Online retail continues to dominate the global market due to its convenience and variety. However, it’s no secret that the online shopping experience comes with its challenges for retailers. Among these primary concerns are managing customer expectations, optimizing product representation, and reducing product returns. Here’s an exploration of how these issues can be addressed and how technology can significantly benefit the online retail industry.
1. Managing Customer Expectations and Returns
The Role of Online Information in Forming Customer Expectations
The essence of online shopping lies in the customer’s ability to imagine the product they are viewing on their screens. When shopping online, customers form expectations based on the information available to them. They don’t have the physical product to touch, feel, or try as they would in a brick-and-mortar store. Thus, they heavily rely on product descriptions, images, videos, customer reviews, ratings, and other relevant data to determine if the product aligns with their needs and expectations.
The Importance of Detailed Product Descriptions and Images
A detailed product description plays a crucial role in setting the right expectation. For example, in the fashion industry, when it comes to clothing and garments, providing accurate information about fit, size, and material composition is essential.
This information helps customers make confident purchasing decisions by understanding how the item will suit their body type and preferences. High-quality images showcasing the fit and size of the garment or accessory from various angles and especially on models, can significantly enhance the customer’s understanding and ensure a more satisfying shopping experience.
According to studies by the Baymard Institute, 42% of online users struggle to comprehend product size from online images without an “In Scale” image.
For more insights like these, download our Infographic
Human models providing context are essential for accurate portrayal for wearable products, such as clothing and accessories. If you are not using models to showcase one or more of your product categories, POSED may interest you.
Furthermore, providing multiple images from different angles or in various settings can significantly enhance the understanding of the product. When worn or used, customers can better understand the product’s scale, proportions, and appearance.
The power of video
To create a more immersive experience, videos can also be incorporated. For instance, showcasing a fashion item on a model, demonstrating its movement and fit, or displaying the versatility of a bag or jewelry piece through dynamic video content can further engage and entice customers.
By leveraging detailed descriptions, high-quality images, and engaging videos, you can elevate the online shopping experience, allowing customers to make more confident and informed purchase decisions.
The Impact of Customer Reviews and Ratings
Customer reviews and ratings play a vital role in building trust and providing social proof for potential buyers. These reviews offer valuable insights and first-hand user experiences that can significantly influence purchasing decisions. By reading reviews, customers can gather information about the product’s quality, performance, and potential issues others may have encountered. This empowers customers to make more informed decisions and select products that meet their needs and expectations.
The transparency of customer reviews fosters authenticity and credibility, further enhancing the online shopping experience. Retailers can leverage the power of customer reviews and ratings to build trust, encourage engagement, and drive conversions.
The Consequence of Misrepresentation and the Need for Accuracy
However, setting the right expectation is not a one-time task; it’s a process that requires constant monitoring and refinement. Dissatisfaction arises if the received product doesn’t match the customers’ expectations. This mismatch could stem from various factors – misleading product descriptions, inaccurate or misrepresentative images, overpromising product capabilities, or mismatches in color, fit and size. Such instances lead to an increased rate of returns, costing retailers both financially and reputationally.
Retailers must prioritize accurate and detailed product representations online to ensure customer satisfaction. Providing precise descriptions and visuals that align with customer expectations for fit, size, color, texture, weight, and other relevant features is essential. By delivering precise and reliable information, retailers can avoid mismatched expectations, establish customer trust, and foster long-term satisfaction and loyalty, ultimately driving repeat business.
The Need for Realistic Product Images and Consistency Across Platforms
It’s essential to use realistic and accurate product images. Using image editing tools to enhance product attractiveness may seem tempting, but such practices often lead to misrepresentation. Customers expect to receive what they see; hence, the product’s images should be a true reflection of the product. Offering a 360-degree view or videos that give customers a more comprehensive understanding of the product is a great addition to the overall online product presentation.
Consistency is key
Consistency across various digital platforms is another factor that contributes to managing customer expectations effectively. Whether customers are shopping on a desktop website, mobile app, or social media platforms, they should see the same product information everywhere. Any discrepancy can create confusion and mistrust, leading to poor customer experience.
The Ultimate Goal of Managing Customer Expectations
Managing customer expectations in online retail revolves around transparent and accurate product representation. The goal is not just to make a sale but to ensure customer satisfaction, build trust, and foster long-term relationships. By doing so, retailers can reduce product returns, improve customer loyalty, and ultimately, drive sustainable growth.
2. Understanding the Role of A/B Testing in Online Retail
A/B testing is more than just a valuable tool for online retailers; it is a strategic instrument that allows them to discern their customers’ preferences and behaviors. This practice involves creating two or more versions of a product’s representation—this could involve different photos, product descriptions, or even the product’s placement on the site—and then monitoring customer responses to these versions.
