The buying habits of Americans are in flux. Increasingly, purchases are being made online.
In fact, in 2016, ecommerce sales in the U.S. were estimated at $394.9 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
And it continues to increase. With this move to online, ecommerce retailers need sound strategies to drive business growth — that means retaining existing customers and attracting new ones by meeting them when and where they shop.
To help drive business growth, online brands should think about their consumer and that individual’s buying journey.
One way to model the consumer journey is through a funnel, starting at the top with awareness and going through to an ultimate, final action — a purchase.
Though a consumer’s journey through the funnel is not linear, it provides businesses with a strategic framework from which to build out a plan. Below are the four stages to the funnel, what the goals of each stage are and examples for bringing those stages to life.
The “top of funnel” is the first stage in the sales funnel; it’s the awareness stage. This is where potential customers become aware of your business and offerings (e.g., a product or a service) and how it may solve a pain point.
The potential customer may not even know they have a problem that you could solve. Therefore, the goal of this stage in the funnel is to make the potential customer aware by focusing on content—or information—that identifies consumer segments, highlights a potential problem and introduces your brand.
Think of the awareness stage as an initial conversation between you and the potential customer.
You both are getting to know each, with the potential customer demonstrating some interest. Introduce yourself. Do not try to make a hard sell. In practice, this can take many forms.
If you’re an ecommerce B2C brand selling razor blades for men, for instance, your initial interaction with the potential customer could take the form of content that tries to draw people into the brand’s website or community. But the razor blade brand is not selling this potential customer a razor blade.
An example of this content might be a video regarding ways to improve your shave, in which your brand offers up information to reaching that perfect shave in an effort to be a valuable resource for the potential customer. Or maybe that razor blade brand creates a listicle of tips for eliminating ingrown hairs.
This content provides information that the customer may find valuable, and it may even solve a problem—whether they knew it beforehand or not—that they have. Again, this content in the awareness stage does not attempt to sell anything.
Likewise, a B2B brand would offer up similar content that tries to be a valuable resource and not a hard sell.
In the case of the B2B brand, though, your content might be very specific to a particular audience — the C-suite, product managers, marketers, etc. — and it may offer up more thought leadership and technical content.
Driving awareness of your brand is not just about content, though. Whether the potential customer is searching for a product (e.g., razor blades for men) or trying to find a solution to a problem they have (e.g., eliminating ingrown hairs), they will likely do an online search.
Your job, then? Be one of the first batch of results that populate the search results. Not just the first page, but the top result.
By having a well-honed search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) strategy, you can increase your chances of catching your customer’s eye. Google uses a handful of barometers to gauge which sites it delivers to searchers, including site speed, relevance and mobile-readiness.
Here are three things you can do to help boost your brand’s Google search engine ranking.
- Improve site speed by using the HTTP/2 network protocol by accepting multiple concurrent requests and therefore reduce dormancy. Faster speed can also be achieved by limiting 404 errors, too many redirects and orphaned pages.
- Shift your focus from content quantity to content quality. Previously, Google rewarded sites for their breadth of content. No more. Today, sites with well-researched, organized content, with an emphasis on multi-media, are in favor.
- Make sure your site is mobile-optimized. Google plans to change its algorithm to one that favors sites that read well on smartphones, which means users can load all pieces of page content, read the text without zooming in or scrolling up or down, and being able to easily interact with page buttons.
The second stage of the sales funnel is the “interest” phase. When a potential customer moves into this stage of the funnel, it means they are interested in your brand’s story or the pain point you may be solving.
They are, well, interested in learning more.
Keep in mind: Just because a potential customer is aware of a brand and its products and/or services, it doesn’t mean that the potential customer has an interest.
It may just be bad timing for some. For others, there can be varying lengths of “awareness” that stretch out over days, weeks, months, and so on. Or, there will be those you might not be able to interest at all. But this is to be expected. Each customer is different, and each moves (or doesn’t) through the funnel at their own pace.
When the potential customer does move into the interest stage, it takes the form of making further initial contact. Meaning, for example, if you have a newsletter, they subscribe; if you have an infographic, they download; if you have a social media presence, they connect.
The interest stage is a way for the potential customer to engager further with your brand to see what you have to offer, still without the hard sell.
Going back to the online razor blades brand, this is a chance to connect the content to the product. Your potential customer read the listicle on tips to eliminating ingrown hairs. Connect your product to that pain point. Beyond that obvious connection, the interest stage in the funnel is a chance for the potential customer to essentially window shop.
Here are three ways to help keep that interested consumer browsing and potentially move them into the next stage of the funnel.
- Use navigation wisely. Your visitor needs to know where to go, how to get there and what to do. A header that travels with him to allow him to toggle between pages will keep him on the site longer. Help by including filters that allow him to scale down the products he sees on each page to a list that speaks to what he is looking for, and buttons that allow him to quickly make a purchase.
- Integrate social media into your site. Include links to your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, to ensure that potential customers have a way of connecting with you, and you with them, on the platforms they use most.
- Provide an offer. In exchange for his email, give your visitor an offer for a discount off a first purchase, or bonus item upon a certain spend. This will reel him in and provide a way for you to reach our after he has left the site.
The third stage in the funnel is the “decision” stage. Here, the consumer has moved beyond browsing products and solutions to contemplating a purchase. In this stage, your job as the brand is to convince the consumer of the value of the actual product or service.
Proving value can be achieved through a variety of means. Word of mouth and user-generated content is one way. Case studies from your brand are another.
Here are three tactics to help demonstrate product/service value to the consumer and help move them to a purchase decision.
- Provide clear, compelling product descriptions. When your shopper can’t touch the pair of jeans he is eyeing or hold them up to his legs to gauge their fit, he is forced to rely on the information you provide him. Seize this opportunity by providing clear product descriptions, including specifications like sizing charts, measurements, weight, and key materials, using bullet points and high-resolution visuals to display this information in an east-to-digest format.
- Online shoppers trust peer reviews. Be sure to include those online reviews on your site. Make the experience a valuable one for potential customers by providing written reviews rather than a star system only, and make the time to keep on top of the reviews coming in and reply to valid complaints promptly and professionally.
- Perks such as free shipping, relevant discounts, and easy returns can both make buying seamless, get customers into follow through on their purchase and entice them to buy from you again.
The fourth, and final, stage in the sales funnel is the “action” stage. Once a consumer has made their decision to purchase, they need a final push to action—making that purchase from your ecommerce site.
One way to ensure the consumer takes action on your site is by focusing on a frictionless purchasing experience. Here are three tips to help improve the online checkout experience.
- Use predictive entry to auto-populate fields. Help your customer save time at checkout by allowing him to create an account which will fill in transactional fields such as shipping and billing addresses, saving him precious minutes and getting him to the “Buy Now” button faster.
- Use progress indicators to keep users up to speed on what part of the checkout process they are in, and keep your customers’ baskets in full view throughout the checkout process so they are less inclined to move away from the transaction to check cost, size, and other specifications.
- Make sure customers are aware of your site’s security. Educate consumers on the security measures of your website to let them know that their personal and payments information is well guarded. With high-profile data breaches announced in the news, this could help alleviate concerns during uncertain times.
- Be sure to accept all forms of payment. With the myriad of ways to pay, it’s crucial to meet the preferences of your customers by offering acceptance of all card types. Your customer might carry multiple cards for different purposes. Likewise, this includes integrating digital payments into your checkout experience. For example, explore accepting digital wallets such as Android Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.
In all, an understanding and proper use of the sales funnel can help fuel and increase your online sales. Think about your customer, and think about how you can facilitate each stage of their buying journey.
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1 “U.S. Census Bureau News,” U.S. Department of Commerce, February 2017.
The article and information provided herein are sponsored by Discover® Global Network for informational purposes only based on independent research and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice.
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