How Personas Solve Problems for Your Online Store – Conversion Wednesday

By Nik

Read this and you can begin solving your key conversion problems today!

“Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions – Why am I doing it, What the results might be and Will I be successful. Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead.”Chanakya

In his quote, Chanakya gets at the heart of finding solutions to problems: you have to ask the right questions. His questions are great, because they’re at the core of conversion rate optimization. If summarized, CRO is all about being able to justify ideas and create new ideas through sound justification.

What We’re Going to Achieve in this Blog Post

What I love about conversion rate optimization is that you have many paths that are available to you when you have a sense of the first question – understanding what you’re trying to accomplish. In today’s post, we’ll discuss how to overcome 4 main challenges that inhibit purchases – I hope you can identify with at least one of these very common online retail issues:

  1. Problem #1: My customers crave a faster, easier experience
  2. Problem #2: My customers do not feel a sense of urgency when buying the products I offer
  3. Problem #3: My customers feel unable to make decisions based on the products I offer
  4. Problem #4: My customers aren’t getting excited about the products I sell

We’re going to answer all these problems through the use of the consumer behavioral theory of shopping personas. The theory asserts that all individuals have within them 4 personas: methodical, spontaneous, social and competitive. Each has its own ideal shopping experience that brings out that persona. Each online retail store may have different reasons to create one of these ideal persona-based shopping experiences, but the goal is to overcome problems that inhibit conversions, AOV and brand-awareness.

Problem #1: My customers crave a faster, easier experience

If you have this issue, then your solution will probably lean towards creating a more methodical shopping experience on your site. Users who have a need polarize to this sort of experience. Walmart is a great example of a methodical shopping experience, where everything is in line with simplicity, ease of use and speed. This is especially true in their store-fronts. Add low prices to the mix, and the convenience shopping experience gets wings.

If you want to enhance the methodical aspects of your shopping experience online, consider page load speed, comprehensiveness of your selection, easy filtration, optimal search functionality, and a way for individuals to buy easily without learning rules on the first purchase. Ideally, the consequent purchases would become even easier over time as you store history, allow for accounts, and reach out to past customers through custom tailored auto-generated emails for replenishing their need-based purchases.

Again, add low prices and a clear understanding of pricing policies into the mix, and you’ll have a winning way of adding layers of convenience to your customers.

Anticipating the result of making your experience more in line with the methodical shopping persona is based on a good understanding of what your customers really want. Every business owner assumes that easier and faster will have great success – but it might just be good success. The more emotional, learning-oriented, or product-centric a purchase decision is, the less likely it is to be effected by making your site more methodical. By contrast, unemotional, staple good and category-based purchases are affected by creating a more methodical shopping experience.

Problem #2: My customers do not feel a sense of urgency when buying the products I offer

In the world of selling big purchase items, there’s nothing more irritating and patience-testing than a lack of urgency. This is why over the years we’ve become accustom to hearing things like “what do I need to do to get you into this car today?” or “I can only offer you this discount until the end of this week” – the problem is urgency.

Sure, these timely pitches are corny to some, obnoxious to others – but man-oh-man, do they work! Consumers have become accustomed to the idea of a spontaneous shopping experience. Like winning the lottery, they seem to come out of nowhere and the odds of them reoccurring feel like they are slim-to-none.

Retailers like Express use this to get a significant rise out of their customers. Instead of cleanliness and sophistication, Express embraces a sense of chaos and over-stimulation during their big sales. They work towards creating a sense of how quickly things are moving around them – all towards the idea that this will trickle into a sense of urgency. By making it feel as if the clock is ticking a little faster, it makes your heart pound, it makes you think fast, and it gets you to react quickly.

As opposed to the salesperson who promised you a deal that runs out today, storewide sales have a different type of formalization to them: while you believe a salesperson’s boss may extend the same discount to you tomorrow or the day-after (which undercuts the trustworthiness of the salesperson and their upper hand), most shoppers know that when a store sale runs out, no employee is going to get approval from corporate to extend some extra discounts that have already expired. It’s no longer corny or obnoxious – it becomes a gift.

Online retailers who want to create this type of urgency use a duffle bag of tricks. Some use widgets, like Time2Buy. Others use all-encompassing promotions that permeate the site, PPC ads, email campaigns and social pages. In terms of what results you should expect: both tactics are great for connecting with the spontaneous person within all of us – but while the latter is calendar-oriented and unsustainable over long periods of time, the former is personal and can be sustained over long periods of time.

This is one of the most overlooked aspects of spontaneous shopping. When you’re running a sale, sales are hot. When you’re not, they’re not. Your biggest challenge in online retail will be finding ways to overcome your problem of no urgency in way that can be hardcoded into the day-to-day of your site.

Problem #3: My customers feel unable to make decisions based on the products I offer

Ain’t this a toughie? The scenario is all too common. You, the current online store owner, were an enthusiast of a product that you believed was being sold at too high of a price, or in too niche (mom and pops) of storefronts – so you created an online store to beat the marketplace! After a bit, you came to realize that mom and pops were really instrumental in helping their customers with questions – and the price included the overhead of knowledgeable sales employees. Not only that, but you’re the only real enthusiast that can help customers with their needs.

