could cause a customer to simply leave your site.

#2. From browser to buyer

Lyndsay: The next step in the customer journey is the product page—and hands-down that has the most potential to make a difference in conversions if you pay attention to it.

No matter how much time and energy or marketing spend you put into promoting your homepage, it’s your product page that will ultimately close the deal, especially if a customer has landed on your website because they are looking for a particular product in the first place.

Product page abandonment is a major missed opportunity for online retailers. Everyone focuses on the checkout, but really, you should be looking a little further up the funnel.

For every 100 consumers that land on a particular product page on your site, 84 percent of them will leave without buying anything. Imagine how much your revenues would increase if you were capturing those sales instead of losing them?

If you can recognize that visitors are interested in a particular product, and understand why they might be leaving, then there’s still time to re-engage them and point them in the right direction.

Cat: I’m just going to take a look at some of the reasons why someone might leave when they’re on a product page. Someone might say I’m not really sure that I’m getting the best deal on this product and this is the type of behavior that you can really recognize. If you look at things like are they dwelling or motioning to exit on a particular product page or are they even selecting and copying the product names so they can try and find it cheaper elsewhere.

At this point what we need to do is ensure that your offer is the best. If you’re a retailer, you could highlight something like free delivery or free returns, whatever it is about your offer that will compel your customers to re-engage.

If you’re really wanting to keep them, this could even involve an incentive such as a discount or free sample, perhaps in exchange for an email address in case they’re still not fully convinced and you need to re-engage them at a later date.

Lyndsay: Sometimes customers just need more information. Assuming you have optimized your product descriptions and imagery, it can also be helpful to offer more information in the form of videos or user-generated content like reviews or Instagram photos.

According to an Instagram Intelligence Report from L2, a digital agency based in New York, only 18 percent of the 250 brands surveyed filter featured user-generated content from Instagram onto an off-site gallery and only 9 percent place user-generated content directly on product pages, despite the fact that doing so can improve conversion rates by up to 6.4 percent in categories such as apparel.

A brand that does user-generated content really well is Asos. If you’re browsing a product page on Asos not only can you see photos of the item on a model from various angles as well as a video of how it moves as the model walks or turns, you can also view a gallery of how it was worn by real-life customers who posted their photo to Instagram using the hashtag #AsSeenOnMe. Urban Outfitters does that as well.

That being said, Asos doesn’t do everything right. Where I think Asos falls down in terms of user-generated content is that it doesn’t post product reviews from its customers.

Why are product reviews important? Well, according to a survey conducted last year by BrightLocal, 85 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

But don’t assume that you should only share 5-star reviews. It’s the presence of less-than-five-star reviews that can actually be what drives purchases.

Two relatively new beauty brands—both born online, by the way—that do a great job of showcasing their product reviews are The Ordinary and GlossierGlossier even lets you sort reviews by most helpful, highest rated and lowest rated and puts its most liked positive review and most liked negative review front and center. The Ordinary responds to every negative review, which shows transparency and reinforces customer trust.

So, if getting more product reviews up on your site isn’t part of your strategy, it should be. You could send emails to every one of your customers, asking them to leave you a review, or you could use automated software, like xSellco Feedback, to help you generate new customer reviews quickly.

Cat: For people who are just browsing, urgency and social proof can be a really effective way to convert browsers into buyers and effective urgency tactics can be really simple. Peppering your copy with content that points toward deadlines so it creates a sense of fear of missing out without having to do any extensive work.

To really bring it to the forefront, what you can do is use dynamic tactics such a scarcity or social proof messaging and that will move your visitors to become customers, showing that lots of other consumers are buying which means that it obviously can’t be a bad idea.

Or showing your delivery cut-off thresholds for express, next- or same-day delivery. So this type of tactic can be especially effective when they’re naturally carrying deadlines for example if you’re a gift retailer, holidays like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day are a really relevant way to use this type of tactic or as in the example here, holidays like Black Friday that have a naturally recurring “fear of missing out” because they’re all based on limited time discounts.

#3. In the bag

Cat: Once you’ve convinced those people who are browsing your product pages to add something to their bag, we come to perhaps the most discussed forms of disengagement and that’s cart abandonment.

