The past couple of years has been a remarkable time for e-commerce as more and more consumers have discovered the digital path to purchase. Nina Taniguchi, anMuch has already been written about how COVID-19 has dramatically changed consumer behavior. Across industries and regions, people prioritized essentials and reduced impulse purchases. At the same time, people facing closed stores, reduced hours, and social-distancing requirements turned to e-commerce, which grew 27.6% worldwide in 2020, according to eMarketer.” As people start adopting a “we’re just going to have to live with Covid” attitude, Taniguchi wonders, “Which of these changes are more likely to stick around?”
Perhaps the most important lesson brands and retailers learned during the pandemic is that consumers, whether they shop online or in a physical store, are more than likely going to use technology to check prices, search for alternatives, or read product reviews. As a result, Taniguchi writes, “One thing becomes immediately clear. The pandemic has reinforced what brands and retailers should continue to focus on: enabling people to shop when they want, how they want, and where they want, all the while providing a pleasant and frictionless experience.” Paving the digital path to purchase (i.e., making it easier to use) is one way of ensuring consumers will return time and again.
Keeping consumers on the digital path to purchase
When consumers go online to learn about or purchase a product, they quickly move on if they find a website difficult to navigate. Chemi Katz, CEO and co-founder of Namogoo, reports, “According to Fortune, two recent studies found that, as shoppers migrated online during the pandemic, they displayed less brand loyalty than before, with consumers willing to switch brands in search of a better deal or a more seamless online shopping experience.” One of the benefits of the digital path to purchase is its ease of use — that is also one of its biggest drawbacks. Consumers find it easy to get on the path and find it just as easy to depart from it. Katz suggests five common reasons shoppers stray from the path to purchase. They are:
1. Lack of Positive Online Reviews. Katz insists, “[Consumers are] more reliant than ever on the word of their fellow shoppers when deciding where to spend their money.” I believe that to be true; however, consumers are getting a bit more wary of online reviews because they know many of them are fake. Journalist Jamie Grill-Goodman reports, “Of analyzed online consumer reviews in 2020, 30.9% were deemed fraudulent.” She adds, “Among the data pulled from Amazon, Walmart.com and BestBuy.com — representing half of all U.S. online retail sales volume — Walmart had the most unreliable reviews and Best Buy had the most reliable reviews. Amazon shopping categories with the highest rates of fake reviews were women’s apparel, health & personal care, cosmetics, pet supplies and wireless earbud headphones respectively.”
2. Search Fatigue. It appears that our attention spans are getting shorter and this is reflected in our buying behavior. When consumers tire searching for items, they quit and move on to some other activity until the shopping bug hits them again. Katz reports, “Recent studies find that so-called ‘search gaps’ can last anywhere from minutes to weeks, with shoppers taking breaks from browsing before returning to ultimately complete a purchase.” Joe Ayyoub (@JoeAyyoub), Chief Revenue Officer at Search.io, suggests artificial intelligence (AI) aided search can help keep consumers on your site. He explains, “Getting customers to your website is just the start, and many consumers are bombarded with content and product listings upon arrival to a well-optimized website. There’s a massive need for optimization within cluttered websites — which is where on-site search engines come into play. … Many search companies now offer solutions powered by artificial intelligence. … Some AI uses technology called ‘deep learning’ that goes beyond keywords to understand the meaning and context of search phrases. This will help make search incredibly accurate. … AI also knows how to improve site search results based on sales results.”
3. Customer Journey Hijacking. According to Katz, customer journey hijacking occurs when “customers’ journeys are interrupted by injected ads on their mobile or web browsers, directing them to competitor sites.” Getting rid of these pop-up ads can be difficult, but worth the effort. Katz explains, “Eliminating ads and banners from competitor sites can help retailers get a handle on this issue and present customers with seamless, uninterrupted journeys — increasing conversion rates and boosting brand value.”
4. Inflexible Payment Options. Consumers now have numerous electronic methods available to pay for their online purchases. Katz writes, “Most retailers know all too well, many shoppers make it to the final stages of checkout, only to abandon their carts due to payment-related issues — whether ‘sticker shock,’ lack of preferred payment methods, or inflexible payment options.” Melanie Vala (@MelVala), Chief Commercial Officer of Splitit, brings up an interesting challenge for online retailers conducting international transactions. She writes, “Make sure you’re displaying local currency. How many of us have pondered over converting the euro to USD, or vice versa? That’s an extra step no one wants to take. Consider this: processing transactions in local currency can increase conversions up to 12 percent, according to BlueSnap.”
5. Collision of Work and Home. Katz believes hybrid work (i.e., splitting work between home and office) means disruption has become a way of life for many workers. “Simply put,” he writes, “shoppers have a lot on their minds — so sometimes, it makes sense for brands to implement tactics to assist in bringing them back to abandoned journeys, rather than always striving to keep them on path. Follow-ups via email or SMS can be particularly effective. Brands should leverage any non-personally-identifying information (PII) data points at their disposal to predict customers’ intent and follow up accordingly with an intent-based promotion that will inspire a conversion.”
Targeted marketing has become a contentious topic. Nevertheless, Vala believes, “Advanced personalization techniques can help retailers truly understand an individual shopper profile. For example, what first interested them and through which channels to best reach them. It’s critical to find the right combination of offers and messages to convince your shopper to make a purchase decision.” Cognitive technologies, like the Enterra Shopper Marketing and Consumer Insights Intelligence System™, can help brands and retailers better understand their customers’ needs so they can offer them products and services that match their preferences. Personalization goes beyond targeted marketing to include customer service. Vala notes, “Offering live chat services on your site is also a great way to boost consumer engagement and confidence. A recent study highlighted by HubSpot shows live chat is now one of the top three methods for communicating with shoppers. If your customer has a question before buying, you definitely want to make sure you can address it on the spot.”
Abandoned shopping carts litter the digital path to purchase. That’s why paving the digital path to purchase (to make it easier to use) is so important. Vala concludes, “The retail sites that succeed in combating shopping cart abandonment and checkout abandonment have one thing in common — a disciplined process. … It’s a jungle out there — don’t miss any opportunity to convert every last shopper into a customer.” Katz adds, “Customer loyalty has never been a given. While our new normal has made it even tougher to lock down, careful planning and a data-driven understanding of shopper intent can help brands navigate these challenges to seize the opportunities presented by the e-commerce explosion.”
 Nina Taniguchi, “COVID changed the consumer journey, but what’s likely to stick?” Think with Google, May 2021.
 Chemi Katz, “Five Ways E-Commerce Customers Get Diverted On Their Shopping Journeys: How To Keep Them On The Path To Purchase,” Forbes, 3 September 2021.
 Jamie Grill-Goodman, “Report: 30% of Online Consumer Reviews Deemed Fake,” Consumer Goods Technology, 20 November 2021.
 Joe Ayyoub, “The Path to Purchase: It All Starts With AI Search,” Total Retail, 11 November 2021.
 Melanie Vala, “The Road to Checkout is Paved With Good Intentions — So Why is Abandonment So High?” Total Retail, 13 April 2021.