Retailers recognize the power of personalization to drive meaningful brand shopping experiences. In the store, associates excel by combining deep product knowledge with the ability to ask questions that uncover a customer’s needs and the emotions behind them. By being highly attuned to customer responses, they are able to build trust and customer relationships while guiding shoppers to an informed purchase decision.
Retailers can mimic the store experience on their websites by developing sophisticated guided selling features that blend content and personalization. Business intelligence firm L2 and Salesforce Commerce Cloud found that only 31% of brands in the U.S. employ guided selling in 2014.1 However, a 2014 Forrester survey found that 51% planned to increase spending in guided selling.2 Digital guided selling also presents new opportunities for omni-channel engagement: extending into the four walls of the store experience. One leading cosmetics brand has accomplished just that with its app, which virtually applies different cosmetics and looks to an image of a customer’s face. Shoppers in a drugstore can scan a barcode of each beauty product and have the cosmetic similarly “applied” to the face, enabling shoppers to virtually try before they buy.
Many other retailers are following suit. Read on to learn if guided selling is a potential fit for your business.
Guided selling is a process that helps potential buyers find the best product or service to fulfill their needs and move toward a purchase.
First, identify the product(s) that would benefit from guided selling. Chances are, if you’re considering developing a guided selling tool, you already know the product categories in which you want to invest. Three product categories may especially benefit:
These include complex, often high-tech items where customers may need to be educated on a product’s many features and functions — especially at higher price points.
Beauty is an obvious choice for a personalized guided selling tool — but it’s also the most challenging. You’re trying to win a customer’s trust and address their emotional needs by finding them the best fit — without actually seeing it in person. Yet there have been some outstanding successes in this area. In the U.S., 79% of beauty brands offer some form of guided selling tool on their sites as of 2014.3
Holiday gift finders effectively guide consumers toward seasonal purchases for major holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and/or Mother’s Day. Commonly organized around the recipient’s gender and age, their main value lies in helping shoppers hone in on the perfect present. Some finders also help shoppers refine their consideration set in high-volume categories, such as dresses. Prom or wedding dress finders are often found on retail websites in the spring and summer.
Before investing in marketing or engagement features, lay the project groundwork.
Take a snapshot of your starting point to benchmark performance and assess later whether your investment has paid off. How well does your website perform today in the following categories?
Understand up front what you want to achieve by implementing a guided selling tool — not only for justifying funding, but also to define what success looks like and how you will measure it.
Look at the product category performance and identify which metrics you really want to focus on improving. Be specific: Are you trying to lower cart abandon rates? Increase conversion rate? Increase AOV?
Reduce complexity of the purchase by educating customers. New site visitors in particular benefit from the context provided by the curated shopping experience.
In guiding the customer to one particular product, you have the opportunity to broaden their understanding of related offerings, presented individually or in packages, which can help drive increased AOV.
Differentiate your brand from competitors by projecting a coherent brand “personality” that is more helpful, more knowledgeable, more in touch with customers — and, of course, dedicated to simplifying and expediting the shopping experience.
Powerfully launch new products or collections — or welcome new customers to your website, converting them from casual visitors to engaged ones. For existing customers, a new tool can offer an opportunity to refresh, modernize, and elevate your brand.
Depending on your budget, you need to decide whether a guided selling tool is something you want to outsource and/or build in-house.
Retailers have direct access to the people who best understand customer needs and have deep product knowledge. These assets may be all that’s needed to develop the concept, execute it, and test it cost effectively.
When requirements for design elements and user experience are more complex, engaging visual and user experience designers may provide better results.
The two approaches are not mutually exclusive: A simple in-house tool might be a good proof of concept for investing in a more robust version. Any scenario will require a close, collaborative effort between merchandising, marketing, and IT. The team may call upon additional product expertise resources as well.
Once you’ve identified the vision and goals, two groups of stakeholders should be involved in the project as early as possible:
Stakeholders will vary widely based on the goals of the project. For example, if you’re launching a new, high profile product category, brand marketing leadership may want to be involved. Guided selling tools aimed at improving poor category performance, and not tied to a larger marketing launch, however, may remain entirely the domain of the ecommerce
Product subject matter expertise is necessary to develop clear product differentiation — features, benefits, etc. This may come from the merchandising, buying, or even product design team.
Increase in Pages Per Visit
Decrease in Bounce Rate
Once the necessary prep work is completed, it’s time to begin design.