Obviously at this stage visitors are a little more valuable to you, they’ve shown a real intent to purchase but despite this, the majority of retail carts still do go abandoned. If you remember from the beginning 75 percent of customers do want to buy. But there is just still a few roadblocks to clear at this stage that we need to get past.

Lyndsay: Hidden fees and delivery charges are the No. 1 cause of cart abandonment because customers hate additional surprise charges as they are about to check out.

I’m going to use myself as an example here. Yesterday I was shopping online for a particular skincare product and rather than buying it from Amazon, I decided I wanted to buy it directly from the brand, on its own e-commerce site. So I found the product I was looking for, I read some reviews, I added it to my shopping cart, I even subscribed to the brand’s newsletter to get a promo code for €5 off my purchase. But in the end, I abandoned the cart because just as I was about to type in my credit card details, I found out that shipping would cost me €15, which was the exact same price as the product I wanted to buy.

And I’m not alone. A Paysafe survey recently found that 42 percent of shoppers abandon an online purchase because of hidden transaction fees or delivery charges.

I’m not suggesting that every online retailer should offer free shipping on all orders, all the time, but consumers today are conditioned to expect it as standard. So you shouldn’t leave it until the last minute to tell someone they have to pay for shipping.And if you do offer free shipping or a free shipping minimum, like spend €300 to get free shipping, it should be obvious from the moment a consumer lands on your site, it shouldn’t be a surprise at the end.

Cat: Customers still might think they can get better deals somewhere else and in that case, I would say it’s still not too late to highlight the offers available. What you need to do here is to keep your customers focused on your offers as they move from the product page right through to payment.

So, an innovative way that you can do this is by showing them all the possible incentives that they might be able to unlock along the customer journey

Progressing visitors to unlock incentives is a great way to drive up average order values. For example, you could target customers who have a cart value of a certain level in order to get them to spend that extra few dollars to receive a free gift or sample, or some other kind of bonus.

Another reason [for cart abandonment] is that it’s taking too long. This is particularly relevant for travel brands or those working within financial services and a way to combat disengagement here is to be clear on how long it’s actually going to take to complete the process or how many steps there are. This can also be bolstered by demonstrating to your customer how far they’ve progressed which increases their feeling that they’ve invested their time and makes it more likely that they’ll see it through to the end.

Virgin Trains targeted visitors who were abandoning seat reservations and they saw a 7.3% uplift in conversions from this tactic.

In retail, it’s a bit different, because maybe you don’t have such a long process. But you can really see the rise of tactics of this. For example, Amazon implemented one-click ordering where a lot of sites now especially fashion sites have a quick view on products for product category pages, which is another way to really shorten the process between adding something to a bag and buying it.

#4. The final hurdle: checkout

Lyndsay: In an ideal world, once a consumer makes it to the checkout, it would be safe to assume that the sale is in the bag. And yet, that’s not always the case.

Consumers who abandon their online shopping carts before completing the checkout process do so for several reasons, the most significant of which are extra costs, such as unexpected shipping charges, taxes and fees, which cause 60 percent of shoppers to abandon a purchase.

That’s according to a 2017 checkout study by Baymard Institute. Other factors include not being to see the total order cost up-front and an unsatisfactory returns policy.

Another report, this one by LivePerson in 2013, found that 83 percent of consumers need support to complete a purchase. That should come as a surprise to no one.

Online shoppers will inevitably have questions during their path to purchase, and if your website can’t provide the answers, you need to offer assistance. Not only does that mean making support channels such as email and live chat visible on your website, it also requires making them instant.

Not to keep barking on about the same point, but the average human attention span is just 8 seconds. So if a customer sends you a message via email or live chat and you don’t respond immediately, or within a certain amount of time, that sale is as good as lost.

eDesk includes a live chat feature for your online store so you can answer queries in real time and guide customers toward purchase completion.

We already spoke about the importance of having a mix of positive and negative reviews on your website, but sometimes customers will only trust online reviews if they clearly come from a third-party website, such as Trustpilot or Yotpo, which have stringent measures in place to combat fake reviews.  