The challenge can be broken down to some major subcomponents:

  1. Your customers don’t know how to choose the right product
  2. They lack access to others who have used the same product with success
  3. You can’t help every visitor and you can’t get them to ask for help
  4. Somehow the big box stores, like Amazon are taking away share of the marketplace

Let’s start with the last point. How can a big box store take away share from your market, when you’re the expert? This in itself highlights the gap within your shopping experience. Big box brands have done an amazing job of bringing in elements of know-how into their experiences. Reviews on product by customers, what other products are being seen by the same customers, editors picks and thoroughbred customer support are all ways to re-create the sense of intuition and product wisdom that you’d come to expect from a mom or pop of a niche store. These are social shopping experiences. All of these aspects build confidence in product selection – and help others recognize the value of owning a product.

Companies like Apple use social shopping experiences to overcome major assistive sales challenges in the marketplace. In 2001, they opened their first store to properly sell their products and the optimal Apple sales approach was born. Fortune magazine said of the first store in Virginia: ” Saks, whose flagship store is down the street, generates sales of $362 per square foot a year. Best Buy stores turn $930 – tops for electronics retailers – while Tiffany & Co. takes in $2,666. Audrey Hepburn liked Tiffany’s for breakfast, but at $4,032 per square foot, Apple is eating everyone’s lunch.” By focusing on the personal, knowledge-based sales experience that is at the core of a social persona, they were able to bring mp3 players to a market, and close Apple products at a record pace.

Online retail stores are at a loss when it comes to staffing the experience with qualified sales people – but there are so many options that help fill that need. Pop-up chat windows saying “can I help you with something?” and readily available customer service numbers are a great start. Showcasing your customer support team on your site and giving some humanness to them can help your approach become that much closer to the brick and mortar experience.

What online retailers have that brick and mortars don’t is crowd sourced support. Reviews, forums and ratings make a world of difference in terms of selling products. My wife once bought a hideous dress (her opinion) from Bebe just because it has 20+ comments. None of the other products had comments at that time – *hint hint* – I’m pretty sure it was gamed, but it worked. It was the closest thing to having a brick and mortar sales rep say “I love the way that looks on you!”

So what kind of results can you expect from going more social? Again, it’s all about whether the problem #3 is your problem. Reviews and ratings for a 12-pack of coke may not make much of a net impact – for the number of people who now feel more comfortable buying soda because everybody’s doing it, the same amount may also find the process to cluttered or be turned off by a review that flames the harmful effects of phosphoric acid. By contrast, reading user reviews of a bed set that you’re buying online and haven’t had the chance to touch or try out will more likely improve conversion rates with consistency.

Problem #4: My customers aren’t getting excited about the products I sell

This is a tough one as well. If you sell something that is supposed to move off the shelves based on the awesomeness of the product alone, then you’re at a loss when your customers aren’t impressed. Competitive shopping is all about adding value to a product from the perspective of the user – and in most cases, the value is not tangible or feature-oriented – it’s attitude oriented.

The art of building a positive attitude towards a product is two-fold: it includes the brands (of the product and your site) as well as the product itself.

Focusing on brand is a major winning strategy because it becomes the lowest common denominator that impacts all your sales from that point on. Armani Exchange does a great job of this in my opinion. It has built an image that it sticks to, and with each passing season it doesn’t try to become more relevant – it simply tries to stay “A|X”. Hot looking people, rare sales (and even then, only displayed in the classiest of ways), extremely fashion-conscious employees – and even a monumental gateway entrance to make you feel like when you’re part of Armani, you’re part of something special. This sense of being part of something is what luxury brand building – and all competitive brand building – is about.

Online retail stores have many ways to create the same sense of “to buy is to be”. From a brand perspective it’s all about what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. These rules aren’t set in stone, but they’ll guide you nonetheless:

  1. You shouldn’t marry competitive with spontaneous – don’t cheapen your product
  2. You should focus on your brand image as being current but timeless, relevant but unique
  3. You shouldn’t let products live in a vacuum as if images and text will sell the product
  4. You should showcase products on models, in look books, alongside complimentary products
  5. You shouldn’t go cheap on imagery
  6. You should put the quality and tone of your images above all – following strict brand guidelines
  7. You shouldn’t focus on new acquisitions as much as retention
  8. You should employ a smart customer loyalty approach that makes every real customer feel ultra-special
  9. You shouldn’t make it as easy to find all products
  10. You should take liberties in showing what products you think are important and why

Results from creating a more competitive shopping experience are that your brand awareness should increase over time, and your AOV can rise at a more controllable clip. In terms of conversion, while you’re new visitor conversion rates may take some time to build up (as your brand gains an image of exclusivity and an inclusionary experience), your repeat visitors should start buying more often from you, and will help fuel a sustainable revenue stream.

Hope this helps!

An appreciation for personas is at the heart of everything we do at Exclusive Concepts. Whether it’s for improving your SEO target keywords, building better sales/SEO content, making more relevant PPC ads, creating smarter Conversion tests or crafting more optimal Email campaigns – we use this approach to build new holistic strengths for our clients over time so they can grow their revenues.