On our high streets in 2014, cash was overtaken by alternative payment methods a year earlier than experts thought. Evidently, our fondness for all things quick and convenient only continues to grow, and it’s predicted that in 2024 only 30 percent of payments will be made using those cumbersome notes and coins of pre-digital days. And with high streets across the country suffering at the hands of e-commerce, it’ll come as no surprise that we’re spending more online as each year goes by.
In 2015, UK online spend will reach £52.2 billion, and we’re each making 21.2 online purchases this year in comparison with 2014’s 18.8. So with the inexorable rise in virtual retail experiences, how can brands stand out? How can they attract customers to their site, keep them there long enough to shop, and encourage them to see the transaction through – not just abandon their baskets?
Customers buying online go through a fairly standard purchase process: research, learn more about the product, seek out recommendations and reviews, compare prices, decide and purchase. Although some brands may be considered later in the funnel – when other options have been deemed unacceptable, for example – the best time to appear in a customer’s search is early on. What’s the best way to do this? Well, great content that’s geared towards e-commerce answers customer’s questions. And who do they turn to when they have questions? Google.
Having pages on your site that specifically answer customer queries will see you ranking higher for relevant search terms – as long as the content is quality and relevant, that is – which is just not an option for a text-light product-focused page. And I’m not talking an FAQ section here, either; this is about editorialising your brand, building out a content hub and populating it with engaging, useful content on a regular basis.
For example, if I’m just starting out in rambling – what? I could be – and I Google ‘rambling for beginners’ or ‘best places to ramble in the UK’, I might be served an article from a walking boots company. Say it’s called ‘10 tips for rambling beginners’ – I’ll probably click on it. Should I find it a well-written piece that offers me advice I can’t find elsewhere, that positions the company as a genuine authority on the subject, then I’ll forever remember how useful I found it. And if there’s a subtle, non-disruptive call to action in there somewhere, then I might just whack a pair of boots in my basket. Not a quick win by any means, but a long-term strategy that will reap plentiful rewards as time goes on.
This isn’t limited to text, either: images and video have significant SEO impact and are highly engaging formats. When optimised properly, images on your page can result in a higher click-through rate from SERPs. As for video, well, it simply gives users more ways to consume your content and interact with your brand. In a study last year, Google found that 64 percent of people touted YouTube – aka ‘the second search engine’ – as a touchpoint when making a purchase decision.
Obviously, this isn’t a new idea. Brands have been creating blogs and magazines for decades now – but print mags for brands are often glorified catalogues, while company blogs are usually either a corporate dumping ground, poorly designed or infrequently updated. If there’s one thing worse than not having a blog for your company, it’s having a clunky old thing that was last updated in November 2009.
And what we have at our fingertips now is so much more flexible than print, too – on digital platforms, we can react immediately, create videos, GIFs, Vines, quizzes, interactive infographics, live blogs, tweets and posts. In other words, we can offer customers a whole load of ways to engage with us and we can respond pretty much instantly to their needs.
So what works and what will we be seeing more of?
As a writer, I may be biased here – but words still really matter when it comes to purchase decisions. When a brand does online publishing well, its site becomes an editorial destination – and Williams Sonoma’s Taste blog is always my go-to gold-star example. It helps that the company’s offering is cookware, utensils and kitchen décor, but never has a brand talking around its subject felt so natural, looked so stylish and attracted so many fans.
Taste has endless recipe, entertaining and crafting ideas, and thus endless opportunities does push Williams Sonoma products – and yet it never does. Stunning images of food sitting on pretty patterned plates, still in the saucepan or fresh from the oven in its cake tin does all the leg work. There’s no need to stress the point: it’s clear these people know how to make food, and I want to make this food in exactly the same way. Sold.
Shoppable content – usually written or video – only works if it doesn’t shove products down your throat. The story has to be strong enough to stand on its own, with the choice to interrupt the experience left to the consumer. The interruption process should also be as seamless as possible – Cinematique, for example, logs the products you’ve clicked on as its fashion videos play, and creates a basket of items for you to review afterwards. Likewise, Clique magazine, although far less swish and now out of print, married editorial and e-commerce admirably – by allowing readers to instantly shop items in the magazine via their smartphones. Apparently, its founders are now in discussions with key publishers looking to implement their technology.
Other examples of subtly shoppable content include our work for Thomas Pink’s ‘Which Shirt Are You?’ campaign. We created a content hub jam-packed with stories about interesting men and the shirts they wear, with natural calls to action integrated into the layout.
Although the decrease in organic reach on key social channels has plummeted to laughable lows, brands have not abandoned social in favour of owned channels. Facebook’s revenue continues to increase as organic reach plummets to 1 percent, and it’s clear why – brands need to be where their audience is. Given the potential, it’s surprising that shoppable social hasn’t come on further. Facebook’s ‘Buy’ button and Twitter’s #AmazonBasket are about as good as it’s got for those guys, and Instagram’s shoppable feature was only released last week. It’s telling, though, that a platform so much about inspiration, community and celebrating beautiful content is integrating e-commerce into its functionality – a prime example of the monetisation of editorial.
Away from the big names, last month saw the launch of The Net Set, Net-A-Porter’s very own shoppable social network. Deliberately exclusive – although it let me in, which immediately refutes that statement – it allows users to create style icons, see what ‘the world’s most stylish people are loving right now’, receive updates from their favourite designers and join style tribes. It feels highly personalised and, naturally, it’s all primed for instant purchase. Perhaps this is the future of shoppable social for brands with sufficient resources: create your own.
What are the golden rules?