5 rules of engagement for your ecommerce website

Engaging today’s online shopper is essential for success, whether by informing, educating or entertaining them through content strategies, or personalisation strategies, or some other combination, says James Gambrell, CEO of

Retail Week’s Fashion Retail 2014 report (July 2014) made it perfectly clear: “Retailers that create interesting environments, physical or virtual, that stimulate consumers and give them a reason to visit their store or sites will be the ones that secure the most footfall or clicks.”


The reason is the explosion of choice which has led to the evaporation of loyalty. According to the Retail Week report, the average number of stores regularly used by a clothing shopper in 2013 was 14, up from 10 in 2003 and just seven in 1999.

In fact, the same report states that 50% of apparel retailers say that maintaining brand loyalty is their biggest challenge. One fashion group chairman was quoted as saying, “The attitude now is: I have the web, so if a retailer wants me to buy from them they have to give me a very good reason. If they don’t, I’ll look at other websites until one does.”

The proliferation of choice and increasing experience with newer functionality has given rise to ever more demanding consumer expectations.

So, in a world where engagement rules, what are the rules of engagement? Here is a list of five mission-critical rules retailers need to consider in order to deliver ever increasing engagement with shoppers:

1) Make your first impression count

First impressions count, so ensure that the impression left on your first-time visitor is actually a good one. By definition, the first-time visitor has no obvious loyalties, whether to any retailer at which he/she may previously have shopped, to the retailer from whose site he/she has just clicked away, or to the retailer on whose site he/she has just arrived. An exciting opportunity exists for retailers to turn first-timers and jaded shoppers alike into loyal, repeat customers – providing the right type of engagement is on offer. The objective should not be to merely ‘convert’ this shopper into a buyer, but to engage them to enter into a relationship which transcends a first-time purchase to create a loyal customer who comes back and tells their friends about it.

2) Understand shopper behaviour and match the engagement

When you go shopping for an item of clothing, do you go out hell-bent on finding a ‘size L’, or a ‘size 12’, or do you go looking for something which will give you the look and feel you want? Typically, it’s the latter. Any shopper knows how they want the garment to look on them and how it should make them feel, so apparel retailers and brands should forget about size and focus on helping consumers find the fit which is best for their needs and desires.

It sounds obvious, but putting fit at the centre of the apparel purchase journey is rarely done outside of the made-to-measure market. It’s a highly effective, customer-centric approach and it’s not hard to do.

3) Make your engagement functionality actually engaging

Engagement that does not take into account the needs and priorities of the shopper will cause nothing but problems. Any engagement that is poorly implemented is also friction. For example, popping-up an offer to complete a survey within two seconds of the time-pressed shoppers’ arrival on site is annoying, made worse by the frustration of requiring another click to get rid of it.

Consider technology-based engagement that mirrors what shoppers are trying to do; making it fun, helpful, informative, rewarding, entertaining and assistive, and then exceeding their expectations by doing it well, is highly effective. Stop chasing away the potential shopper who might just be browsing this time; who really likes to be chased all over the internet by re-marketing offers for weeks? Done insensitively, this only confirms to shoppers that brands don’t ‘get’ them at all – can you imagine a shopkeeper following and harassing you down the street for days on end?

4) Make it personal

Every modern retailer understands that personalisation needs to become an integral part of the customer experience they provide. All engagements, at all customer touch-points, should be personalised to a greater or lesser extent. Perhaps it’s individualised direct marketing, or real-time on-site curation, or recommendations, or post-sales customer service – it’s what your customers expect. Clothes aren’t made to a one-size-fits-all specification, so retailers need to make sure their engagement strategies aren’t either.

5) Make it cross-channel and cross-device

If retailers are going to the effort of creating personalised engagement mechanisms, they need to meet the expectations of their customers – by making sure that it delivers consistently across devices and channels, online, offline, mobile, fixed – wherever and whenever. They need to remember that purchase journeys usually span multiple devices, such as one for research and another for purchase, so there is always potential for shoppers to disengage between those two steps. This particularly applies to personalisation: a shopper does not want to become anonymous from one device to the next.

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