The Experience (R)evolution Has Arrived

By now, both retailers and shoppers have oriented themselves to the new normal, in which eCommerce is dominating the retail industry and the customer experience revolution is in full swing. 

With thousands of new shoppers on their sites every day, online retailers are experiencing even more traffic than they’ve had in past holiday seasons. The surge in online visitors is still rising, creating new opportunities as well as challenges. 

On one hand, new waves of traffic create greater potential to increase sales and boost brand awareness. On the other, it means offering a compelling and delightful customer experience is more crucial than ever.

Today’s digitally savvy and demanding consumers are here, and they aren’t shy about their ever-rising standards and expectations.

Winning these customers over in a saturated market means you’ll need to adapt your entire approach to customer experience, and fast.

Watch the video below or keep reading to learn how to keep up with these changes that are causing rapid shifts in our industry:

Welcome to the Age of Inspiration Overdrive

The average American adult spends two hours and three minutes a day on social media. Newsfeeds, discovery pages, ads, and other streams of curated, personalized content are always a click away, if they aren’t already in front of our faces.

We are living in a world of endless visual inspiration, where consumers are continuously exposed to ads, influencers, brands, and even peers that are vying for their attention. The potential to transform inspired social media scrollers into satisfied customers is huge.

customer experience revolution in the social media age

Unfortunately, the path to purchase is broken. There is still a disconnect between that initial moment of inspiration — the split second when a consumer stops mid-scroll — and their ability to find and buy the item that caught their attention.

While many shoppers come across products that pique their interest on social media or even in their day-to-day lives, identifying where and how to buy them is often still a struggle. And that friction is not just irritating — it’s fundamentally at odds with their hyper-connected lives. 

When an inspired Instagram user wants to buy a product but needs to change devices for a better experience or sift through dozens of product pages to get to it, more often than not, they’ll drop off. The moment is lost and they’re once again thrust into the endless stream of content.  

The New Consumer Desires a More Connected Customer Experience

The modern customer desires an online shopping experience that feels as personalized and effortless as using social media. They want a seamless, omnichannel experience that tailors the customer journey to their preferences and requires minimal effort on their end. 

With tens of thousands of brands to choose from, eCommerce is a shopper’s market. And today’s shopper won’t tolerate a sub-par experience.

Brands that are poised to win shoppers’ hearts are those that empower them to discover and buy products in the same way they live their lives: instant, intuitive, and visual. 

What Does the Optimal Customer Experience Look Like?

By creating a customer experience that caters to shoppers’ digital preferences, you’ll be poised to not only meet their higher standards, but delight them. It’s this ability to delight that helps brands and retailers build a bond with customers, planting the seeds for loyalty. 

Not long ago, shoppers considered price and product quality as primary differentiating factors when deciding where to spend. But in a shopper’s market, these factors are merely table stakes.

Customers are looking for a deeper — even emotional — experience when shopping online. They want the same levels of personalization that they’d receive in physical stores, instant access to relevant products, and on-demand delivery.

Brands and retailers that delight shoppers with their customer experience will attract and retain even the most discerning consumers. When you break it down, the experience for today’s shoppers relies on four key pillars:

  • Instant product discovery — You must seamlessly bridge the gap between the moment of inspiration and purchase.
  • Intuitive and instant technology — You have to invest in the eCommerce technology that is easiest and quickest to use for all types of customers. 
  • Visually engaging — Shoppers expect to be engaged and entertained the way they are on their favorite social media apps. 
  • Hyper-personalized Product recommendations have to be as relevant and curated as the content they see on their social feeds. You must show that you understand the nuances of their individual lifestyles.

Let’s dive into each of these components.

Product discovery is the entry point to your brand

In the rising wave of eCommerce traffic, many consumers will discover your brand the first time they visit your website.

Product discovery is the defining experience for a new visitor. If a shopper is unable to find the specific items they are looking for quickly, if they don’t feel inspired, and if recommendations don’t steer them toward items that match their tastes and goals, they are likely to drop off — for good.

