I see it time and time again. Companies, particularly startups, throwing money into paid acquisition channels and not getting a strong ROI, or devoting weeks to the latest spammy growth hacks which get them a customer or two for a month or so.

The problem in almost every case is that the company does not understand how to optimize the entire user experience.

They don’t understand who their target audience is, they don’t truly understand why someone would use their product or service, and they don’t understand how to keep them using it.

Let’s break down each area, and run through how they can all be optimised to ensure your time and money is being spent in the right places, you’ll turn more visitors into customers, and keep them buying from you again and again.

Acquisition

Do you really know your target audience?

You can have the best written and designed adverts, but if you’re putting the wrong message in front of the wrong people, you’ll struggle to make sales. An example of not really understanding the customer is targeting high net worth individuals with adverts for Rolex watches…on finance. While some of them may choose the finance option if it’s available, that’s clearly not a key sales message for them.

However, put this in front of the average person and let them know they can have an amazing, iconic Rolex watch for just $99 a month and they’ll fly off the shelves.

A big reason for Nike’s success is that they know what people want. They know how to talk to their customers, and make them believe that only Nike’s products can bring them to the level of pro athletes.

So can you honestly tell yourself you know your audience?

Take an hour to yourself and run through some customer avatars/profiles.

Ask yourself what is your customers’ name? How old are they? What job do they do? How do they spend their free time? Are they single, married? Do they have kids, maybe a dog? What do they want to do more?

It may sound silly at first, but once you answer these questions you’ll begin to really understand your customers, what’s important to them, and how you can get them to buy from you.

Activation

So now you know who you’re targeting (and this should help a lot with how you target them), it’s all about making sure they make the purchase.

There are dozens of areas to optimize and thousands of optimizations you can make to an e-commerce site, so I’ll give you a breakdown of some of my top choices for quick, and potentially big wins.

Product Videos

Videos do everything for you. They can describe your product, show of your product in the perfect setting for your audience, and throw in reviews and FAQs. In addition, shoppers are 64-85% more likely to purchase a product after watching a video. To top it off, there’s far more potential for the viral factor. Just look at Dollar Shave Company and the Squatty Potty.

Reviews & Testimonials

Everyone wants them, everyone knows they are important, and yet the actual execution of reviews and testimonials is so frequently neglected. 93% of customers say their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. 93! 82% of customers say that the actual content of a review has directly resulted in a purchase. They don’t just want star ratings, they want quality, genuine reviews, and after content, they value star rating, total number of reviews, and recency.

Make sure your reviews are easy to find, well laid out, and give options to filter by recency, star rating etc. Transparency = trust.

Credit: Amazon

Amazon absolutely nails reviews. You’ve got your star rating, number of reviews and best seller tag (ok this is an Amazon product….) all above the fold and right in your face. It also links down to the bottom where everything is broken down to make it super easy for you. They also have a questions function so if you’re still unsure after the reviews, you can just ask your question and get an answer from someone who bought the product.

CTAs – Call to Actions

It’s pretty simple. If someone can’t find the Buy Now button, they won’t buy your product. Make it bold, make it clear and stand out on the screen. If you can squint while looking at your page and the thing that stands out is your CTA, you’ve done it right.

An example of how it’s done right is on the Debenhams site:

Credit: Debenhams.com

By far the most obvious thing is the Add to bag (which I think is unusual wording actually), followed by the discounted price.

An example that I don’t like so much, as well as the rest of their product page really…

Credit: Made.com

It does pop out a bit, but it could be a lot stronger. I do think the general style of the page doesn’t help.

A final comment on CTAs. Really really push back and avoid ghost buttons.

Ghost buttons are buttons they are empty and just have an outline and copy. While they do have a place, they shouldn’t be used as your primary purchase CTAs. As you can see below, the button just doesn’t pop out at you on the screen.

Retention

You’ve got the first purchase, but now you’re stuck with the task of trying to bring that customer back again and again. As a customer is 5x more expensive to acquire than retain, it’s incredibly important that you bring people back again and again, ideally with higher basket values as well.

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Next, we’ll take a quick look at the best ways to keep customers coming back again and again.