Start with conceptual design comps to sketch out the vision. Make sure the entire team and stakeholders sign off before drilling down into detailed wireframes. “A tight relationship between the creative and content helps marry form and function to create an engaging flow. Be sure these two groups work together and iteratively for the best result,” says Mark Moskal of Live Area Labs.
Good sales associates adjust their recommendations based on the answers the customer gives them. Through strong marketing copy, the tool needs to follow suit and educate the customer about their suggested product.
What additional engagement options make sense for visitors to continue their journey after completing the guided selling experience? Place an order, of course — but what else? Print out their choices to take with them to the store? Contact you? Share with friends?
Each question asked should be concise, with responses that do not overlap and that follow a logical path.
- Employ a flexible flow, allowing users to back up or skip questions. Show progress indicators to ensure you don’t lose users.
- Never use questions that are clearly just for market research — they can torpedo user trust.
- In the case of technical products, different paths for novice and advanced users may make sense: e.g., amateur versus professional photographers, or beginner versus advanced skiers or snowboarders.
Once design is complete, develop Web pages based on wireframes. Address target form factors up front: desktop, tablet, and mobile. You will need to identify real estate for promoting the guided selling tool: global navigation, category landing page, and product detail pages will ensure the tool is visible across all steps of the purchase path.
Don’t forget the critical importance of product information. Finders and guided selling tools pivot off of attributes. The business team should map product attributes to the finder experience to make sure concepts can be effectively implemented. There may be a need to invest effort into cleaning up product information or enriching it with additional attributes, such as skin concern for a beauty finder, or skill level that maps to the features of a particular snowboard or ski product.
Most guided selling tools don’t undergo beta testing with live customers, which means you’ll need some in-house testing with the merchandising team and a few sales associates.
“A tight relationship between the creative and content helps marry form and function to create an engaging flow. Be sure these two groups work together and iteratively for the best result.”
Showcase the new feature to existing customers through all marketing channels: email, social, blog, etc. — and don’t forget to search-engine optimize.
Measure success metrics and promote them internally, especially to management stakeholders. This will help build the case for re-investment — either in refining the tool further or creating new tools.
Developing a well-designed tool offers ancillary benefits in addition to helping achieve primary goals.
Training: Support consistent messaging during in-store selling, particularly for new sales associate hires.
Customer Feedback Loop: User data captured on search patterns and customer responses can help inform marketing and product strategies.
Online guided selling gives retailers the opportunity to turn a website visit into a long-term customer relationship. By following the best practices discussed in this guide, retailers can create a guided selling tool that shows customers they understand their needs and wishes, and can fulfill them with the product that best suits them. Guided selling, properly executed, creates a positive, sharable experience that distinguishes a brand from its competitors and builds trust that keeps customers loyal. Providing compelling experiences and cultivating loyalty are also winning strategies for differentiation from Amazon.
A special note of thanks to Mark Moskal and Jen Adams of Live Area Labs for sharing their insights in preparing this guide.
A leading beauty brand uses guided selling to recommend products like a trusted beauty counter associate would. Successful engagement and interactivity show that you can create a confident buyer in any channel. Traffic to the guided selling application outperforms the rest of the brand’s website.
Conventional wisdom might hold that some things just aren’t meant to be sold online; items like, say, cosmetics, a historically hightouch sale where customers’ hands are held by experts who help them find just the right shade and demonstrate professional application techniques. However, 72% of U.S. health and beauty brands now offer some form of guided selling on their websites — such as shade matchers for foundation or eyeshadow.3 One leading brand proved conventional wisdom wrong with a pioneering omni-channel approach to cosmetics sales.
Its app uses a smartphone’s front-facing camera to apply different cosmetics and looks to an image of a customer’s face. Taking it a step further, a shopper in a drugstore can scan a barcode of a product and have the cosmetic similarly “applied” to the face, enabling shoppers to virtually try before they buy. This blending (not to mention the app’s “wow” factor) enables the company to create a distinct experience for existing customers while creating an enticing new digital channel for consumers who may be new to the brand.
- 1 “Intelligence Report: Content & Commerce,” L2 Inc. and Demandware, October 23, 2014, p. 38.
- 2 “Refresh Your Approach to 1:1 Marketing: How Real-Time Automation Elevates Personalization,” Forrester Consulting, August 2014, p. 4.
- 3 “Intelligence Report: Content & Commerce,” L2 Inc. and Demandware, October 23, 2014, p. 38.
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