A combination of third-party reviews, as well as your own, ensures that consumers are more likely to trust your website.

Cat: I’m going to jump in here and talk about Ovo Energy, an energy company here in the UK. Their challenge was tackling abandonment for people who wanted to switch to a new supplier and so this meant that they needed to re-engage any visitors who were appearing to get cold feet by making sure they felt really secure in their decision so that they didn’t feel they were moving from one nightmare supplier to another.

To do this, Yieldify delivered an overlay across all the different devices that a customer might access the site via just highlighting their outstanding Trustpilot score and providing reassuring messages like this can be really key in converting visitors, and in this case, it drove an 18 percent in uplift conversion rate.

Another issue someone may have at this stage is not being comfortable using their card online. Obviously, credit and debit cards have been the dominant payment methods for online transactions but not everyone has a credit card or maybe they just don’t want to use one. While some people are comfortable using them others want other methods so you need to offer them.

It could be for a variety of reasons. It could be because they don’t have a card or maybe they’re worried about security or fraud concerns or maybe it’s just an issue of convenience.

Topshop offers everything from all the major cards to PayPal to Klarna. So offering these types of methods are also really great for mobile visitors because they’re likely on the go, they probably don’t want to get their purse out of their bag.

Similarly, you do get people who just can’t be bothered to register. Checkout usability expert Christian Hosts found that 30 percent of users abandoned their cart when asked to register up front.

For example, Asos has made it really simple. They offered social sign in which is really relevant to their target audience and also it’s really great again for mobile. Other ideas would be to highlight the USPs of registering an account with you, like the ability to track your order or receive special offers.

#5. Until next time: post-purchase

Cat: Hopefully once you have deployed all the tactics we’ve just discussed, you’ll have a customer at the end of it but is that really the end?

Depending on which study you believe and what industry you’re in, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. It makes sense. You don’t have to spend time on resources going out and finding a new customer, you just have to keep the ones you have happy.

If that’s not enough to convince you then consider this research which is done by Frederik Rihill. This shows that increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent can increase profits from between 25-95 percent so it’s not just an exercise in ROI it can actually make you more money.

One way to keep the communication lines open with customers who do become disengaged is via other channels that you have at your disposal.

Lyndsay: If you’re not sending order confirmation emails, you should be. Order confirmation emails have higher open, click and transaction rates than bulk messages, according to Experian data. That means there’s a massive opportunity to develop customer engagement and brand loyalty from the get-go.

Rather than simply thanking the customer for placing an order, provide some value-added content that they didn’t expect to receive, such as a support manual or a video that shows how the product is made—anything that your customer would be interested in and happy to receive.

Once you ship an order, you should be sending the customer an email that includes tracking information. As you might expect, shoppers get anxious about delivery dates and usually assume the worst when they click on a link to track their package only to discover that tracking information isn’t available—or maybe that’s just me?

Either way, you should let customers know in that initial email that it can take up to 24 hours for tracking information to appear, and if they still contact you with a shipping query, you should have some boilerplate messages prepared in advance you can respond quickly. Again, this is a feature that eDesk offers and you can also use personalized tags to instantly insert important information like the customer’s name and delivery address, what they ordered and other key details, so it feels more personalized.

You should also follow up with your customer a few days after their order arrives to see if they have any questions or need anything else. It’s a nice touch to make sure that they’re happy with their order and it should contain a section that invites them to send you an email if they aren’t completely happy so you can resolve whatever issue they might be having before they return the product or, worse, leave you a bad review.

If a few days pass and you haven’t heard from that customer and they haven’t left you a product review, you can send them another email and ask for one. Make sure you stress that you read each and every review you receive and that they have a huge significance to you and your business. Customers aren’t going to go out of their way to do something for you unless they feel valued as a result.

Today’s consumers, particularly younger generations, expect personalized interactions and want to be treated as unique individuals. And if you’re interested in increasing customer lifetime value, you should be implementing personalization tactics such as customized experiences and one-on-one engagement.

That means using customer data to offer customized promotions, recognize returning customers and anticipate their needs. Personalized emails, in particular, deliver six times more transaction rates than generic communication, so it’s worth making the effort.


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