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The power of experience-driven eCommerce

We’re a customer experience agency, so naturally, we talk a lot about the power of creating great experiences for our customers. But what do we mean, really, when we talk about creating “experiences”? We experience things every day—and maybe some are memorable, but many are not. So this question, and the work to create more of the memorable kind of experience, and less of the other kind, is core to our work at Hero Digital. And while we define it in many ways, at the root of it, memorable experiences are about connecting with users—and helping them do what they want or need to do in some enjoyable way. We want to create experiences for people that works.

This is particularly acute in the world of experience-driven eCommerce, which is a topic we’re discussing more frequently these days.

So, what goes into building these types of memorable, effective experiences, especially as it relates to a field that has been, traditionally, transactional in the most literal sense? The answer often leads with design, but design and experience are not the same things. A great design might enhance an experience but, on its own, it may not drive a conversion. Conversion, mind you, is not a dirty word. It means we’ve helped our users, our customers—real people—complete a task they are interested in completing. And when we add experience to the mix, we can do it in a way that’s actually enjoyable. We can do it in a way that works.

Think of Amazon. Even as their design has improved over the years, the experience of using their site is largely about optimizing data, personalizing the experience, and getting you to where you need to go quickly. The design is part of it, sure—but it doesn’t dictate user interaction. It doesn’t impose itself upon what Amazon users have come to expect from the experience.

Likewise, Target changed the way people felt about discount-store shopping. They created a destination for fashion, for families, and for food that people were excited about buying—and not just because they were saving money. People are actually excited about going to Target, before they’re even sure what they’re going to buy.

Starbucks has similarly created a unique, ubiquitous and consistent presence people around the world can’t get enough of. And they’re constantly optimizing, improving, and tweaking the experience based on data and customer interaction. They have a product that works, but they never stop working to improve.

Online, it’s a little different. In the early days of the Web, eCommerce platforms ruled the land. Content management systems (CMS) existed primarily to support eCommerce implementations—not as experience management drivers. However, in the last decade, CMS platforms evolved into experience-management platforms, which have matured into some of the rich solutions we have today.

ECommerce providers, once focused on tackling the complex challenge of running an eCommerce business, can now focus on adding experience into the commercial transactions with users. And they now know understanding the user is key. This personalization begins with data and is refined through testing and analytics—through listening and responding.

The ability to respond to what you hear, optimize message and offers, and improve the online buying experience (and tie to the physical in-store experience) by making quick adjustments is key to building and managing experiences that work. If you’re not listening closely to what customers are telling you, and then responding to those needs, you minimize your opportunity to complete a transaction. That isn’t particularly memorable.

As we’ve come to a more mature playing field, where experience management platforms are integrated intelligently with eCommerce tools, and where data is analyzed and pathways optimized throughout the process, we’ve reached the point where velocity is fundamental to success. It’s no longer a nice-to-have because you need to move quickly—faster than ever before—to meet customer needs. The pace will only increase.

At Hero, we understand it’s always crucial to build in support of velocity. We want to empower our clients with the tools they need to help get their customers where they want to go at speed.

Leveraging analytics, responding to customer needs, optimizing shopping experiences and beginning to manage experiences—not just build them—requires having a better understanding of who is on your site and being able to tune your experiences to drive the outcome that you want in a seamless fashion.

With Western Digital, our goal was to increase conversions and to enable the marketing team to tune and optimize quickly and easily. But it started with data and people. Not everyone gets excited about their hard drives, but some people really do.

So we identified those customer segments for whom a hard drive isn’t merely a commodity, but was really personal—creatives, musicians, parents, etc. This seemingly simple device contained a lot of irreplaceable value. And so we were able to connect these people with a seamless experience, because we measured, listened, and optimized. We leveraged Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) as the CMS, combined with deep analytics and Digital River’s commerce tools to enable Western Digital to continually update, tune, and optimize the site for its users. We were looking for a 30x improvement in conversions. In the first three months after launch, we saw a 300 percent improvement. To date, that number has climbed to 400 percent, with an 11 percent increase in average transaction value—and a 22 percent increase in revenue.

We saw success because we successfully created a sales funnel that offered messages and content that spoke to customers—that delivered a memorable experience. We established a personal connection, understood who they are, and took them through the funnel to help them, and used experience tools to continually leverage and optimize the experience along the way.

People always ask me what the future of customer experience looks like. It’s certainly not going to get any slower. The speed at which we have to adapt has increased. And we have to have tools to allow us to keep pace. Data, analytics, eCommerce tools like Digital River, and experience management platforms allow us to do so.

But as we continue to keep pace with the need for velocity, we also have to keep working to understand our customers to deliver richer, seamless, hyper-personalized experiences both on and offline. The future will include on-premise experiences that take your online experience into the physical world. We have to continue to tackle the challenge of how we can actually create those online experiences and extend to the on-premise experiences.

At Hero, we’re running experiments to answer these questions for our customers every day. With tools like AEM and Digital River, we’re building integrated platforms that can help us get there. But even with increasingly powerful tools, we have to be ever mindful of our initial challenge—to deliver a memorable experience.

Tony Rems is Hero Digital’s CTO. He spoke on Experience-Driven eCommerce at the Digital River’s Monetization Day – September 20, 2017. For a copy of his presentation, contact us.