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GUEST COMMENT How customers buy: the link between offsite discovery and onsite conversion

In a world where we increasingly shop online

We’re undergoing a significant transition from shopping in-store to shopping online. Not news – but online shopping is generally only great if you already know what you’re looking for. When inspiration is the aim, the experience typically falls short.

Stores have always nailed inspiration. Physical spaces allow consumers to touch and feel and explore. And as any retailer can attest, shopping has never been purely about ticking items off a list. It’s also about the pleasure of discovery. Humans have an innate desire to explore.

In a world where we increasingly shop online, how do we foster discovery? Some of the most successful ecommerce brands have begun to address this.

Net-a-Porter uses classy content produced for social channels to introduce and showcase products that people may have never known about.

ASOS connects well with customers using its hashtag #ASSEENONME, regularly replying to comments from 7.2 million followers on Instagram. Just as social channels are centred on discovery, social lives on mobile.

So how can retailers use this dynamic environment to drive product exploration and inspire us to the point of purchase?

People don’t pick up their phones and tap on Instagram intending to go shopping, but interacting with content, they like the look of causes them to become aware of products they didn’t know existed. This activity is crucially important because it sits so early on in the customer journey – before the customer has made up their mind about what they want. Retailers have the opportunity to influence product consideration rather than strictly product transaction. If it’s done right, a retailer can shape this trajectory and inspire prospective shoppers to come to them.

Content and the customer journey

For many marketers, social is an awareness and engagement play – an opportunity to share great content and interact with brand fans. But less understood by marketers is how social experiences fit into the customer journey. The result has been an underweighting of the importance of social, and social teams, on influencing commerce.

A recent study we undertook of 1,000 consumers aged between 18 and 65 found that over two thirds (67%) go on to purchase products they discover on retailers’ social media channels. Of those, 46% spend time thinking about it then buy later online, while 17% will buy in-store. Only 4% make the purchase immediately online after seeing the product.

These behaviours suggest that while social can serve as a jumping off point for discovering a broader array of products and influence purchase behaviour, transactions are generally time-shifted. And since social is heavily a mobile-led endeavour while ecommerce is split between mobile and desktop, transactions are likely also device-shifted as well. So, measuring the success of social commerce based on last-click attribution ignores how consumers behave.

Rather than thinking of social as a venue for impulse purchases, seeing it as the beginning of a customer journey more closely approximates what’s going on. With that in mind, social’s importance cannot be understated – it gives modern marketers the opportunity to influence consideration long before any final purchase decision.

Remind me

While the upside of influencing the start of the customer journey is that you can connect with a consumer before their mind is made up, the downside is that they’re not always ready to buy. Rather than just look towards social as a channel to boost posts, consider using the items in social posts as the basis for retargeting ads. This gives social media teams within retailers improved attribution over their efforts and acknowledges that the path from inspiration to a transaction is rarely a straight line.

Staying strictly within the mobile and social environment, retargeting ads have got smarter and are becoming more playful in persuading people to click. Many could learn from edgy fashion brands, like Revolve and Shaun Leane, which are good at using simple, evocative language to recapture consumers’ attention.

Once you start using retargeting on social, another consideration is the imagery used in ads. Surprisingly, most marketers use traditional product imagery as the basis of their creative. But on social, most content doesn’t look like a product on a white background. Instead of  following tradition, experiment with reusing social imagery. By connecting social content to the product metadata that reflects what’s displayed in the image, your social content can be embedded in the same feeds that power your retargeting ads. In experiments we’ve conducted with multiple retailers, Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) has increased by as much as 200% when swapping out traditional product imagery with social imagery.

Inspire to the point of purchase

Taking mobile-sized content and placing it on the big screen can help with brand and product discovery.

A lot of direct traffic to retailers’ websites includes people already in a relationship with the brand. Sometimes they visit in the hope of seeing what’s new. They’re looking for inspiration, and retailers such as Urban Outfitters do an effective job of creating inspiration galleries full of content sourced from social – whether brand or user-generated – that creates a similar dynamic you see within the mobile and social environment.

It causes people to browse and click on the content to discover what’s in those photos and videos, which in turn goes on to create an improvement in order value as well as conversion rates.

Understanding the difference between purposeful and pleasure-driven shopping is fundamental to how retailers use mobile browsing to turn inspiration into action.

Consumers enjoy finding new things. Our brains are wired to be attracted to novelty, according to a study carried out by neuroscientists. New things make us feel good because familiarity breeds boredom, and novelty, stimulation.

Which might explain why consumers respond so well to discovery. Retailers – you know what to do.

Author: Apu Gupta, CEO of Curalate

Image credit: Fotolia

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