“How a customer or prospect experiences your website goes beyond how pretty it is. It includes how easy it is to navigate and find information they need to move forward in the shopping or buying process.”
Valuable insight from the Distribution Strategy Group’s 2021 State of eCommerce in Distribution survey reflects the feelings of 68% of companies surveyed who placed “improve ease of use and customer experience” at first or second in their Operational Priorities for eCommerce.
Acting on this priority now is especially important as “post-COVID electronic purchasing is not expected to retract to pre-COVID or even during-COVID rates” with electronic purchases seeing an average increase of about 20% during COVID vs pre-COVID.
In this blog series, we’re translate findings from the DSG report, sharing actionable strategies to help you meet the challenges of this moment in eCommerce. In this post, I’ll talk about how you can meet the expectations of today’s B2B eCommerce shopper.
As more customers come to your site to shop, they bring with them experiences and expectations on some of the biggest consumer eCommerce sites in the world. So, what will make a measurable difference in improving ease of use and customer experience on your eCommerce site? 4-dimensional product data.
Adding Dimensions to Product Data
The product data you serve up to customers and the way you organize that data affects their interaction with your eCommerce site. For many companies, the origin of eCommerce product data is a catalog or a bare-bones ERP system used for invoicing. As a result, their online product data has inherited some limitations from its original use.
When it comes to product data, catalog users are pretty forgiving. They don’t mind if attribute values differ on different pages, as there are other contextual clues to help them discover the information they need. Data coming from the print world also obeys different rules in formatting.
Core product specifications may be stored in a single, non-differentiated attribute because it all falls under a “description” header in print. When all your specifications are lumped together in one field, you can’t filter or sort products by those attributes. That information is effectively only useful when read in print.
This is why we refer to it as 2-dimensional data. It is flat and static, providing the information needed to make a purchase only when a customer is browsing a print catalog. But it is not consistently structured in such a way that would allow customers to interact with it in a digital space.
Interactive Data, the 3rd Dimension
Online, product data is expected to be dynamic, as opposed to flat and static. Customers click to interact with it and the dataset reacts accordingly. But to be interactive, product data must be consistent. This presents a critical need for findability, the Holy Grail in eCommerce. Brand loyalty can take a back seat to ease of purchase when the product the customer wants takes too much effort to locate on your site.
Inconsistent product data can be a real source of frustration for your customers. If the color field is filled with multiple variations, they would have to select “Black” and “BLK” to filter their results. So that easy one-click experience is now two clicks, and if they don’t know to facet for both options, they may not even see all your inventory that meet their criteria.
Ultimately, the search experience on your site should focus on relevance, allowing customers to quickly reduce the results to what interests them. The quality of your product attributes will affect the filters and facets commonly shown on the left side of a search page to allow users to quickly refine their results. Focusing on building out attributes also allows you to offer customers product comparisons—a high-value feature that can backfire if it highlights gaps or inconsistencies in product attribution.
Relevant products can also disappear from search results because, although the product might meet the selected criteria, the data is not properly faceted—for example, a product might be coded as Black under Color for some products and Black under Finish for other products within the same category. Again, you are selling your product portfolio short if customers can’t see everything you offer.
Attribution is crucial for findability via successful filtering and faceting of your product data, and properly structured taxonomy is just as crucial for both searching and browsing. Taxonomy is the hierarchy of categories and subcategories in which you organize your products.
All the products on your site should be classified within the taxonomy. Under no circumstance, EVER, is having uncategorized products on your site a good idea because those products won’t be found when customers browse your product categories.
Aside from the frustration of making products hard to find, a product that returns “Uncategorized” in search doesn’t inspire confidence in you as a supplier. “If you don’t even know what it is, why would I buy it from you?”
Whether you establish your own taxonomy or integrate one from product data you may purchase from service providers, products should be assigned to a taxonomy category based on what the product is. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s too often overlooked. A well-designed taxonomy allows you to assign critical attributes to a category of products and then use them as facets and filters on your site. It takes care of the straightforward, attribute-first shopper. But some customers may instead think of a product in terms of how they use it not just by what it is. By classifying your products in multiple ways, like by solution or industry, you can help ensure customers find what they are looking for when they browse or search your site.
Thinking about your products in multiple ways, and giving shoppers multiple pathways to find them, helps your company come across as an expert, building trust that can give you a competitive advantage.
Voice and Visual Search: the 4th Dimension
eCommerce and SEO are continuously evolving. Focusing on what we like to call the 4th dimension will help you prepare your product data for emerging technologies like voice and visual search.
In traditional eCommerce interactions, customers rely on a search engine to deliver relevant results, but they are still viewing the data returned on a screen and have ample content for making a decision. One request returns multiple options.
Now think about the experience of using a proxy, like Siri or Alexa, to search for and order a product on their behalf. One request generally returns one result. Including attributes like rating, review count, and availability status makes it easier for the algorithms, SEO and AI that power voice search to return an answer to a question like, “which raincoat has the highest reviews?”
NOTE: You may be interested in this article, Optimizing Product Content for Voice Search.
Product images take on more importance when a customer can take a picture of the part they need to reorder with their phone and use that image as the basis of a search. With visual search, the customer doesn’t need to know the best keyword or attribute to find what they’re looking for.
High-resolution images from multiple angles will increase the likelihood of a product match from an image. Populate image titles, descriptions, and alt text with likely keywords; this also benefits the visually impaired. Include captions to help the audience understand the context of their image or highlight features.
Product Data: Your Digital Sales Team
Complete, consistent, well-organized product data is perhaps the biggest factor that influences your customers’ digital interactions with you. Enriching your data beyond the 2nd dimension will ensure it is findable, relevant, and bot-ready for what’s next in eCommerce.
If your company, like the 68% of those surveyed by DSG, is prioritizing making your eCommerce site easier to navigate and delivering a better customer experience, you may be ready for a Product Information Management (PIM) system. Our PIM Readiness Assessment will tell you how a PIM can help you engage and win today’s always-connected buyers.
Is a PIM System Right for You?
Take our 3-minute product information management readiness assessment to find out. Results are instant.
In the next article in this series, we’ll talk about what it takes to enrich sourced product data so that it becomes a competitive asset that can help you rise to the top of search results and differentiate your products from the rest in the buyer’s mind. You’ll also learn techniques on selecting which products to prioritize as you undertake a product content enrichment project.