E-COMMERCE SITES: THE WINNER OFFERS THE BEST EXPERIENCE IN THE ‘MESSY MIDDLE’
The tightly-fought playing field centres around mobile functionality and the outcome of the match is decided in a matter of seconds – right in the middle of the customer journey – which is the most delicate part of the whole operation. Here’s how and why to get ready.
A recent Google study carried out some research about the key moments in a customer’s buying journey. The first thing they discovered – with all due respect to the marketing and advertising gurus who seek to influence them – was that these journeys were neither linear nor entirely logical. Far from it: from the very first moment (the so-called ‘trigger’: the spark that sets the entire sales funnel in motion) to the final click that allows customers to choose between one option and another, the journey that the potential customer undertakes is long and arduous, with plenty of pitfalls along the way.
It’s at that point in the middle, especially on mobile devices, that brands in general (and especially e-commerce sites) win and lose everything, potentially increasing their turnovers and boosting their conversion rates. Or not.
Being unprepared at this point means missing out on sales opportunities and wasting the investment made so far. Not for nothing is this phase in the sales journey nicknamed the “messy middle”, in which the two protagonists of the transaction – the person buying and the person selling – can potentially get lost and never find each other again. Playing a key role, especially in medium to large e-commerce sites, is seasonality, price, content and especially the client’s user experience, which is in turn influenced by how quickly the pages load.
The Messy Middle battle
But what exactly is this battle ground and what’s going on there? Quite simply it’s where you and your competitors fight between two goal posts set by the clientele: best and cheaper. Making things more complicated is the fact that peoples’ desires tend to be more weighted towards best rather than cheaper. ‘Cheap’ is also open to variable and personal interpretations, but in the end all these definitions have one meaning in common: not costly and less expensive. But what does ‘best’ mean too? That can be equally ambiguous, influenced by a series of cognitive biases that guide the prospective client inexorably towards his or her final choices in the quest for both cheaper and best: or rather what is best and cheaper in the eyes of each particular individual. It’s a delicate balance.
These biases are:
- Information that’s essential to describe the product, making the buying decision simpler and more immediate (the so-called heuristic technique)
- The correlation between the time needed to have the product versus the desire to possess it: as time goes on, the desire to purchase can cool off (illustrating the power of immediacy)
- The comments and experiences of previous clients (the ‘social test’)
- Limited availability: the less there is of something, the more desirable it becomes (rarity value)
- The tendency to listen to the reviews and comments from experts (authority bias)
- A gift during the buying process tends to favour a purchase (the power of getting something for free)
There’s one important thing to bear in mind, according to Google’s research. All these aspects present obstacles only for businesses rather than clients: for customers, this is all just a normal part of the journey, which more often than not these days is conducted on mobile devices. What an e-commerce site or brand has to do is accompany their client and be of service at exactly the right moment, actively helping the consumer to make their decisions. But never forcing them down a certain path.
beST, CHEAPER, FASTEST
Let’s take a look at which areas to act upon. There are basically two of them that are both essential – although the second prevails over the first. Here’s what to look at:
*The content of the site with texts, images, infographics and other content that can make the difference for each offering and make it more convincing, beyond the actual branding itself.
*The performance and indexing of the site, to make the content more rapidly accessible. This shortens the journey between the trigger and the purchase, reducing the risk of the client being exposed to competitors.
In other words, a slow site or one with a bad Google ranking (which in turn is heavily influenced by speed) can waste even the most carefully-curated content, campaign, brand or product, affecting its quality and reputation. In short:
it’s no good being the best or cheaper if you’re not faster or even the fastest.
This becomes increasingly important during periods of peak demand, as was seen on a number of occasions throughout 2020 due to the online effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, or Christmas and Black Friday. Widespread research has in fact shown that the loss of just one second in terms of speed can mean 10% fewer conversions, while the Google study also showed that while 95% of users would happily return to a fast site, only 62% would return to a slow site.
The conclusion? Immediacy beats even the best content and offers, which otherwise run the risk of not being seen at all.
The main point here is that the bigger and more sophisticated the website, the more important it is to have the right architecture, systems and performance. And conversely, the easier it becomes to lose control of it. But how do you solve this problem without pausing the site for maintenance and carrying out operations that are invasive, risky, and costly? The answer lies in a layer such as iSmartFrame, which is easily installed without impacting on the actual structure of the site. This gives each site back its maximum speed, and can even improve on it. The beneficial effects are felt in all areas that influence the visibility of the site’s content: indexing and user experience. This is a double positive effect, entirely independent of the website’s original complexity while improving functionality and efficiency.
So it’s another battle ground – between the server and end user – where iSmartFrame really operates, and it’s there that the messy middle is finally conquered. With the traditional sticking point of the customer journey instead becoming an opportunity.