Cassandra Brighter· Author
Supply and demand. You stock something consumers want, you advertise it, and customers flock to your store. For many ecommerce merchants, that’s the entirety of the sales cycle. This view is not wrong, but it leaves out important steps that should go before and after this process that can drastically improve your shoppers’ view of your company. In this article, I’m hoping to focus your attention on these additional steps and how they can improve your bottom line.
The Pre-Purchase Process: Know, Like,Trust
Step 1: KNOW
Before a consumer buys, they first need to KNOW. They need to know your product exists.
They need to become aware of their need for the product – either as a solution to an identified problem they face, as a facilitator to a passion they have, or as a path to a desire they feel. For a consumer to purchase a curling iron, they need to be aware that their hair is in one condition, their hair could be in a more desirable condition, and the curler is the way to achieve that. For a consumer to purchase a car, their desire for feelings of status, independence, freedom, luxury, or power need to be identified, and the consumer needs to be aware of this particular car as the path to fulfilling those desires. Moreover, the consumer then needs to become aware of your particular business as a viable channel to acquire the desired product. All of this falls squarely in the realm of advertising. Brand awareness, product awareness, search engine marketing, and search engine optimization all work to meet these goals. If successful, these efforts should result in a consumer who KNOWS about your product and their need for it, and knows that you can help them get it.
Beyond knowing a brand exists, you can continue to enchant your audience with nuance and detail that sets you apart from your competitors. I touch on this in more detail in the next step of the pre-purchase path.
Step 2: LIKE
People are driven by affinities, loyalties and kinships. They like to patronize and support shops that seem to match their values, demographics or ideals. Affinity lowers resistance and creates a gravitational pull. A customer may drive a few extra blocks, or wait in line longer, or pay a premium just to patronize a place they like. Consumers are also much more forgiving with a vendor they like. This increases tolerance for shipping delays or product problems upon delivery. With this in mind, it behooves all merchants to look for ways to increase customer affinity.
One way to increase brand likeability is to become personable, identifiable, humanized. This is not necessarily about being virtuous, charitable or better than the competition – this is simply about telling one’s story. Did your company start in a garage? Did it start as a hobby? Was it a childhood dream? Was it born out of a drunken bet? Any and all of these stories make for an interesting read, and result in your brand occupying a more defined position in the consumer’s mind. This is especially effective when a company shows vulnerability and transparency. An example would be a website that sells leggings for plus-sized women. A personal story of the owner’s struggles with body image or clothes shopping is sure to boost the brand’s likeability – and legitimacy as well.
Just keep in mind, strategically, that none of this vulnerability should come at the cost of trust. Your narrative should match your brand and its vibe. Don’t tell a story about hunting for the cheapest manufacturers if your brand is all about luxury. There needs to be consistency in the way you present your story and your brand. And your points of vulnerability should never create doubt in the customer’s mind as to your ability to deliver, or your product’s quality.
The second way to increase likeability is to stand for something. This can be a cause you, or someone dear to you, has always been passionate about – breast cancer, the environment, education, women’s rights. You can choose a cause everyone approves of, such as recycling or curing breast cancer, or you can choose a polarizing issue, such as reproductive rights or LGBT+ rights, and stand boldly for one side of the debate. Whether you’re for or against, you’re likely to turn some people off while energizing and delighting a number of people. The result will be a good amount of free press, increased brand awareness and a more defined demographic as an audience, with a higher level of loyalty.
Step 3: TRUST
Consumers are painfully aware that many things can go wrong during a purchase – things that could result in a loss of time, money, or worse. Things that could lead to them not receiving the product, receiving a product of inferior quality or lesser value, or in some other way having a negative outcome. To prevent this, consumers gravitate towards places they TRUST. The strongest, most direct way to build trust from a customer is for them to have a positive purchasing experience – or several. That said, this can be accomplished vicariously through the positive experience of others. This is where reviews play a vital role. A consumer seeing 1400 five-star reviews is likely to experience a much higher level of trust than a consumer simply faced with a bare point of sale.
It is in this phase that tools to help build trust and a positive feedback loop with your shoppers are vital. Voice of Consumer solutions, such as the Online Buyer Survey from Bizrate Insights, can be invaluable to merchants. The free tool collects a large number of customer feedback during the purchasing process, and reviews are automatically syndicated to the largest search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.This can help to legitimize your ecommerce store and also provide you with valuable insights into your customers’ experience. Armed with this you can constantly improve the buying process to offer a smoother, more delightful purchase journey.
(This is Part One of a series – look for the next part, The Post-Purchase Process – coming soon!)