The E-Commerce Column

Don’t Just Sell Online–Create Shopping Experiences for Your Customers

Ladies Reviewing a Website Design

Let’s face it.  Anyone these days can open an online store.  It’s incredibly simple to do, takes almost no investment, and it can be up and running in minutes.  Just putting up a store means nothing though.  The obvious next step of course is to market your store so you can actually get sales.  Though, chances are pretty high that your products/services aren’t unique.  Unique products and ideas are few and far between anymore.  So you need something more to compel your customers to spend money at your store, versus spending their money with your competitors.

There are of course some other obvious things you need to get out of the way.  Make sure your site looks professional and it loads quickly.  Secure your entire site with a SSL certificate.  Hold promotions from time to time.  However, what you want to avoid at all costs is a price war.  Price wars generally have one inevitable end – you and your competitors race to the bottom with your pricing.  While your customers will enjoy the price lowering, you and your competitors will see your profits become increasingly low.  This is actually a common reason for many businesses that have failed over the years.

Simply put, price wars are poor business strategy.  So what’s the answer?  One very clear one to us is to make sure your online store is providing a shopping EXPERIENCE.  You need to do what you can to make sure that your customers are engaged the entire time they’re on your site.  An engaged customer is one that will not only choose to spend money with you, but their average cart size will be larger too.  It’s worth the investment.

What is Engagement?

Engagement sounds easy enough when you just say it, but what in the heck does that really mean?  There are many things that can be labeled as engaging to customers, but a large part of this would require some research and customization towards your target customer base.  This too is regardless of whether you’re B2B or B2C.  All customers are the same human beings that shop online on behalf of their business as well as themselves.  The strategies need not be all that different.


One of the easiest things to do to create engagement is to allow your customers to interact with your products/services.  Don’t just throw up one of more product images and leave it there.  Try looking for ways to offer product zoom, 360 degree views, and even videos.  People want to use their finger and mouse as they shop, and they definitely want to read as little as possible.  Help them do that. 

Social Media

Engagement comes in so many forms, with one being social or social media.  You could of course have social sharing options on your product pages, and even have them prompt the customer to share it after a while.  For example, maybe a prompt comes up after 5 seconds that asks something like, “It seems like you’re enjoying this product. Why not tell your friends?”  That message could present options to share on one or more of your preferred social channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.  Another way to integrate social media is to embed a Twitter feed into the product details with relevant tweets related to your product and/or company.

Onsite Social

Don’t forget your onsite social engagement.  Few stores should be ignoring the power of onsite product ratings and reviews.  Open your site up to them and get some of your known advocate customers to seed the ratings and reviews.  You do this, because few people want to be the first person to place a review.  Make your ratings and reviews prominent.  Let your prospective customers know how much your other customers are loving the products/services you offer.  You could even use the same prompt trick as above (but do be careful to not use that too much, as it will backfire on you).

A cool hybrid of onsite and offsite social could be having your customers post photos of them with your products, and then you can blog about them too.  You could even make it a regular contest kind of thing.

(Re)Hook Them At Checkout

There is no better time to ask your customers to do you a favor than at the end of the checkout process.  They’ve already committed to your brand, so why not ask them for one more (optional) thing.  This is the best time to ask them to tweet or post about their experience online.  The key here though is to make it super, super, super easy to do.  The less they need to do, the more likely this will work.  Why not have some pre-crafted statements that they can choose from? does this brilliantly.  They have a handful of funny statements that are a click away from being posted by you.  As long as everything went smoothly, your customers won’t have any issues bragging about you.  Something cool that will happen as a side effect is that you could generate some buzz online, resulting in a community feel, chock full of brand advocates.  Give your fans a way to have a voice, and you’ll not regret it.

Speaking of community…


Community is easily one of the best ways to begin to integrate an engaging shopping experience that customers will love.  There are many ways to generate a community around your brand, but the best ones are those which live on your own site.  This allows you to give your customers a way to have a voice, meet others that share their passion, and empower them to help other customers.  Sure, you might get some disgruntled people from time to time, but they’re actually an amazing opportunity.  Most upset customers are just looking for you to care.  Listen to them, and respond to them.  You’ll be surprised at how much your words can turn an upset customer into an advocate themselves.  This is often even true when you have to tell them something they don’t want to hear.  If they’re still just there to be difficult, most often your brand advocates will jump in and handle it for you.  What better way to solve a customer service issue?

There are many ways to do this, but the most common seems to be forums, or something that works like forums.  Basically, anything that can hold a conversation on your site.  Don’t forget to integrate the relevant content your customers are generating with your products/services in your store too.

What Do You Think?

I hope you have plenty of ideas now of how you can begin to draft your own engagement strategy for your store.  What do you think though?  Have you done something that did or didn’t work?  Maybe you have an idea and want to chat about it?  Leave a comment below.

About the Author

Will StrohlWill Strohl

What Do You Think?

blog comments powered by Disqus

  • Sign-up for the Hotcakes Community Newsletter: