Improve the online shopping experience- think of the digital store as if it were physical

To help you to improve your online store shopping experience for your customers, think of the digital store as if it were physical.

 – “If you were a merchant, what would you do if you saw a mountain of abandoned shopping baskets on the shop’s floor in front of the cashier?  I would say, immediately start investigating why, look what's in the baskets and ask your customers what is the problem,” says PJ Utsi, Chief Creative Officer at Vaimo.

The mobile revolution has already happened – consumers are using their handy mobile phones and tablets, rather than computers, to make most of their e-commerce purchases. But e-retailers haven’t managed to keep up with this change. According to PJ Utsi: 

– “Most e-retailers, in Sweden and internationally, do not have their e-commerce sites optimised for mobile phones.”

Seven out of ten of Vaimo’s largest e-commerce customers have more visitors from mobile devices than from personal computers.  

“At the moment the biggest part of the sales is still coming from personal computers. But it is a threat for those traders who don't keep up with the changes. Personal computer will soon be extinct and the sales will disappear with it,” says PJ Utsi.  

THERE ARE SEVERAL explanations why still many websites are not optimised for mobile phones. It's not technically easy and it costs money. In the process, the requirement for simplicity and clarity on a small screen needs to be weighed against the wish - that most of what can be seen on the big desktop screen, shall also be available to view on the small screen on your smartphone. 

Another reason is that the engineers and designers, who develop the sites, as well as the e-commerce business managers, sit in their offices working on large screens. 

“Most people hold onto the desktop era. We sit all day and work with large screens and keyboards, thinking that everything works fine,” PJ says and continues, 

“I usually ask anyone working with e-commerce to view the site in the same way as their real website visitors, which in many cases means using a smartphone every second time.” 

POLARN O. PYRET has caught up with their consumers thanks to their responsive site (which works equally well on tablets, mobile phones and PCs). The chain has managed to double their conversion rates, completed purchases via mobile phone, and also increased the proportion of purchases made by tablet users. At the same time, the chain introduced "click and collect", the ability for the customer to pick up their goods in stores. This is a service that is still quite unusual in the Swedish e-commerce sector. 

In selected stores, the staff at NATURKOMPANIET has, since this summer, been equipped with tablets. For example if the customer cannot find “their jacket" in the correct size in the store, the staff can look up in which of their other stores the jacket is available, and then use their tablet to put it in the customer's personal shopping basket at Naturkompaniet´s e-commerce site. The customer can then choose to pay directly at the store or complete the purchase on the bus or at home. The product will then be sent to the customer´s home or can be collected in an allocated store.

At BAUHAUS, Vaimo´s staff is doing field work in order to both - follow up on the customers' buying behaviours in the store and improve their experience online. Customers, who just completed their purchases in the physical store, are asked to complete the exact same purchases again using a tablet or computer while Vaimo´s staff stands by and observes. Customer´s reactions and comments are recorded with the help of the tablet’s camera. This provides a detailed picture of what the buying process feels like for the customer. 

PJ Utsi believes that e-commerce has a lot to learn from the physical stores.  

He says: “Although there are large differences between digital and physical trading, there is a lot of knowledge from the physical world that can be applied online,” and stresses,  

“The customers are the same and, in many cases, think the same way when it comes to for example finding a product.”  

PJ likes to warn traders not to treat their customers as one single large group. One should rather look at a segment, or follow the activity of single individuals in different digital channels. PJ says: “The road to purchase will always be a bumpy ride, with several units involved,” and describes a normal purchase process where the customers visit the site several times, orientate themselves, return from another unit, compare prices and maybe finally make a purchase. 


ABANDONED BASKETS will always exist in e-commerce. Some customers use the basket like a kind of memory list or as a way to virtually stroll around the store and kill some time. But at the same time, abandoned shopping baskets may also point to the site being too complicated, price level too high or that there are other issues that need to be addressed.  

There are plenty of systems for e-retailers which, if the customer signed up with an e-mail address, send them reminders of their “non-purchased” shopping baskets. Missed purchases tend to be followed by an offer for free shipping and maybe, after a few more days, a price reduction. Experienced e-commerce shoppers have learnt to hold out for these deals.

“That’s why there is always a balance what message to send out and what to offer to the customer. How you express yourself is of great importance - you mustn't be too intrusive, especially since this email may be the very first "personal" contact between the store and the customer,” says Utsi. He gives an example from the United States: 

“Nowadays it´s normal that you need to submit your e-mail address even if you shop in a physical store, at least in the bigger chains. It may sound strange, but as soon as the staff explains that you will receive a digital receipt, which allows you to avoid having to fuss with a crumpled piece of paper for return or warranty, then it suddenly gets interest.” 

To make it possible to follow up abandoned shopping baskets, the customers need to actively identify themselves, usually with an e-mail address. 

“The willingness to do so is growing. Customers have realised that they are already mapped out in detail on the Internet and over the phone, so the submission of an e-mail address doesn't matter much, as long as they can enjoy the advantages it will provide,” marks Utsi. 

He returns to the fact that e-retailers need to look at the virtual store a bit like a physical store.

“There is a great potential in increasing sales,” notes Utsi. “Customer psychology and the way things are displayed are well-researched areas in the physical store, we know very well how customers move around in a shop, where they look etc.  The customer's actions in the virtual store are certainly less transparent. At the same time, there is no shortage of data. Those who have the time and skills can gain great knowledge by analysing the data generated on their own site.”  

“There is no lack of data, rather the opposite. One can easily "drown" in all the data and miss the forest among the trees,” stresses Utsi, who likes to distinguish the concepts of multichannel and omni channel. The first, he believes, is more of a corporate perspective where you look at each sales channel as a separate part. The latter, however, is more about customer perspective where the boundaries between online and physical stores - PCs, tablets and mobiles - are erased and multiple channels are used simultaneously.

(Original article in Swedish was published in Dagens Handel in August 2014 and can be read online here.)


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