Tom Dudfield is the Director of Development for our partner, Redweb. Tom brings his years of expertise developing in Sitecore to his role in creating innovative digital experiences at Redweb. As the UK’s largest and longest running independent agency, we provide digital acceleration for ambitious brands. Tom presented with our CMO Mark Floisand at Symposium this year on creating ecommerce experiences in Sitecore, and also sat down with our team to discuss the same topic.

Q: What advice would you give to retailers who are behind in their online experience?

Tom: Try to be relevant. You don’t need to be everything to everyone. Be smart about how you are using the information you are getting from your users. Look at Amazon for example. I’m not interested in everything that Amazon sells. In fact, my interests cover a very small percentage of what Amazon offers. But the quicker they learn about me and my interests, they start tailoring the site so I have a one-of-a-kind experience that is personalized to my interests. This is far more engaging and increases your likelihood of success.

Q: Many retailers immediately think about product catalogs for their ecommerce site. Why include content in this experience?

Tom: Your customers are looking for it, but you just may not provide it in the context that makes sense for the user. For example, we worked with a client earlier this year who had an ecommerce site for their products, and a separate website for their articles and advice content. This was mainly because they were being extra cautious with the strict advertising rules in the UK. With the new website, we were able to join the two together, maximizing the impact of the content, without running afoul of the advertising rules, by harnessing Machine Learning. For example, we used recommendations powered by Coveo to lead each user along a content journey that is based on what others in similar contexts have found helpful. It’s your fellow consumers that are recommending the products and content – not the vendor.

Q: 2018 is just around the corner and many retailers may be looking at a website overhaul. What advice do you have for them?

View this as your opportunity to bridge the gap between brick and mortar stores and websites to create an omnichannel experience. Physical retailers are closing and it’s becoming more competitive, compared to the online side which is flourishing. But don’t view this as either-or; find a way to join both experiences. People aren’t going to abandon the brick and mortar store, especially for something like clothing. You want to be in the store, try on the fit, touch the fabric. But the convenience of ordering on your phone instead of standing in line makes online shopping very attractive.

One small step retailers have taken is asking for an email to send the receipt. This is making it easier on the customer with the added convenience and providing the retailer with some information that they can use to send tailored promotions. This is the first step; once you start connecting these experiences, you’re really able to use all of the customer information at your disposal to provide an even better experience online and in-store.

Q: What are the challenges ecommerce stores will need to face in 2018?

Tom: The dominance of the giants. The online retail giants have almost become people’s go-to place. Rather than going to the store itself, consumers are hopping over to Amazon first to look for it. You can view reviews, related products, everything. I may look there first, then go over to the manufacturer’s or another retailer’s site to see if I can find it cheaper. These giants are really sucking all of the shoppers in and the smaller retailers are missing out.

People’s habits are changing. They want lots and lots of information, as much as possible and those smaller websites need to provide that. There is a real risk in ecommerce if these retailers don’t start adapting to people’s habits. For example, 1-click ordering. If I’m in a hurry, I don’t mind paying the extra dollar to avoid the hassle of creating a new sign-on, etc. Make every experience as seamless and effortless as possible for consumers.

Q: How can smaller retailers make every experience seamless and effortless?

Tom: Two aspects, really. First, there’s the journey to finding the products you want to buy. You need to get the right products in front of the right person and understand your customers enough to predict what they need. If you’re not optimizing the search experience to make the journey as smooth as possible, you’re going to lose them as a customer, as well as see the repercussions on your bounce rates, cart abandonment rates, and more. This is really where Coveo has made a major impact for our clients.

The next aspect is getting them to the purchase. It’s equally important. Someone may select your product as the one they want, but if you ask them to jump through hoops for the purchase, they leave. Or if you don’t provide them the information at the right time. For example, it frustrates customers when you don’t provide shipping costs upfront. Don’t just assume that customers will be fine with that charge tacked on at the end,especially when it can really affect the price. Remove as many barriers as possible to purchase. There’s a lot of technology out there, such as single sign-on and payment providers like Paypal, that can help you accomplish this.

Q: Where do you see Coveo having an impact?

Tom: The first thing I tell our joint customers is that it’s really not just search with Coveo. It’s much more than that and it has the potential for a massive impact for ecommerce websites. This is in line with the industry analysts reports; Gartner recently changed the term from “enterprise search” to “insight engine.”

Coveo is about relevance. It integrates with the xDB so you can bring in personalized product listings, content pages, everything. For example, we had an ecommerce client in the health and fitness industry with two major personas: younger people interested in being proactive about their health, and their older counterparts who are dealing with various ailments. Coveo was able to recognize the persona each shopper fell into based on their behavior and then tailor the experience to meet their needs. For example, if you’re a young person interested in sports, you will see the content that makes sense for you, as opposed to coming upon a page directed at someone who perhaps is not able to be very active or play sports anymore.

The other way that I encourage my clients to maximize Coveo is with usage analytics. A lot of ecommerce retailers will just “assume” that their search is working. With Coveo, you know. You can A/B test, see the queries that have poor relevance, and optimize your content. There’s a lot that you can do. The other side of it is the machine learning, which is automatically applying the insights from your usage analytics to optimize the experience. It’s a self-learning search service.

You can also build a robust recommendations engine with Coveo, which is very important for your user experience. You’re able to provide the “next step” of what your users may be interested in and help prevent dead ends. It’s really a perfect match for ecommerce websites and we see it as the perfect complement to the Sitecore site.

Q: Redweb has a lot of experience in ecommerce and helping companies modernize their online experiences. What sets Redweb apart in this space?

Tom: I can point to a few things. First of all, we’re independent. We can adapt to how the market changes really easily and be on the cutting edge with customer needs and technology advancements. We’re also one of the longest running digital agencies in the UK, so we have built up the knowledge and heritage in this space that other firms just don’t have.

It’s also important to note that we are a full-service agency. A lot of places will be pure design or pure build, but we’re there with you from the earliest stages of user experience design to marketing strategy. We can have that vision to see projects from start to finish. There’s a lot of change in this space, and particularly for customers, you really can’t piecemeal the customer experience anymore.

Find out more from Tom and Redweb’s approach to ecommerce by reading “No Cart Left Behind: Ecommerce Content Personalization Best Practices,” as well as this post from Redweb: “How Machine Learning Can Enhance Your Ecommerce Experience.