Today, every touchpoint along the customer journey must be exceptional, but prioritizing product discovery will empower you to set the right tone from the start.

Visual AI Makes Product Discovery Easy and Intuitive

Today’s customer journey is no longer linear. Product discovery may always begin the journey, but now it also happens throughout a customer’s interactions with your brand. In fact, the best discovery processes include opportunities for inspiration at every step of the way, including product landing pages and product detail pages. 

By offering more opportunities for inspiration, you also create more opportunities for engagement. What’s unique about visual AI is that it enables your brand to operate like a discerning sales associate at scale, to understand the finest details of your shoppers’ aesthetic tastes and to serve up recommendations and paths to purchase that feel truly personal and intuitive. 

In addition to revenue-enhancing benefits — such as higher conversion and average order value — offering different avenues for inspiration enables you to “speak” to customers in their language, regardless of how they typically interact with a website. 

For example, the shopper who doesn’t know what to call a “bodycon” dress can simply use visual search instead of trying to guess the correct term. The shopper who loves a pair of jeans on your site but is looking for a lower price point or a slightly different wash can use a “shop similar” carousel to find a more suitable option. 

Tools that make customers feel like your website can finish their sentences for them — or even intuit what they want — will empower you to create a customer experience that consistently delights.

Augmented Search is the Missing Piece

One of the amazing things about visual AI is that it unlocks powerful capabilities that go beyond images — it can actually augment traditional product discovery tools like text search to provide an entirely new, seamless experience.

Augmented site search is a much-needed and long-awaited capability for brands and retailers. Until now, eCommerce text search has relied on the faulty foundation of inconsistent product tags and databases that require ongoing upkeep. More often than not, these data sources produce limited and irrelevant results.

Imagine you are searching for blue formal shoes for a wedding, so you type “blue dressy heels” into a retailer’s search bar. While you and I know “dressy” in this context describes a formal occasion, most search engines will confuse this term with the product category of “dresses” and produce results for “blue dresses.” 

augmented site search

Standard search engines are not equipped to understand the natural way people speak. They rely exclusively on matching queries with limited product tags, and therefore are prone to error when analyzing text-based search. More often than not, this creates more friction than value.

Next-generation augmented search uses visual AI to augment existing product tags with dozens of additional attributes and their synonyms. Combined with advanced natural language processing capabilities and the ability to decipher human context and intent, augmented search unlocks new levels of accuracy and understanding, displaying hyper-relevant results even when a customer uses search terms that don’t align with catalogue descriptions. 

Personalization is Now a Baseline Expectation

Whether they are shopping via visual search, text search, or doing some old-fashioned browsing, shoppers expect to be recognized as unique individuals. They want the content they see and the recommendations they receive to align with their specific needs and tastes. 

Personalization is not only fundamental to a delightful customer experience, it has become the baseline expectation. Brands and retailers that treat each shopper the same, or simply lump them into broad segments, will struggle to convert and retain customers. 

For example, if my budget for a new summer dress is $100, but I keep seeing product recommendations for dresses that are over $400, I will quickly drop off the site and look elsewhere. Retailers must be able to understand an individual shopper’s price point, which brands they follow, which styles they love, and which products they’ve interacted with, and tailor their recommendations accordingly.

The goal is to match the right individual with the right results. With visual AI, personalization engines can go beyond demographic-based criteria and instead focus on the factors that reflect a shopper’s real-time intent and aesthetic goals. 

The Quality of Your Customer Experience Will Determine Your Success

In the era of COVID-19 and beyond, consumers are entering the eCommerce universe in droves — and they’ve brought higher expectations with them.

Today’s shopper desires a digital customer experience that coheres with the rest of their lives. They expect shopping to be personalized, instant, and effortless, and the brands and retailers who raise the bar will be those that thrive.

Technology is a crucial piece of this puzzle. With visual AI, brands and retailers can create compelling and memorable experiences that not only draw shoppers in, but keep them coming back.