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“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

– John F. Kennedy

optimization-trends-in-retailChange is the law in retail too. Shoppers are evolving, becoming more erratic, using a greater variety of touch points and taking more actions on their journey to conversion. Competition is fierce and companies who don’t adapt and look to the future will be left behind.

As the Senior Retail Customer Success Manager at Optimizely, it’s my job to understand what is most impactful to my clients’ businesses and how to achieve their goals. Through working with many retail brands on their e-commerce sites, I’ve seen first-hand how companies are staying on their toes in the evolving marketplace and growing revenue as a result: by optimizing all aspects of their site through testing and personalizing.

I see three trends from my top customers:

  • They want to create highly relevant and seamless customer experiences because they know they’re most impactful, and competing on price is a thing of the past, but this is difficult to achieve.
  • Omnichannel is increasingly important, but only if you do it well.
  • Continuous testing is the way to keep up with the evolving consumer.

In this post, I’ll give you insights into how my top retail customers are approaching these trends and my suggestions for improving your company’s ability to respond to them.

1. Customer Experience is THE Differentiator

Customer loyalty isn’t what it used to be. With hundreds of websites just a click away, customers rarely have any allegiance to a specific brand. Consumers can buy what they need in so many places, what’s the incentive to stay loyal to one website?  Today, competing on price is not enough, the experience must be the incentive, your competitive advantage. By 2016, 89% of business will compete mainly on customer experience and customer experience is quickly overcoming price and product as the key brand differentiator. Tailored online experiences that are relevant to a visitor’s context, behavior or demographic make customers feel like individuals and can increase customer loyalty.

Psychologically this is intuitive: when someone shows you they are really listening, you feel a greater loyalty to them in return. Similarly, when a brand shows they are privy to my interests, I remain much more engaged and loyal to them. Industry experts talk about the move from retail to “me-tail.” In fact, 56% of consumers are more inclined to use a retailer if it offered a good personalized experience.

My suggestion: With every A/B test you run, measure how it performs with different audiences (like these 7 essential customer segments that you can easily create in Optimizely) and then push personalized content to them based off of what is proven to resonate. Here’s an example from my top retail customers: test different messaging for your top purchasers and, based off of your findings, push the message that resonates most with that specific audience.

2. Continuous testing helps fuel rapid decision-making

How do you approach the challenge of creating relevant and seamless customer experiences? You do this by testing different concepts, analyzing how different segments perform, and personalizing based on those learnings. REVOLVE Clothing is seeing huge successes with this approach to their e-commerce strategy. With 20% more engagement, 2.25% increase in email sign-ups, and personalized experiences across both mobile and desktop, Revolve Clothing is at the forefront of the changing e-commerce landscape and has proven that these strategies produce huge returns.

My suggestion: Learn more about how Revolve Clothing is doing this through reading our case study.

Take a look at some of the ideas provided below to understand how you can get started with an optimization strategy built for retail:

Calling out one idea specifically – according to Internet Retailer, more than half (54%) of online purchasers said they had read online reviews prior to hitting the buy button. Something as simple as increasing visibility or ratings and reviews, or adding them in the first place, could have a huge impact on revenue. Why not test this out? It is relevant to a large group of customers and learning about their behavior and personalizing further based on those learnings has an impact on the bottom line.

3. Mobile’s impact is rapidly expanding

You can’t forget tried and true e-commerce best practices as well. The research and purchase experience has to be seamless, and that’s where omnichannel comes into play. Desktop shopping is important, but as Art Peck, the CEO of Gap states, “the smartphone is going to be the expression of the brand that most people engage with most significantly.” In fact, a quarter of all U.S. retail sales in 2016 will be influenced by mobile for a total of $1 trillion and for brick and mortar retailers, 36% of shoppers visit product pages on their mobile devices while inside the store to reference reviews and product information before they buy. In our connected world, people research and purchase while on the go. Without testing and maintaining those experiences, you run the costly risk of a disjointed shopping experience, and thus a distracted, and worse, a disillusioned shopper.

My suggestion: Test ideas that are high impact areas on both desktop and mobile commerce sites. For example, test the number of input fields in your checkout flow on both mobile and desktop, as input fields on mobile work well when broken up into different sections – keep branding consistent, but change the checkout based on what provides the most seamless experience on each device.

The investment will pay off

Sure, building out an optimization program that includes multi-channel testing and personalization can seem like a big investment. You need to have the tools and the team to make it work. I can tell you from my experience working with a broad group of e-commerce companies: your competitors have likely invested in these programs already. They will continue to test and will learn and adapt faster. Optimizely works with over 6,000 happy customers, and a large portion of those are e-commerce companies. If you want to evolve with the rest of the market, you need to take chances, try different things, be bold: test, personalize, and repeat. Your company, and most importantly, your customers, will thank you.

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