1. Loyalty schemes & Gamification

These 2 link up quite well, but you rarely see them done well. A bit like referral schemes, everyone does the same boring, generic thing. A great example of a loyalty scheme is buying 9 coffees, get your 10th free. You know exactly what you’re getting, and what it’ll take to get there.

A bad example is the Nector scheme in the UK. I guarantee if you ask 100 people what the point is, you’ll not get a single answer (it’s like a Clubcard, you get points for spending at various retailers, but no one really knows what you get out of it).

People are loyal, and even the smallest rewards are well received if they are relevant, but you can go the extra yard by gamifying a customer experience, and just awarding badges once customers hit milestones.

Gamification is used a huge amount in games funnily enough. You get points, medals, ribbons, and trophies simply for doing things that are part of the experience.

Gamification works particularly well in the early stages of a customers lifecycle.

If you have a SaaS business you could reward customers for linking their website or inviting a teammate to collaborate, or if someone creates their first design or shares their first social post. A retail business could reward someone simply for adding to their basket, creating their account, adding a delivery address or payment card.

All the things that they’d need to anyway, but you can create a little winning feeling out of these micro-actions.

While this shouldn’t be taken as legal advice, once GDPR hits the EU you will be able to incentivise marketing opt-ins as long as it’s of a reasonable value. For example, you should be able to offer a 10% off voucher if someone signs up for email, but if you run a $1 = 1 point reward scheme, you wouldn’t be allowed to offer 10,000 points for opting in.

A clever marketer will gamify this experience.

2. Marketing communications, data & personalization

This is the key thing that so many businesses get wrong.

I see thousands of businesses whose definition of personalization is using a first name merge tag in an email. Customers don’t notice this anymore, although what they will notice is a mistake.

No, personalization is all about the offer and the messaging.

Use your data. Use what you know about the customer to send relevant newsletters, product suggestions, and even content.

This can obviously be a little difficult for multi-purpose retailers. Let’s take John Lewis for example. They sell pretty much anything, but at a mid to high price range. If someone comes through a PPC ad for dining chairs and buys 6 chairs at $299 each, you’re not going to send them emails with more dining chairs.

However, what you might do is say dining chairs at $299 is a bit of a luxury purchase, so lets put them in a high ticket value category and send them high-end products all the time. Given that their first purchase was in dining, maybe we should immediately off them cutlery, crockery and other kitchen and dining based products.

Again this comes back to customer profiling. If you really know who your target audience is, and you can overlay that with real purchasing information, you can create a much much better experience both through marketing communications and on the website.

Those are the main two I wanted to cover. They’re so so important and yet so few businesses do them well.

Other areas to improve retention are:

  • Referral schemes – prompt people to refer when they have their ‘aha!’ moment, i.e. when they’ve done what they came to do.
  • Product – make the product experience as good as you can with extra value. If you sell a slow cooker include a recipe book, if you sell whey protein throw in a free shaker. One of my favorite items I received with a product was a printed newsletter from Pact Coffee. It didn’t sell anything, but the purpose was something interested to read while you made your coffee.
  • Red flag data – this applies a lot more to subscriptions, but it’s basically the data that indicates strong usage and flagging it once usage drops in a way which indicates you may be losing a customer. So for retail, you might look at the average number of times a person buys from you every 6 months, let’s say this is 6 (once per month) if someone goes 2 months without purchasing you flag this and communicate with the customer.
  • Customer service – obviously a huge one, and one that Zappos has put at the head of everything it does. Bear in mind that for every 1 customer who contacts you, 23 will simply walk away. If you become known for great customer service you’ll decrease the number who walk away and increase the number who contact you. This information then feeds back to all the way back to the start of this article to help you optimize earlier stages, and reduce the number of people who need to contact you.

Wrapping up

So hopefully this has given you a snapshot of how important it is to optimize every contact point someone can have with your business.

It’s not good enough to get the click on your PPC or Facebook ad.

You still have to convince them that the product is actually what they want.

You have to convince them to create an account, give you their payment details and address.

And all of this is made easier if you make it easy for them.