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Joris Kroese: E-commerce is booming, but many brands lag in terms of technology

As the e-commerce sector booms, technology is going to play a key role in meeting the fast-growing expectations of consumers, writes Joris Kroese, CEO and Founder of Hatch.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has already drastically accelerated the evolution of e-commerce technology, it is clear that there are still problems that need to be solved within the sector.

This is particularly clear in regards to the buying journey, where consumers still encounter two main issues – an overly complex buying journey, which makes it challenging to make a purchase; and in some cases the complete absence of an e-commerce option.

It can be hard to believe that in 2021, there are brands that still don’t offer customers an option to make an online purchase directly from their websites. These same brands are investing thousands of pounds into getting their target audience’s attention and driving them to their website, only to bring consumers to a landing page where they cannot make a purchase. 

Visitors can view product information, but there’s no way to buy. All too often, customers visit a brand website for more information about a product, but when it comes to buying the product, they have no option but to purchase from Amazon, eBay or another online retailer. This is the definition of a broken buying journey. 

In situations like this, the brand creates a negative experience between themselves and the potential customer and will often lose the sale. Even if the customer does buy the brand’s product in the end at the retailer of their choice, there is no way for the brand to know about it. In 2021, when virtually every business can use these data insights to their advantage, consumer brands are letting valuable data slip through their fingers. 

Complicated buying journey

While the e-commerce sector has been growing for several years, it’s accelerated over the past year, and in 2021 it’s hard to find a brand that doesn’t have some kind of e-commerce set-up. This is a good start, but it’s still not always easy to buy products from brand websites. Having an e-commerce option on a website is simply not enough. 

Despite the advancements in e-commerce technology, potential customers still have problems with things as basic as finding the buy button with ease. In 2021, some e-commerce businesses force consumers to endure multiple steps before they actually reach the buy button. 

Sometimes when the customer finally reaches the ‘buy’ button, the link is broken, or the product is out of stock. Not exactly an easy path to purchase! As social commerce grows in popularity in 2021, it will be vital for retailers and brands to ensure a smooth buying journey in order to compete with social media apps that enable in-app purchases. 

Many website visitors today have short attention spans and very little brand loyalty. Convenience and ease of purchase are both much more important to consumers than shopping from a particular brand. 

If it’s not easy to buy a product from a brand website, they’ll go elsewhere. Perhaps they’ll purchase the brand’s product from another retailer, or maybe they’ll choose a different brand altogether. This is why it is key for brands to provide a strong user experience and a clear path to purchase. 

Creating a seamless path to purchase

Value is created when a product or feature is usable and seamless for everyone. Accessible, easy-to-use technology is core to creating a valuable e-commerce business. While we have seen our clients outline many unique needs, we believe it is important to develop technology that is usable for everyone, not just one specific client. In doing so, we’ve encountered a few common challenges. 

Our core business is to ensure that brands can sell their products from their own website through their entire retail network. We also provide insights into how well products and retailers are performing, what products are being sold, for what price and through which retailer. 

With all of the data we gather, we know that making sure the customer purchase journey is simple and user-friendly is as important as having an e-commerce set-up in the first place. After two decades of working in e-commerce technology, these are the key steps I’d advise brands to take if they want to leverage the benefits of omnichannel retail:

Add an e-commerce option

Companies that don’t have an e-commerce offering on their website in 2021 are massively missing out. If a customer is interested in buying a product from a specific brand, the first place they are likely to visit is the brand’s website. Along with a simple customer journey, one of the best ways to turn browsers into buyers is to provide a ‘buy now’ option. In 2021, at the very least, brands should be listing retail partners with a direct link to their product page.

Keep website design simple

Customers don’t care about complex websites with all the bells and whistles. They want simplicity and ease of use. The more complex the website, the higher the user drop-off rate will be. Brands need to keep UX in mind when designing their websites and think about their ‘red route’ – the simplest journey to product pages. When a website is easy to navigate, customers will be more likely to purchase and return in the future.

Implement ‘Where to Buy’ technology

Integrating a ‘Where to Buy’ solution can solve two of the biggest customer journey roadblocks. ‘Where to Buy’ technology allows brands to add e-commerce capabilities to their website, giving customers the option to purchase directly from their website or via a retail partner. In the current e-commerce landscape, companies need to ensure they stand out from countless other retailers. Offering customers a brilliant experience, whether they’re buying online, in-store or through another channel will massively increase sales potential in 2021 and beyond, enabling businesses thrive as e-commerce evolves.

Embrace omni-channel

Customers often visit multiple channels before making their final purchase – perhaps they’ll browse online and go in-store to get a feel for a product, or perhaps they’ll browse in-store then search online for a better deal. 

Giving customers the option to buy products across multiple channels can massively increase sales potential. Offer in-app and social media shopping as well as e-commerce. Offer click and collect and a way for customers to purchase products from their favourite retailers. Connecting sales channels creates a seamless transition from one to another.

Provide detailed product information

If a website doesn’t provide detailed product information about the products, potential customers will leave and find one that does. Offering in-depth product details is a great way for brands to keep customers on their website and encourage them to make a purchase. 

At the very least, product pages should include pricing information, product specifications and high-quality images. For an enhanced customer experience, brands should include consumer reviews, video content, price comparisons, stock availability, delivery details and a range of purchase options.