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Where did my customer go?

6 minute read

Oliver Kennett
garden maze

Losing customers to competitors is hardly a new concept. Other businesses targeting people with special offers like reduced prices, improved terms or freebies has been around for a while.

Furthermore, you need to know how shoppers, well, shop. Knowing what works and what doesn’t is an essential part of developing marketing strategies and customer experiences. Tracking this behaviour has always been problematic, but when you consider shoppers browsing online and buying offline, or vice versa, the issues of gaining relevant data and, in more real terms, closing sales becomes even more difficult.

With an entire world of shopping options and opportunities at a customer’s fingertips 24/7, the savvy shopper has ways of using your beautiful website, or handsome brick and mortar shop, to their advantage without paying you a penny.

The trouble is the variation in price of single, mass produced products. A fancy coffee maker in one shop could be far cheaper than in another with the customer only having to risk a trade off on delivery time, customer service and possibly the inconvenience of having to return a faulty device via post.

This behaviour correlates to the number of ways in which customers can now shop. From purchases in apps or through smartphones, to desktop browsing and local shops, options for, not only where to buy, but how to buy has changed. A study carried out in the USA in 2017 found that 55% of customers said that they preferred to physically interact with a product in-store before making a purchase online. This behaviour has even created new terms and acronyms in the marketing world; ROPO (research online, purchase offline) and ROBO (research online, buy offline) as examples. 

Shoppers can now explore products on their smartphones, checking for online reviews and prices whilst browsing in an offline store. This may provide huge purchasing power for customers but leaves a bit of a headache for small businesses who, unlike their gigantic rivals, may not have the resources to absorb such loss of sales.

But, how, in a market saturated with so many points of purchase, can you keep track of your customer, their purchasing journey and close the deal? Well, (spoiler alert) … That is exactly what I’m going to take a peek at in this article.

Don’t be a sales rep for your competitors

Research is now just a click away, from your friends down the pub correcting you on a point after they’ve searched it on Google, to being able to instantly find reviews and price matches whilst standing in a store, we have instant access to information that can inform our purchasing choices.

Furthermore, customers have no obligation to purchase from the business who has provided even the most helpful sales information about the product. They can ask questions of your sales representative who provides them with all the features, advantages and benefits for them to make the decision to buy… Somewhere else.

In such an instance, the scrupulous customer has used the resources of one business, the shop assistant, but provided their custom to another business, for example, a cheaper online alternative. So, what can you do to secure that sale instead of being mined for information and expertise?

Offer to walk in your customer’s shoes

The customer journey is a way of breaking down your customer’s entire interaction with your business. This begins with the customer becoming aware of your business either on the high-street or online, all the way through to their first purchase with you and beyond.

You need to nurture them every step of the way until the sale and beyond into such things as encouraging them to sign up to your mailing list, following up post-purchase and assuring them that they can bring the purchase back if they have any problem at all.

The trouble is that there are other businesses ready to catch that customer should they fall. You’ve already done all the hard work, all they have to do is take them the last couple of steps and suddenly your customer has made a purchase from your competitor.

This is why you have to understand your customer, their needs and make them want to buy from you. Depending on your product, this could be by demonstrating style, class, enthusiasm, discretion or just by being friendly and open. These are the intangible aspects that add perceived value to your customer’s purchase. They trot out of your shop feeling good about their purchase having enjoyed the experience.

But what else can you do that is more tangible and quantifiable to sweeten the deal to stop your customer from sidling out the door having just scribbled down the product details and already browsing online for a better deal?

1. Add value

Compliments, rapport and professionalism are all very well, but not everyone will be charmed. Some people are just looking for the best deal they can get and will stop at nothing to get it.

Consider what you can offer that your rivals can’t. If you have a brick and mortar store and an online store, why not offer a preferable deal within the shop, a freebie, an extended warranty? The key is to take this walk-in through the entire customer journey in one go.

2. Give it the personal touch

Shopping online doesn’t have to be faceless isolation. New features such as co-browsing allow you, as a business, to walk your customer through every step of the sales process, helping them make decisions all the way through to final payment.

But we can use this to set up in-store appointments too. Maybe they aren’t convinced and want to handle the product or feel more comfortable engaging in person. By setting up a place and time, providing a name to your store and to your customer, you are investing in the sale but you are also getting the customer more invested.

It’s an interesting psychological fact that people who have invested more into a sale, gone further down that path, feel that they should make the sale due to the amount of time they’ve spent on it. The key is, making sure that the sale is with you.

3. Offer click and collect

Sometimes your customer wants to have the thing they bought from you, at a discount online, that day. Providing click and collect services not only lets them get their hands on their new purchase sooner but it also saves you the price of ‘free’ delivery. This is probably one of the most recognised methods of connecting the online and offline shopping experience.

4. Follow up abandoned baskets

Sometimes shoppers get distracted or bored during the checkout process, or they begin looking elsewhere for the same product at a reduced cost.

If they have created an account with you during the checkout process, it is possible for you to follow up a day or so later (with the right permissions) asking if there is anything you can do to help with the sales process.

This gives you a chance to find out the reasons that prevented them from purchasing such as price, problems with the site etc. and also provides another chance to close that deal.

5. Provide a reference

Provide your online or offline customers with a personalised reference code which can allow a seamless step between the online and offline experience. In some ways this is similar to using an account made during a failed checkout incident, however, it allows customers to retain anonymity and your employees to easily find the stage that the customer is at with the sale.

6. Showcase reviews

Prove to this potential customer that right here, right now, this purchase portal of yours is perfect. Showcase great reviews in plain sight, whether that’s on your customer service, store experience or individual products. These reviews, of course, need to be genuine, but they’ll help to prove why you’re worth the investment. Find out more about how to build up your reviews and showcase them in this online guide.  

Comparison websites

The other issue you can face is comparison websites. While there are opportunities for you to track and understand the journey of customers who browse your website, you lose sight of them when they head over to a comparison site to see if there are cheaper options anywhere else.

There are a couple of silver linings here though. You do get the information of where they left the purchase process which might give you an indication of parts of the journey that need polishing. Possibly it’s a little complicated to get the product in the basket, or the checkout process has too many steps. In any case, you can glean valuable information for future development.

The other thing is, comparison websites have evolved and can show more than just low prices. They can also present other aspects that might be important to the buyer such as shipping costs, shipping speed, reviews, customer satisfaction or, even, online vouchers. So, if you’ve positioned your products at that sweet spot of cost, customer confidence and benefits for buying from you, then they may well come back for the final sale.

Conclusion

Customers can be fickle; Always searching for lower prices and yet expecting a higher quality service. Depending on how you position your business in these ever more crowded markets, whether online or offline, it is important to keep the customer at the centre of the experience.

Customer loyalty is a powerful tool and, as an SME you should be taking advantage of that. What can your small business offer in-store that will sway customers to come to you to purchase after researching online? Think about what opportunities there are to making the online and offline experience of your brand seamless, whether that’s introducing a click and collect solution to showcasing reviews.

Oliver Kennett is an author and freelance copywriter living in Bristol. A graduate in both law and engineering, he enjoys exploring science, technology and social impact through his writing. As well as clients in the technology, tourism, legal and lifestyle sectors, he has written extensively for charity. In his spare time he writes short stories and novels for children and adults in the horror, sci-fi, fantasy and humour genres.

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