Consumers expect a high-end service experience when shopping online, thanks to big brands like Amazon and Walmart that spend millions to achieve that goal. By following the online guided shopping model set by these e-commerce superstars, smaller independent businesses can gather local leads and increase in-store sales. Online shoppers want websites to remember them and serve up relevant items or promotions without having to dig for those results. Most notably, consumers want to research a product or service without ever talking to a salesperson. To meet those expectations, businesses must offer an online guided shopping experience.
“Brick and mortar is in a fight for its life right now,” says Dan Marchione, analytics director for Gallery Furniture. “Here in Houston, Amazon just opened a distribution center to deliver packages weighing up to 300 pounds. If we can’t be as competent as the big online retailers, our days are numbered.”
Online Guided Shopping Explained
For PERQ co-founder Scott Hill online guided shopping means getting into the mind of the consumer so they can make better purchasing decisions. It also means answering questions digitally so that they can find their own answers without having to talk to anyone, both of which naturally move those online shoppers down the sales funnel.
“Ultimately, it’s about helping shoppers before selling to them,” Hill says. “To enable a guided online shopping experience, it becomes like a digital assistant. Consumers can do online the same things they could do in person.”
With a focus on auto dealerships, furniture stores and multi-family housing, PERQ’s software is geared toward “considered purchases” that include a high-end price point and are meant to last. Despite the demand for helpful interactive research tools, consumer websites in these industries tend to be much like an online brochure, with products and prices listed and some basic content that shoppers can read through.
Chris Thomas, internet sales manager at Krieger Ford in Columbus, Ohio, says that basic online catalog approach would have worked years ago, but not now. “Customers haven’t changed — where they get their information has,” says Thomas, who calls Krieger Ford’s website the company’s newest showroom.
“I think guiding an online shopper is part of the service experience now,” he continues. “We’re finding that when people come into our dealership, they’ve already done a lot of that research process themselves.”
How Online Guided Shopping Can Help Your Business
Dan Marchione says providing Gallery Furniture customers with an enhanced online experience that’s inviting and informative has been key to driving traffic into their stores and increasing sales. “Being able to track the customer’s journey on our website through PERQ’s software has led to insights that give our sales team the ammunition they need to follow up with new leads in a more powerful way than we ever had before,” he says.
“When you know what someone is in the market for and you can see what they have been browsing online, you can curate their shopping experience to fit their taste,” Marchione adds. “The software also allows us to provide compelling calls-to-action and incentives to purchase that decrease cycle time.”
Krieger Ford’s Chris Thomas attributes about 80 percent of the dealership’s conversion opportunities on its website to the PERQ software. It helps guide car shoppers along with interactive tools, such as a trade-in estimator or new-versus-used vehicle assessment. “Over the past year, we’ve essentially doubled the converted leads we’ve gotten from our website.”
While Thomas says the trade-in tool provides the highest lead volume, the car shoppers who use the online assessment are still high-level funnel customers who are in the beginning stages of the buying process.
“That’s the best part of the guidance part,” Thomas says. “I can then customize and personalize the way the site looks and feels based on the consumer’s behavior on the website. I’m able to offer up certain information and offers that are relevant to them.”
Building Your Brand With Online Guided Shopping
Interestingly, in all three industries PERQ serves, the number of different businesses a consumer visits before buying used to be anywhere from five to six. It’s now down to an average of 1.6 to 1.9 visits. Those consumers are spending much more time digitally researching and only coming into a store when ready to purchase. Businesses must offer value on their website upfront in order to drive potential customers through the door.
Chris Thomas knows auto shoppers will get guidance from somewhere, so he prefers it comes from Krieger Ford’s website to build brand recognition and form a relationship with the consumer.
“If we’re not helping customers learn about their wants and needs, they will find it somewhere else.”
— Chris Thomas, Krieger Ford
“The software overlaid on the website allows for a non-screen experience that emulates a two-way conversation.”
While online shoppers aren’t talking to an actual person, Thomas says the software overlaid on the website allows for a non-screen experience that emulates a two-way conversation.
“If we’re not helping customers learn about their wants and needs, they will find it somewhere else,” Thomas says. “Then you’re really rolling the dice whether or not they return to us to buy.” PERQ clients witness that shoppers are spending five to six times longer researching on their website with PERQ Web Engagement. Helping consumers do research and feel more comfortable that they’re getting the right product at the right price drives increased profits.
“You build up mindshare by keeping the consumer on the site longer and providing richer engagement with the brand,” Hill says. “It increases the likelihood of closing the sale once they’re familiar with your brand, and have invested time and information on your site.”