We’re living in the era of efficiency and discounting, and most online shopping experiences reflect those priorities. Each retailer greets you with the same gray or white grid of products. A chatbot asks you if it can help with anything. A pop-up asks if you’d like to share your email before you even get a chance to browse. The good retailers succeed at making shopping convenient, but all that data-driven efficiency blends into a sea of rote, forgettable experiences.
The most memorable brands and retailers don’t just optimize for efficiency. They break through the monotony of eCommerce. They surprise and delight shoppers — just like physical retail stores with striking decor, lively and knowledgeable associates, and ambiences that make you want to linger. The gold standard of eCommerce is reimagining this in-person magic online.
Three areas where eCommerce brands and retailers have the opportunity to break the mold are product discovery, cross-sells and upsells, and the social dimension of shopping. Here’s how you can beat the status quo in all three departments.
If you go to the average retailer’s website, product discovery will be limited to a decades-old invention: the search bar. At best, you’ll be able to filter products by gender and category. These tools are helpful, but they don’t capture the personalized recommendations that make for a delightful or surprising product-discovery experience.
For example, it’s one thing to show a shopper wedding dresses. It’s another to allow a customer to tell you details about her needs and tailor recommendations based on that information. “I’m going to a wedding, and my partner is in the bridal party. The ceremony is outside in the winter, so I need ways to layer so I don’t freeze my butt off.” These are the kinds of details that spur truly thoughtful recommendations and make the customer’s experience not just convenient but memorable.
People don’t remember their experience with the search bar. They remember the friendly sales associate who went out of her way to find a killer dress that also kept them warm during a New York winter. And nearly half of American shoppers are hungry for this kind of personalization.
One way to produce the chemistry of human-to-human product discovery is tapping into your own customers as a resource. For example, when you select a product online at Nordstrom, they’ll show you how other customers have styled the product. This goes beyond basic product recommendations, allowing the customer to imagine new ways to use an item — which could lead to a purchase they never would’ve made otherwise. This is the Pinterest effect: delighting in the discovery phase, which broadens customers’ imagination as to how the brand and its products fit into their lives.
Another way to spice up product recommendations is enlisting human brand experts, who communicate in real-time with online shoppers about their needs. A human who loves your brand and empathizes with your customers doesn’t just find the quickest fix. They ask you about your style preferences, past shopping experiences, work, and social life, tailoring their recommendations to those specific needs and iterating on them based on feedback. Unlike most machines, humans understand how to dive deep into the customer’s desires, build empathy for their experience, and offer a curated mix of products engineered not just to satisfy but to delight.
When you go on an eCommerce site, you expect suggestions for products related to your purchases. For example, if you own a Nespresso machine and need to replenish your filter supply, a standard eCommerce site would likely show you capsules or replacement parts for your machine below the buy box. This is eCommerce 101.
But how could a brand be sure the hypothetical customer needs these items? As useful as algorithms are, it takes human conversations to fully deliver the impactful cross-sells and upsells that round out a purchase. Human brand experts that interact with customers online are able to look at the big picture, asking smart questions and sharing in-depth advice to help customers get the most out of their purchases.
Let’s go back to our winter wedding dress shopper example. Like an in-store associate, a human brand expert wouldn’t just mechanically recommend dresses that are similar to what the shopper’s already buying. The expert would identify the customer’s need for a velvet shawl to keep out the cold and recommend swapping out stiletto heels for more outdoor-friendly footwear. That’s the superpower of humans — intuitive suggestions paired with thoughtful explanations.
Human brand experts don’t just suggest logically related products; they offer granular problem-solving recommendations that explicitly tie to the customer’s individual concerns. This reinforces the customer’s feeling that the brand or retailer is going above and beyond to take care of them as an individual instead of offering rote suggestions.
Delightful eCommerce that gives the feel of a premium experience — like what you’d experience at a physical luxury retail store — goes beyond curating relevant products. It’s about pairing a shopper with another human so they can have an insightful conversation that digs into the why behind their shopping experience. Great clienteling takes empathy and thoughtful collaboration that AI tools alone can’t yet achieve.
Anyone can make their eCommerce site efficient. But efficiency on its own doesn’t cultivate loyalty, let alone spark joy for customers. You’re not going to call up your friend to gush over run-of-the-mill product recommendations that popped up under a buy box. But, you’ll be more than eager to talk to your friend about that online apparel expert who helped you look like a million bucks for that winter wedding.
In short, efficiency is great, but it’s not enough. The task for brands and retailers is to foster an online shopping experience that is both convenient and delightful. And, ultimately, streamlining the number of clicks it takes to complete a purchase is easy. But going against the grain by bringing people back into online shopping to facilitate memorable human interactions? That’s what disrupts eCommerce monotony — and fuels growth, not just savings.