It’s a battlefield out there.

Cart abandonment rates at 69 percent. 98 out of 100 website visitors not converting. About 3 out of 4 customers frustrated when content is not personalized to their needs. These numbers paint a very clear picture: the ecommerce landscape is evolving at a rapid pace and retailers have fallen behind.

The problem for many retailers is their inability to keep up with their customers expectations for at-your-fingertips convenience and personalized experiences. After you’ve enjoyed a contextually relevant online shopping experience, not only is there no going back, your expectations rise. Shoppers today just expect more from retailers thanks to the innovators and leaders, and it takes more to keep your customers coming back in the age of fickle brand loyalty.

With all the technology that’s available, it can be difficult to understand how to invest your company dollars  to best create the customer experience your visitors are looking for. The secret is content personalization, and it’s is easier than you think with the right tools. Ecommerce sites that are successful at personalization all follow the same playbook to efficiently and effectively create relevant digital experiences at every touchpoint for every visitor. The first step is understanding what customers need from digital experiences in 2018 and beyond.

Trend 1: Your customers will not “work” for it.

From the initial search for products to the purchasing process, as few clicks and as little effort as possible is the goal in ecommerce. They expect to find the information they’re look for, the moment they’re looking for it, and yes, they will go somewhere else if the experience has too much “friction” or requires too much effort. One study found that nearly 8 in 10 people who don’t like what they find on one site will go back and search for another site.

Now is the time to conduct user research studies and identify the touchpoints that are frustrating your customers and clearly define what the customer journey is. When you start putting yourself in the shoes of your customer, you’ll have a better idea of where they are getting stuck and the issues you need to fix to move forward.

One area that many website administrators still need to review is their site search in ecommerce. Thanks to the personalized search of external search engines, your customers also expect that you can read their mind with each query.

Trend 2:  It’s time for the unified layer of relevance.

In order to really understand your customers’ needs at every touchpoint, you need to have a complete picture of all of their touchpoints. While the advent of “omnichannel retailing” meant a diversity of channels and touchpoints for customers, retailers are still siloing these interactions and touchpoints from different channels.

For example, you research a product online by reading reviews from the customer community and researching on the retailer’s website. When you jump between these two channels, your previous searches and history don’t “travel” with you, so you need to start over. A few of the customer reviews mention a specific setup issue with the models that came out this year, so you need to find out the issue on the product documentation site, but you aren’t sure where to begin. So you do some searching on your own (again, starting from scratch) before breaking down and calling a contact center, where you again repeat your questions.

Sounds inefficient, right? How much time do you really think customers will be willing to waste to do this? Not much, and they’re growing less impatient by the day. The solution is the unified layer of relevance.

The unified layer of relevance connects all of your digital channels into one continuous interaction, as well as the data and knowledge that comes from these channels. So instead of starting from scratch, the website, community, documentation site, and agent console will automatically understand your customers’ history and context. Your customers will receive the appropriate content to answer their question, no matter where it resides.

Trend 3: Your customers need to be in the driver’s seat.

Take those marketing hands off the wheel. The key for retailers today is to do more listening than talking with your customers. Many marketers are tempted to do the customer journey mapping exercise, and then find ways to manipulate the “journey” to point customers to the promotions and offers that will meet marketing goals.

First, your customers do want real-time promotion and offers; almost 60 percent of consumers said so, in one Accenture study. They just need to be personalized and relevant to their needs. Don’t expect to see a lot of success by just pushing the offers and coupons that the marketing team wants them to use. Instead, focus on how to make the promotions and offers feel relevant and “organic” within their experience. It’s the equivalent of a salesperson in your store mentioning the sale on a certain item while the person is looking at it, as opposed to the salesperson seeing the person is looking at the item and then trying to drag them away to another section to look at other items. No one has time for that.

Second, let your customers guide you to what they need and pay attention to every signal. One place many ecommerce and marketing teams overlook: site search usage analytics. With how important site search is to high converting customers, any frustration in this process is going to have an impact on revenue. Pay attention to the following metrics:

  • Queries with no results. This is a dead-end for your customers, and a sign that content needs to be created to address this issue. Pro tip: don’t ever let customers get to a “no results” page. Instead, try providing suggestions for what they could have meant or relevant content that users in similar contexts have needed.
  • Queries with a low click through rate on results. Your customers aren’t seeing what they need to see from your results page to click. Experiment with the titles on the results page first to see if it’s just a matter of “advertising” the content correctly for the query, and then look into creating content for these queries.
  • Popular queries with a high click through rate. This is a sign that this content may need to be more prominent on your website. Think of ways to extend search “beyond the search box” with relevant recommendations and proactive suggestions.

Trend 4: No datapoint left behind.

Data is not meant to be wasted, and retailers need to use everything in their arsenal to personalize the customer experience in ecommerce. Personalization technology is becoming even more powerful, and generic experiences are going to become outdated. Without an understanding of your visitor’s context, you can’t accurately personalize each touchpoint.

This is where many retailers stumble with their personalization strategy in ecommerce. Anyone can recommend a language based on IP address or city, but few are able to provide completely personalized content based on their previous behavior and history, including the behavior and history in your other platforms. Once you are able to implement the unified layer of relevance, you can start connecting all of these to create a cohesive and personalized experience in ecommerce.

Trend 5: Don’t be afraid of AI, virtual assistants and chatbots.

Build an innovation strategy now to handle the advancements in technology that are shaping retail experiences. No one wants to be the one to answer, “Why don’t we have a chatbot?” Along with asking why your organization’s chatbot is broken or frustrating to customers, these questions are the ones that are coming without a solid innovation strategy and understanding of what needs to be in place now as a foundation for these technologies. A good chatbot or virtual assistant requires:

  • Detailed understanding and contextual awareness of visitors’ needs. Chatbots need to have an idea of the problem the customer is trying to solve before the initiation of the conversation.
  • Ability to pull in multiple content sources. Whatever it takes to get the customers’ questions answered needs to happen in a chatbot. Don’t let content silos deliver a subpar experience.
  • Recommendations for the next step. When the chatbot understands the customer’s needs, it needs to be able to recommend next steps or additional content that can anticipate their next need.

In addition, you need to start educating the leadership team on what AI can do for your business. Don’t let outdated myths about machine learning and artificial intelligence derail your plans; AI-powered search can have a real impact on your bottom line.

One of the key ways AI-powered search can make a difference today is through site search in ecommerce. As you create more and more personalized experiences, the costs of manually tuning your site search and analyzing your usage analytics grow, eventually becoming an issue of scalability. Machine learning solves this problem through automation. Machine learning embedded in your site search will automatically learn from your users’ context, behavior and history what content makes them successful and then automatically recommend it to them without your web team having to go in and manually adjust anything. Machine learning makes it even easier to put your customers in the driver’s seat because it will learn from them the content that they need next.

It’s definitely a battlefield out there, but paying attention to these trends and embracing AI technologies can help you catch up to your customers’ needs, and increase revenue from your online store. Find out more during our on-demand webinar.

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Enhance Your Ecommerce Experience with Machine Learning