Leveraging A/B Testing for Conversion Rate Optimization
What’s intriguing about A/B testing is that it allows retailers to test virtually any variable associated with a product’s online representation. For instance, they might wonder, “Will three product photos lead to better conversion rates, or are four needed? Does a video or a 360-degree view of a product help increase sales? Does the placement of customer reviews matter?” With A/B testing, these decisions are no longer based on preference or, at times, hindered by artistic motives, but fully data-driven. Retailers can gather concrete evidence to inform their decisions, helping them improve the shopping experience, optimize conversion rates, and ultimately reduce product returns.
Identifying the Underlying Causes of Returns
However, A/B testing’s utility goes beyond enhancing conversion rates—it can also help identify the root causes behind product returns. If a product consistently results in a high rate of returns, the issue may not be with the customer’s expectations or preferences but with the product or its representation online.
It could be a case of inadequate visual content, where the number, quality, or types of images provided are not sufficient to create an accurate expectation. The product description might be misleading, overpromising features or benefits that the product does not deliver. Or, the product itself could be at fault, not meeting the quality standards implied by its online representation.
Taking Corrective Measures Through A/B Testing
Whatever the reasons behind product returns, identifying them is only half the battle. The other half involves taking corrective measures. Once an A/B test indicates that a particular factor—the quality or type of product images, the veracity of the description, or the product’s quality—is causing returns, retailers must rectify the issue.
If the issue lies in the visual content, they might need to invest in better photography or include more views or close-ups. If the product descriptions are misleading, they must revise them for accuracy. And if the product is falling short, companies might need to work with their suppliers to improve its quality or at least ensure that its representation online is a true reflection of what customers will receive.
Creating the assets for these A/B tests can seem daunting. Adding model photography to your studio shoot list can lead to many objections, such as a lack of (human) manpower, time, or overly stretched budgets. As a result, many experiments get pushed back further and further down the CRO testing backlog, potentially leaving extra sales on the table.
An A/B test done by a large European retailer showed a 184% uplift in add-to-cart for on-model images vs. flat lay photography. This massive increase in sales could have been overlooked if not tested.
The Power of A/B Testing in Managing Expectations
A/B testing is a powerful tool for online retailers to manage customer expectations effectively. By testing various elements of a product’s online representation, retailers can gain valuable insights into customer preferences, optimize conversion rates, and address the underlying factors contributing to product returns. If you are looking for an A/B testing solution, check out these 21 alternatives to Google Optimize. Too often, Visual Content is based on aesthetics rather than data. In other cases, production costs play a role. Through testing, spending that extra budget can be justified quickly by the increase in conversion.
For example, incorporating on-model images into A/B testing should be high on the CRO testing backlog, as multiple studies show that replacing standard product shots with on-model imagery leads to higher conversion and lower returns. The ultimate objective is to ensure that what customers see online is precisely what they will receive, leading to heightened customer satisfaction, increased trust, and more robust business performance.
The Importance of Tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Data primarily drive effective decision-making in online retail, and key performance indicators (KPIs) play a pivotal role in this process. KPIs provide retailers with quantifiable performance measures, allowing them to monitor the success or failure of different products and strategies. These include metrics related to customer demographics, price fluctuations, promotional activities, and product distribution across various online stores or platforms.
Using KPIs to Gain Valuable Insights
Tracking and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) can unlock valuable insights contributing to better strategic online retail decision-making. By understanding who buys a product, retailers can effectively tailor their marketing and sales strategies to target the right audience. Gaining a thorough understanding of your clients is vital, as customized buying experiences are the future: personalized campaigns, refined messaging, and optimized customer acquisition efforts.
Monitoring price fluctuations is another essential aspect of KPI tracking. Retailers can adjust their pricing strategies by closely observing market dynamics and competitor pricing. This ensures they remain competitive while maintaining profitability. Understanding the optimal product price range helps retailers balance attracting customers and maximizing revenue.
Information about promotions is another valuable aspect of KPI analysis. By tracking the performance of different promotional tactics, retailers can identify the most effective strategies for driving sales and customer engagement. This knowledge allows them to refine their promotional campaigns, allocate resources more efficiently, and optimize return on investment (ROI) in future marketing initiatives.
Tracking product distribution across various online stores provides retailers valuable insights into market trends and customer preferences. It allows them to identify which channels are most effective in reaching their target audience and where potential growth opportunities lie. This information enables retailers to make data-driven decisions regarding expanding their distribution network, targeting specific market segments, or exploring new marketplaces.
Overall, tracking and analyzing KPIs in online retail provides retailers with actionable insights that empower them to make informed decisions, optimize strategies, and drive business growth.
KPIs as a Tool for Performance Analysis
KPIs are pivotal in evaluating product performance and providing crucial insights for strategic decision-making in online retail. They comprehensively view key metrics such as product rotation, return rates, profitability, and customer relevance.
Product rotation, measured by the frequency at which a product sells out and is restocked, helps retailers understand the demand and popularity of specific items. By analyzing product rotation, retailers can identify their best-selling products, anticipate demand fluctuations, and optimize inventory management to ensure availability.
Return rates are another essential KPI that indicates the rate at which customers return products. Monitoring return rates allows retailers to identify potential issues with product quality, sizing, or customer expectations. By addressing these issues, retailers can reduce returns, improve customer satisfaction, and optimize product offerings.
Profitability is a critical metric that helps retailers assess the financial performance of their products. By analyzing profitability, retailers can identify high-margin products, evaluate pricing strategies, and optimize their product mix to maximize profitability.
Customer relevance is a KPI that measures how important a product is to a retailer’s target market. It considers customer preferences, market trends, and competitive landscape factors. Understanding customer relevance enables retailers to prioritize products that resonate with their target audience, align marketing efforts accordingly, and drive customer engagement.
By evaluating each product against these standardized KPIs, retailers can compare products within categories and identify patterns and trends. This information provides valuable insights into product performance, helps retailers understand which products drive business growth, and guides strategic decision-making. It enables retailers to allocate resources effectively, optimize their product assortment, and focus their efforts where they will have the most significant impact.
Leveraging KPIs for Strategic Decision Making
If, for instance, a product is not generating enough returns—meaning it’s not bringing in the expected profit or contributing to overall business objectives—retailers can use KPI data to make informed adjustments. They might consider lowering the price to boost sales, changing their distribution strategy to reach a broader or more targeted audience, or revising their marketing strategy to showcase the product’s benefits and appeal better.
3. The Transformative Impact of AI on Online Retail
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is reshaping the online retail landscape, offering the potential for significant enhancements in how products are represented and sold online. AI has made strides in various aspects of retail, from personalizing the shopping experience to generating rich product content. By harnessing machine learning algorithms and advanced analytics, AI offers an array of tools for retailers to elevate their online presence and increase customer satisfaction.
Revolutionizing Product Representation with AI
AI can serve as a game-changer in product representation. For instance, retailers can use AI powered solutions for product descriptions, tagging and even AI generated photorealistic models to showcase their products, eliminating the need for time-consuming and costly photoshoots. This technological advancement could lead to a more standardized approach to product presentation, streamlining the process and ensuring uniformity.
However, while AI-generated imagery benefits efficiency and standardization, it poses a critical question for retailers: will they lose their unique selling proposition? To maintain uniqueness and brand identity, retailers might still prefer to create and use their original images alongside AI-generated ones.
Personalization Challenges in AI Implementation
Implementing AI is not without its challenges. Personalizing the customer experience through AI, for instance, largely depends on the volume and quality of customer data available. If a retailer can gather consistent and detailed data, AI can effectively tailor the shopping experience to each customer’s preferences and habits.
Consider the example of a supermarket with access to a customer’s weekly shopping data. The consistent data flow allows AI to identify patterns, enabling the retailer to offer highly personalized suggestions and experiences. However, predicting customer preferences for a retailer with less frequent customer interaction—say, a customer who visits once or twice a year—becomes significantly more challenging. AI may struggle to offer meaningful personalization without enough data to inform its algorithms.
The Future of AI in Online Retail
Despite these challenges, the future of AI in online retail is bright and promising. With continued advancements in machine learning algorithms and data analysis techniques, AI’s ability to deliver personalized shopping experiences and streamline online product representation will improve. Retailers who can harness this technology effectively will stand to gain a significant advantage in the competitive online marketplace.
As we move forward, the key to unlocking AI’s full potential in online retail lies in balancing the efficiency of AI-generated content with maintaining a unique brand identity and in developing strategies to gather and utilize customer data effectively for personalization. The future will undoubtedly see AI playing a more significant role in shaping how products are sold and experienced online.
In the dynamic field of online retail, managing customer expectations accurately and efficiently is crucial. Detailed and accurate product representations help prevent discrepancies between expectations and reality. A/B testing enables retailers to fine-tune product presentations based on customer feedback, optimizing conversion rates and reducing returns. Tracking KPIs provides valuable insights into product performance, aiding strategic decision-making and maximizing returns.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers promise in personalizing shopping experiences and standardizing product representation, but balancing efficiency with brand identity is essential. Effective data collection and utilization strategies are crucial for AI-driven personalization. Consideration of ethical and practical implications, such as model rights and representation, is important. The future of online retail is shaped by technology advancements, evolving consumer preferences, and a focus on enhancing the customer experience. It promises an exciting journey towards a more interactive, personalized, and customer-centric era of online retail.
Download the infographic:
“Why Visual Content Should Be A Top Priority On Your CRO Testing Roadmap”
Download the infographic full of internal and external experiment outcomes if you still need convincing that testing your Visual Content is critical for online retail success.